It’s one of pop music’s most enjoyable parlor games, and one of its highest stakes: What old song does that new song sound like? Most often, such discussions are triggered by interpolations — sections of new songs that borrow melodic and sometimes lyrical elements from older songs, without sampling their original recordings.
The discussion of such interpolations — and what officially counts as one — has been ubiquitous in recent pop music, a major topic of discussion surrounding recent breakout artists like Lil Nas X and Olivia Rodrigo. When a new song calls back to an older one without directly sampling from it, it can run the risk of setting off a powder keg between fan groups and lawyers alike, leading to arguments over who deserves what in terms of credit, both in the artistic and legal senses.
But the potential rewards are also high. A subtle (or not-so-subtle) lift from a familiar hit can be an easy shortcut to making a new single feel like it’s already a smash the first time you hear it. It can also be an inspired way to ground the new entry in pop history — and maybe even add extra new layers of complexity to it, expanding the meaning of the newer song by folding all our feelings about and associations with the older song into it. Or, it can just be a clever way to integrate a proven melody or lyric into an entirely new context, appearing in a way we never anticipated and maybe working better than we ever expected.
This week, we’re commemorating the art of the interpolation at its most successful by listing our 50 picks for the best examples of the form from this century — the songs that crossed genres and generations to revive old classics and make new ones. Some of them are head-smackingly obvious, and some of them you might not have even spotted until this very list; all of them serve as new links strengthening the chains connecting pop’s past, present and future. Rather than ranking them, we’re organizing them by type, to highlight the many different forms an interpolation can take while still enriching both songs in the process. (We tried not to include any lifts that also featured a direct sample of their original source, though — so apologies to Drake’s “Way 2 Sexy” or Ciara’s “Body Party,” for instance.)
Check out our list below, divided into those sections, and best of luck sorting out all the unforgettable songs you’ll get tangled in your head afterwards.
REMEMBER THE ’90S?
Interpolations that traffic heavily in ’90s nostalgia, borrowing huge and instantly recognizable Clinton-era hooks.
Jeremih feat. YG, “Don’t Tell ’Em” (2014) int. SNAP!, “Rhythm Is a Dancer” (1992)
Get Lifted: Jeremih’s Mustard-co-produced trap-n-B jam slowed the pumping beat of the 1990s Eurodance smash but retained the melody and the lyrics on the “Rhythm is a dancer” chorus opener, followed by a couple of reworks that made it his own: “I need a companion/ Girl, I guess that must be you.”
Why It Works: The direct reference to the early-’90s club killer might have perplexed some listeners who were too young to remember it, but for others it automatically turned the temptation celebration into a dancefloor hit.
Bigger Than Original? Jeremih’s song peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, one slot shy of SNAP!’s No. 5 achievement, earned in January 1993. — CHRISTINE WERTHMAN
Get Lifted: When the Biebz was still in his infancy (age 16), he dropped his sophomore album My World 2.0, featuring the familiar hit “Love Me.” A direct lift of the chorus from The Cardigans’ mid-’90s alt-pop smash “Lovefool” (1996), Bieber sings “Love me, love me, say that you love me.” Though Bieber’s first line was a carbon copy of The Cardigans’ hit, the subsequent lyrics varied a bit, albeit just by a word or two.
Why it Works: What better way to guarantee a teen pop star a hit than to remake a tried and true earworm? With the original likely mostly unknown to his young fanbase, “Lovefool” was able to be reused for the Bieber album with most fans being none the wiser to the trick.
Bigger Than Original? Bieber pulled an impressive No. 37 peak on the Hot 100 — which technically beats out the Cardigans’ signature hit, since that original missed the chart due to rules at the time about songs not released as physical singles being ineligible. (“Lovefool” did reach No. 2 on Billboard’s Radio Songs listing, however.) — KRISTIN ROBINSON
Get Lifted: For his second single from Eternal Atake, Lil Uzi Vert borrowed the lyrics and vocal melody from the chorus of the Backstreet Boys’ first Millennium single, sliding the crystalline pop line into a futuristic rap realm.
Why It Works: While the lyrics of the original song notoriously caused some head scratching, the meaning of “I want it that way” finally became clear in Uzi’s hands, as he followed the chorus with his wants and not-wants, including income (want) and sadness (not-want).
Bigger Than Original? While both tracks were fire, neither reached the No. 1 desire, with Uzi peaking at No. 20 and BSB stopping at No. 6 on the Hot 100. — C.W.
Machine Gun Kelly & Camila Cabello, “Bad Things” (2016) int. Fastball, “Out of My Head” (1999)
Get Lifted: Five years before he rebooted as a pop punker, rapper MGK improbably Frankensteined the soft-rock chorus and haunting, gospel-tinged piano melody from the Austin pop-rockers’ 1999 top 40 hit into the Cabello-sung refrain of his booming 2016 homage to bad boy love.
Why it Works: Romeo and Juliet stories are eternal and Cabello’s whispery come-on, “Am I out of my head/ Am I out of my mind/ If you only knew the bad things I like/ Don’t think I can explain it/ What can I say, it’s complicated?,” is the sticky pop sugar that perfectly balances MGK’s transgressive, salty verses. Plus, if you’re an alt-rock fan of a certain age, you definitely hit pause and said, “hey… wait a minute, I know that song…”
Bigger than Original? Yep: The third single from Fastball’s second studio album, “Out of My Head” topped out at No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, while MGK and Camila rode the wave all the way up to No. 4 on the tally. — GIL KAUFMAN
Get Lifted: The entire “Post to Be” pre-chorus swipes the melody and rhythm from the classic “Murder She Wrote” “I know this little girl, her name is Maxine…” section. But Chris Brown’s guest verse takes it one step further, tracing back the roots of the Omarion-fronted West Coast anthem to the Caribbean by name-dropping Chaka Demus & Pliers’ redefining dancehall smash: “Murder she wrote/ You wanna know how I know what I know?”
Why It Works: Breezy elevates the breezy rhythm and licentious message of the dancehall hit while asserting his own sexual prowess and consequential dominance in the suggestive second verse — which provides a lay-up for Aiko’s more notorious “But he gotta eat the booty like groceries” line.
Bigger Than Original? “Post to Be” posted up higher on the Hot 100 at No. 13 — “Murder She Wrote” landed 44 spots lower on the chart — but Omarion & Co.’s hit is just one chapter of the history that followed “Murder,” which introduced a new style of dancehall rooted in the performers’ native Kingston, Jamaica to the U.S. mainstream, and inspired additional lifts via countless other hip-hop and reggaetón hits, like French Montana’s “Freaks” and Daddy Yankee’s “Que Tire Pa’ ‘Lante.” — HERAN MAMO
Get Lifted: Anyone who was alive in 1996 knows the iconic chorus to Ginuwine’s “Pony,” where he blatantly offers, “If you’re horny, let’s do it.” So when listeners heard Rihanna on her 2012 album Unapologetic offering her own interpretation of those lines for the “Jump” chorus (albeit changing the the opening line to “if you want it), they were rightly surprised.
Why It Works: Rihanna wanted to communicate just how sexy she was feeling on “Jump” — and what better way to make that known than by singing the chorus of “Pony?”
Bigger Than Original? “Pony” still rides high here. Peaking at No. 6 back in 1996, the song was one of Ginuwine’s biggest hits on the Hot 100 (only behind his singles “Differences” and “I Need A Girl (Part Two)”) — but while while Rihanna spawned a No. 1 hit (“Diamonds”) and another top 10 hit (“Stay”) off Unapologetic, “Jump” never made it to the Hot 100, peaking at No. 34 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Digital Song Sales chart in 2012. — STEPHEN DAW
BLINK AND YOU’LL MISS IT
Interpolations that only last about a split second — if you get it, great, if not, moving on.
Blake Shelton, “God’s Country” (2019) int. Brooks & Dunn’s “Brand New Man” (1991)
Get Lifted: Shelton’s growling ode to his Southern homeland includes a quick callback at the start of his chorus to one of the signature smashes of ’90s Nashville, via his “I SAW THE LIGHT” wailing a la the “Brand New Man” refrain — also continuing in the same rhythm for the next line, and also including a “baptized” mention later in the hook.
Why It Works: As a 40-something country star who would’ve just been coming of age in the early ’90s, “Brand New Man” was undoubtedly a formative song for Young Shelton, as well as a high percentage of his fans — and dipping back into memories of that classic just makes the song’s message of pride in ones roots swell even greater.
Bigger Than Original? Both songs were No. 1 hits on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, but “God’s Country” was the only of the two to hit the Hot 100, peaking at No. 17 — largely thanks to it being released in a crossover-friendlier time for the genre. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
Get Lifted: Bryson Tiller’s bright-eyed debut single switches up the messenger of the chorus but stays true to the cadence and tune of Mariah Carey’s 2005 hit in his second verse: “Girl, said he keeps on playin’ games/ And his lovin’ ain’t the same.”
Why It Works: He pays homage to an R&B-turned-pop classic while providing some continuity to the original storyline, as Tiller hears the cries of a woman whose relationship has run its course and consults him in distress while he cunningly contemplates how to help her move on.
Bigger Than Original? That would be quite the stretch, considering “Don’t” was Tiller’s first-ever single, which eventually broke into the top 20 of the Hot 100, and “Shake It Off” peaked at No. 2 for six weeks (once held off by Carey’s own “We Belong Together,” marking her as only one of six acts at the time that held the top two positions on the chart.) — H.M.
Get Lifted: A fan favorite from Frank Ocean’s Blonde, “White Ferrari” borrows the melody of The Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere,” released exactly 50 years before Blonde. Captured in the rewritten line “I care for you still, and I will [forever]” and in the nearly direct lift of Lennon/McCartney line “making each day of the year,” except in Ocean’s version he signs “spending each day of the year.”
Why It Works: Ocean sure knows how to make listeners feel nostalgic. By employing the melody and lyrics from the old Beatles tune, he’s subtly calling back to a time before. For many listeners, the melody is strangely familiar although it’s relatively hard to place until Ocean sings it again with the near-exact lyrics from “Here, There and Everywhere” some bars later.
Bigger Than Original? Both tracks were mostly left to deep cut status on their respective classic albums — though Emmylou Harris did take her version of “Here, There & Everywhere” to No. 65 on the Hot 100 in 1976. — K.R.
Get Lifted: In the gut-punch second verse of Mariah Carey’s bar-raising heartbreak ballad, the singer starts scanning the radio dial for distraction from her anguish, but only finds Bobby Womack and Babyface pining along with her — which she briefly sings along to (“If you think you’re lonely now…” “I only think of you…”) before snapping out of it and changing the channel.
Why It Works: Carey understands better than anyone the way pop music tends to pours gasoline on our more extreme emotions — and as she quickly lapses into these classic-but-not-clichéd ’80s hits, she increases the flammability of her own torch song tenfold.
Bigger Than Originals? Bigger than all but a handful of songs in pop history, as “We Belong Together” conquered the Hot 100 for 14 weeks in 2005. — A.U.
Get Lifted: The next generation of hip-hop, R&B and electronic stars have all taken their shots at paying homage to Baby Girl in song — but few as gracefully as Solange on this A Seat at the Table highlight, where she teases at the melody of the Aaliyah single’s hook before finally declaring near her own outro: “I’ve been more than a woman.”
Why It Works: A Seat at the Table is all about drawing strength from history, both cultural and personal, and briefly summoning the late great Aaliyah with this late dip into one of her most oft-quoted hits just further fortifies the album’s power and sense of self.
Bigger Than Original? “More Than a Woman” reached No. 25 on the Hot 100, while “Borderline” was never promoted as a single and did not reach the charts. — A.U.
TAKE ‘EM TO THE BRIDGE
Interpolations that wait for the new song’s bridge to appear, making their late-game arrival a pleasant surprise.
Ariana Grande, “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” (2019) int. *NSYNC, “It Makes Me Ill” (2000)
Get Lifted: Ari’s “Break Up” bridge updates lyrics from the No Strings Attached deep cut to fit her narrative about coveting a guy’s girlfriend, trading “You can say I’m crazy if you want to” for “You could call me crazy ’cause I want you” (among other subtle word swaps) in the sensual redo.
Why It Works: It works on a few levels. First, it puts a much-deserved spotlight on a beloved non-single, offering a knowing wink to her fellow *NSYNC stans — as well as to the song’s own co-writer/co-producer Max Martin, a No Strings Attached collaborator — but it also just fits in the song. If you didn’t know “It Makes Me Ill,” you’re still vibing to this bridge.
Bigger Than Original? Yup. “Ill” never hit the Hot 100, while “Break Up” debuted and topped out at No. 2. — KATIE ATKINSON
Get Lifted: You’ll feel those pleasure-center neurons firing off as soon as “Without Me” gets to its towering bridge, when the music mostly cuts off and Halsey dips into the pre-chorus to Justin Timberlake’s break-up breakthrough: “You don’t have to say what you did/ I already know…” Get the video camera ready.
Why It Works: No one who was alive from 2002 to 2003 doesn’t instantly understand the implications of citing “Cry Me a River,” one of the nastiest and most indelible kiss-offs of this pop century — one still reverberating for its primary players nearly 20 years later. If Halsey’s going there, you know the ex f–ked up.
Bigger Than Original? Impressively, yes — “Cry Me a River” pulled up at No. 3 on the Hot 100, while (as John Mayer can attest) “Without Me” became Halsey’s first No. 1 as a lead artist. — A.U.
Get Lifted: Making a good impression on their massive debut single “Move Ya Body,” dance duo Nina Sky took the iconic refrain from Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s ’80s freestyle hit “Can You Feel the Beat,” chopped it up, stripped it down, and re-imagined it as the bridge to their dancehall jam.
Why It Works: Ditching the synths and saturated chords of the ’80s for a much more pared-down approach with their interpolation, Nina Sky took Lisa Lisa’s earnest ’80s anthem and flipped into a perfect post-chorus check-in with the audience, making sure that they were still dancing the night away.
Bigger Than Original? “Move Ya Body” may be Nina Sky’s only original song to enter the Hot 100, but with a No. 4 peak, they certainly outshined Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s modest No. 69 peak for the original back in 1985. — S.D.
Olivia Rodrigo, “Deja Vu” (2021) int. Taylor Swift, “Cruel Summer” (2019)
Get Lifted: As one particularly astute tweet put it, Olivia Rodrigo “attended the Taylor Swift Architectural school for bridge building” — and the final project of Rodrigo’s first year was undoubtedly sophomore single “Deja Vu,” which swiped the manic delivery, oscillating melody and general lyrical frenzy of Swift’s finest middle eight.
Why It Works: The motor that powers the brain-bursting confusion and mood swings of Swift’s bridge makes just as much sense propelling the frustration and incredulity of Rodrigo’s — and including a subtle lift like this in a song literally titled “Deja Vu” is a bit of meta-pop that must’ve had music’s preeminent easter-egg-layer beaming.
Bigger Than Original? Indeed — not promoted as an official single, “Cruel Summer” never bettered its Lover-release Hot 100 debut of No. 29, while “Deja Vu” leaped all the way to No. 3 in Sour’s first week. — A.U.
Get Lifted: The duo’s collab with Gucci Mane borrows the line “she’s a big teaser” (tweaked to “she’s a good teaser”) from The Beatles’ “Day Tripper,” showing up with a big wink following the song’s third chorus. “Beatles” also name-checks John Lennon and Paul McCartney, while the song’s video dips into Beatles/Lennon iconography, including a rooftop concert and a bed-in.
Why It Works: Rae Sremmurd were bold to liken themselves to The Beatles, the GOAT of musical groups. Their salute across genres, generations, races and nationalities demonstrated the Fab Four’s unparalleled impact, and did so with impressive subtlety on this grazing blow of a lift. (McCartney wisely embraced the hit — even posting his own Mannequin Challenge video, captioning it “Love those Black Beatles.”)
Bigger Than Original?: Yes, and that’s saying something: “Black Beatles” logged seven weeks at No. 1, while “Day Tripper” peaked at No. 5. (It was the B-side of “We Can Work It Out,” which logged three weeks at No. 1.) — PAUL GREIN
Get Lifted: After handing the mic to ScHoolboy Q about two-thirds through her toast to turning up, Tinashe returns with a (slightly modified) Sean Paul hook from a decade earlier in tow for further litspiration: “Just gimme the trees, and we can smoke it, yeah…”
Why It Works: Peak Sean Paul always works — and when the car’s already been hotboxed and the drink being poured is way too strong, he’s one of the few places left to turn to take the party even higher.
Bigger Than Original? No, as “We Be Burnin’” made it all the way to the top 10 in 2005 — but “2 On” remains easily Tinashe’s biggest Hot 100 hit to date, peaking at No. 24 in 2014. — A.U.
Interpolations that see artists reaching across genres and/or eras for a little something extra.
Ariana Grande, “7 Rings” (2019) int. Rodgers and Hammerstein, “My Favorite Things” (1959)
Get Lifted: Ari delivers a note-for-note rendition of the Sound Of Music classic in the “7 Rings” verses, updating Fraulein Maria’s virtuous list of favorite things with a more braggadocious lyrical tally that swaps “bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens” with “girls with tattoos who like getting in trouble,” among other material items of which the Captain would likely disapprove.
Why It Works: Beyond “Favorite Things” simply having one of the most enchanting melodies of the 20th century, its use in the saucy, make-it-rain R&B romp creates a sort of delicious cognitive dissonance for everyone who grew up on the saccharine glory of The Sound Of Music.
Bigger Than Original? Technically yes. “7 Rings” debuted at No. 1 on the Hot 100 and spent eight weeks in this peak position, while the original “My Favorite Things” never charted. (A cover by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass’ did hit No. 45 on the Hot 100 in 1969.) But it was still all cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudel for the Rodgers and Hammerstein camp, as Concord — the music company that’s owned the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalog since 2017 — earned 90 percent of “7 Rings’” songwriting royalties. — KATIE BAIN
Get Lifted: Bad Bunny’s beat-switching “Safaera” is really built on references to previous hits, including the one-stringed tumbi borrowed from Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On.” The lift comes in during a beat switch that begins the third verse of the YHLQMDLG highlight.
Why It Works: The Tainy and DJ Orma-produced track is more than just your typical perreo banger, it’s a song that masterfully incorporates references from five different songs (including Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” and Alexis & Fido’s “El Tiburón” among other anthems) that span generations. Adding the hypnotic “Freak” tumbi hook just makes the five-minute track even more extraordinary and visceral.
Bigger Than Original? While “Safaera” peaked at No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart, it only hit No. 81 on the Hot 100, well short of the No. 7 peak of “Get Ur Freak On.” — GRISELDA FLORES
Get Lifted: “Hold Up” takes from a variety of unexpected sources — including a beat sampled from easy listening kingpin Andy Williams, and a hook inspired by an Ezra Koenig-tweeted adaptation of the chorus to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ indie rock power ballad “Maps” — but nothing lands with the right hook of Beyoncé singing the hook to early viral rap sensation Soulja Boy’s chest-puffed ’08 smash “Turn My Swag On” in falsetto for the song’s outro.
Why It Works: After all the manic confusion expressed throughout the “Hold Up” verses and chorus (“What’s worse, being jealous or crazy?”), the simple chest-puffed confidence of Beyoncé casually cooing, “I hop up out my bed, and get my swag on/ I look in the mirror, say, ‘What’s up?’” — like she’s singing it in the shower after catching Soulja on the radio earlier in the day — feels like the perfect release of all the song’s tension.
Bigger Than Original?: No toppling the Queen here: “Hold Up” crashed in at No. 13 on the Hot 100 in 2016, six spots higher than the No. 19 peak of “Swag” in ’09. — A.U.
Get Lifted: The title track to Eric Church’s 2015 effort sees him expressing empathy for a “weird kid… sitting in the back of the class,” referring to the young’n (and by extension, himself) as “Mr. Misunderstood” — doing so to the same tune as the “so misunderstood” chorus to Wilco’s Being There leadoff cut. (In case you miss the reference, there’s also a verse nod to the band’s frontman Jeff Tweedy being “one bad mother.”)
Why It Works: The whole song is about how not following the prevailing trends can lead to you successfully blazing your own path — as country-rock renegade Church had done by the mid-’10s, and as the alt-leaning Wilco certainly did in the mid-’90s — and the lift cleverly ties them together to make one fairly convincing case to the outcast teen being addressed in the lyrics.
Bigger Than Original? True to the outsider nature of Church’s lyrics, neither song ever had tremendous chart success — though “Mr. Misunderstood” at least graced the Hot 100, hitting No. 84 in early 2016. — A.U.
Get Lifted: One of the least-likely lifts of the 21st century saw Gucci and producer Bangladesh enlisting a kid’s chorus to intone the hook (“Lemons on the chain with the V-cut/ Lemonade and shade with my feet up”) to his yellow-fixated 2009 single, borrowing the vocal melody (and the insistent piano) from ex-Turtles duo Flo & Eddie’s “Keep It Warm” in the process.
Why It Works: For the same reason anything about “Lemonade” works — because it goes so absurdly hard that you just kinda have to accept it on its own terms, regardless of how little sense it makes on paper.
Bigger Than Original? How Gucci and Bangladesh even knew a ’70s obscurity like “Keep It Warm” well enough to be inspired by it remains a marvel; that song never charted, while “Lemonade” reached No. 53 in 2010. — A.U.
Get Lifted: Long before Ariana Grande interpolated The Sound of Music, Gwen Stefani made sure to give her flowers to the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, opening up the track by singing the opening lines of the whimsical puppet-accompanied song, “The Lonely Goatherd,” while peppering the rest of the track with the song’s unforgettable yodeling.
Why It Works: Many would argue that “Wind It Up” does not, in fact, work — Pharrell, who co-wrote the song with Stefani – has since admitted that he initially didn’t want the interpolation included. But there is something about the inclusion of the unexpected yodeling, and the sampling of strings from the original song, that simply makes “Wind It Up” all that much more fun.
Bigger Than Original?: While it would be pretty difficult to compete with The Sound of Music soundtrack’s astounding track record on the Billboard 200 charts, “Wind It Up” certainly outpaces “The Lonely Goatherd” in terms of single success — while the original cut never made an appearance on the Hot 100, Stefani’s track gave Rodgers & Hammerstein their first top 10 hit on the chart when it peaked at No. 6 in 2006. — S.D.
Get Lifted: Super-slick Bruno Mars plucked the “Don’t believe me, just watch” from the hulking, slow-moving beat of the Trinidad James rap tune and turned it into a jubilant call to shout from the rooftops and kick off a dance-funk break.
Why It Works: While James coolly tosses out this line on his own chorus, there is nothing chill about Mars’ delivery or the tension that builds in the music before everything drops out, leaving the stage all to him to realize the phrase’s true, anthemic potential.
Bigger Than Original? “Uptown Funk” absolutely smashed “All Gold Everything” (and just about everything else) on the charts, claiming No. 1 on the Hot 100 for 14 weeks. — C.W.
Get Lifted: It’s subtle, but it’s there, with the interpolation coming at the 5:30 mark of the eight-and-a-half-minute track — as Jaar sings the “Baby Boy” melody and lyric “so don’t you fight it” over and over, with those lyrics eventually disassembling so he’s then just sampling himself saying “fight” on repeat.
Why It Works: It’s unexpected and perhaps a bit subversive — and still obviously alluring — for the largely underground producer to borrow from one of the most iconic pop stars of all time. (Jaar also sampled Beyoncé’s “1+1″ in his 2012 Essential Mix.) “Fight” also involves some interpolation inception, with “Baby Boy” itself interpolating Ini Kamoze’s 1990 single “Hot Stepper.”
Bigger Than Original? A deeper cut in the already relatively deep Jaar oeuvre, this “Fight” didn’t stand a chance against the original in terms of mainstream popularity — with Beyoncé and Sean Paul fulfilling fantasies in the apex position of the Hot 100 for nine weeks back in 2003. — K.B.
Get Lifted: Described by lead singer Ezra Koenig on his Beats 1 show Time Crisis as “the Vampire Weekend song with the squirreliest path to a finished product,” “Step” is written as a reimagining of the relatively little-known ’90s track “Step to My Girl” by Bay Area rap group Souls of Mischief. In “Step,” Souls’ saxophone line is repurposed as the melody for the first line of the chorus “the gloves are off / the wisdom teeth are out,” while the intro also repurposes the original’s hook, “Every time I see you in the world you always step to my girl.”
Why It Works: Known for their intellectual, sometimes haughty lyrics (yeah… they went to Columbia), Vampire Weekend’s song “Step” is one of their most enduring because it touts many of their beloved lyrical themes: obscure references, specific descriptions of place, and youthful tone — all centered here by the Souls of Mischief lift.
Bigger Than Original? Neither “Step” ever cracked the Hot 100. — K.R.
OLD FRIENDS MADE NEW
Interpolations that invite back the performer of the original track to assist with the new lift.
Brad Paisley feat. Alabama, “Old Alabama” (2011) int. Alabama, “Mountain Music” (1982)
Get Lifted: For his This Is Country Music single “Old Alabama,” Paisley didn’t hesitate to reel in Alabama band members Randy Owen, Jeff Cook, and Teddy Gentry, to re-record the original bridge of their 1982 hit “Mountain Music.”
Why It Works: The lyrics in “Old Alabama” tell the story of a couple who are listening to various Alabama-related songs, because the titular music is the only thing the girl wants to hear. But the real showstopper is the grand finale with a fiddle-heavy solo, as also heard in the original “Mountain Music.”
Bigger Than Original? Both songs peaked at No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart. “Old Alabama” arrived on the June 4, 2011-dated tally, where it reigned for two weeks; whereas “Mountain Music” ruled for one week in May 1982. (“Old Alabama” also crossed over to the Hot 100, peaking at No. 38.) — JESSICA ROIZ
Get Lifted: The reggaetón icon recruited Snow, the original singer of the 1992 reggae song “Informer,” for an upbeat, reimagined version with a reggaetón twist. In the bilingual track, Daddy Yankee and the Canadian artist switched the lyrics to describe a girl who’s the center of attention, as opposed to a “jail song.”
Why It Works: The global appeal found in “Con Calma” easily presented both Yankee and Snow to a brand new audience fueled by dance challenges on social media. As Snow expressed his gratitude to Billboard, “Thanks to Daddy Yankee and [co-producers] Play-N-Skillz for giving ‘Informer’ a fresh new life. And, thanks to the Spanish-language community.”
Bigger Than Original? Although “Informer” outpaced “Con Calma” on the Hot 100, topping the chart for seven weeks in 1993, “Con Calma” earned Snow his first No. 1 on the Hot Latin Songs chart in 2019, where it spent 14 weeks at the top. The song also reached the top 25 on the Hot 100 and racked up two billion video views on YouTube. — J.R.
Enrique Iglesias feat. Pitbull, “I Like It” (2010) int. Lionel Richie, “All Night Long (All Night)” (1983)
Get Lifted: Iglesias’ quintessential, Red One-produced dance anthem slyly introduces Richie’s global party line — “party, karamu, fiesta, forever” — toward the end of the pre-chorus, then resurfaces it in unexpected places.
Why It Works: The stealth factor keeps fans of the original with ears perked for more, a little like a musical egg hunt. And yeah, that’s Lionel Richie singing his own re-recorded hook. (Bonus: Pitbull’s mere mention of the words “all night long” in his rap is a clever tip of the hat.)
Bigger Than Original? “I Like It” was a triumph for Iglesias, rising to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and becoming his first foray into the top 10 in nearly a decade. But it couldn’t top Richie’s blend of Motown, African beats and that faux Jamaican accent, as “All Night Long” topped the Hot 100 for four weeks in late 1983. — LEILA COBO
Get Lifted: Summer Walker’s nostalgic Over It cut adopts the atmospheric hi-hats and acoustic melody of Usher’s 1997 confessional classic, while interspersing her own “You make me wanna…” sentiments throughout the chorus, like the titular line “You make me wanna come through” and “You make me wanna replay.”
Why It Works: Recycling the instrumental stylings of ‘90s R&B sex jams (while bringing along one of that era’s greats) is a tried-and-true formula in the modern genre, and Walker sticks to its casual theme by forgoing the commitment of wanting to start a new relationship (as outlined in the original’s hook) and swapping it out for the simpler desire to just hook up.
Bigger Than Original? With “You Make Me Wanna…” earning Usher his first-ever Grammy nomination in 1998 after the song reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 (where “Come Thru” came 40 spots lower), not a chance. Even the music video, featuring multiple Usher clones, got an MTV VMAs nod that year, proving that he’s all over this record’s lasting legacy. — H.M.
THE HOOK BRINGS YOU BACK
Interpolations that borrow a memorable instrumental hook or melody and recreate it for a different context.
Amy Winehouse, “Tears Dry on Their Own” (2006) int. Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (1967)
Get Lifted: Much of Winehouse’s Back to Black album references the Motown sound, but “Tears Dry on Their Own” rips a direct page from the Berry Gordy playbook with its sound-alike production, complete with glockenspiel chimes and snappy percussion.
Why It Works: Look no further than the “original version” from 2011’s Lioness: Hidden Treasures posthumous compilation to see how the interpolation completely transforms “Tears” from a weepy ballad to a soulful, self-assured sing-along.
Bigger Than Original? Nope. “Mountain” peaked at No. 19 on the Hot 100, while “Tears” never dropped onto the chart — but the fourth Back to Black single was a top 20 hit in the U.K. — K.A.
Get Lifted: The third single from Coldplay’s 2005 LP X&Y takes the nine-note opening keyboard riff from the 1981 Kraftwerk track and beefs up the thin, bell-like tone of the original by rendering it in stadium-sized electric guitar.
Why It Works: “Computer Love,” the second single from the electronic pioneers’ 1981 LP Computer World, was mostly unknown (or at least only vaguely familiar) to Coldplay’s core demographic in 2005. While tapping relatively obscure source material, Coldplay recognized that something about these notes together just works, with these borrowed elements becoming a pop-rock earworm that still gets stuck in the head with, well, computer-like efficiency.
Bigger Than Original? While “Talk” was only a relatively minor hit for Coldplay, maxing out at No. 86 on the Hot 100, “Computer Love” never charted. Computer World did, however, find modest success when it hit No. 72 on the Billboard 200 in August of 1981. — K.B.
Juice WRLD, “Lucid Dreams” (2018) int. Sting, “Shape of My Heart” (1993)
Get Lifted: The melody that opens (and then courses through) Sting’s 1993 single serves as a melancholic blueprint for Juice WRLD’s breakthrough — something Sting himself certainly noticed, as he eventually earned the lion’s share of the “Lucid Dreams” royalties.
Why It Works: Although the way Juice WRLD drives into the melody is wildly different than Sting’s approach on “Shape of My Heart,” he and producer Nick Mira capture the same sort of contemplation, understanding just how eerie that guitar-riff intro can sound when paired with his story of being haunted by visions of his ex.
Bigger Than Original? “Lucid Dreams” peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100 and became one of the defining songs of 2018, while “Shape Of My Heart” never reached the chart, even if it has endured as one of Sting’s signature solo tracks. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
Get Lifted: With the chorus to this album track from Yeezy’s endlessly acclaimed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West modulates his vocals to croon a cheeky revamp of Black Sabbath’s instantly recognizable “Iron Man” refrain.
Why It Works: It’s risky business copping the most famous melody from metal’s forefathers, but West doesn’t get it Twisted. While Ozzy Osbourne hammered each syllable on “Iron Man” like a relentless Norse god, West’s delivery oozes drugged-out bliss, turning the tone from straight-up ominous to seductively worldly.
Bigger Than Original? While it’s hardly a fair fight considering that “Hell” wasn’t released as a single, Sabbath wins this round, as “Iron Man” hit No. 52 on the Hot 100 — incredibly, just one of two Sabbath tunes to ever grace (or arguably darken) the chart. — JOE LYNCH
Get Lifted: The Kid deftly weaves the feline-footed piano vamp of Zevon’s biggest hit with the hot riffs and sweet soul “ahh-ahh-ahh”s of the latter rocker — fondly name-checked in the chorus — in what is also essentially a breezier rewrite of fellow Michigander Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.”
Why It Works: Signature sounds from two enduring, nostalgia-freighted ‘70s summer radio staples mashed up with Kid Rock in smokin’, swillin’ and chillin’ mode, jell into an enduring 21st-century cookout staple. (For those whose tastes run darker, though do listen to Zevon’s gothic 1980 deep cut “Play It All Night Long,” with its chorus of, “Sweet Home Alabama, play that dead band’s song” and distillation of “country living” to “sweat, piss, jizz and blood.”)
Bigger Than Originals? “All Summer Long” crested at No. 23 on the Hot 100 in 2008, falling short of both the No. 8 peak of “Sweet Home Alabama” in 1974 and the No. 21 high of “Werewolves of London” in 1978. — FRANK DIGIACOMO
Pitbull feat. Christina Aguilera, “Feel This Moment” (2013) int. a-ha, “Take on Me” (1985)
Get Lifted: Pitbull’s collab with Aguilera interpolates the famous synth riff from a-ha’s “Take on Me,” cranked up to maximum effect to match the massive hooks of the EDM era.
Why It Works: The combination of Mr. Worldwide’s good-natured braggadocio, Aguilera’s always stunning pipes, and the synth riff from one of the most iconic hits of the 1980s is simply too powerful for pop listeners to ignore.
Bigger Than Original? Nope: “Take on Me” went to No. 1, while “Feel This Moment” topped out at No. 8. — P.G.
Get Lifted: The bass line that started it all for Talking Heads in 1977 was lifted 40 years later by Selena Gomez, who turned David Byrne’s art-rock anthem into an elevated alt-pop rumination.
Why It Works: “Psycho Killer” deploys its bass to communicate a jittery fear that stops just short of dread, and Gomez does the same on “Bad Liar,” molding its creep into a soundtrack for both pining and the anxieties and distractions it can produce.
Bigger Than Original? Although “Psycho Killer” never climbed higher than No. 92 on the Hot 100, it stands as an essential chapter in Talking Heads’ legacy; meanwhile, “Bad Liar” was a top 20 hit for Gomez, but wasn’t included on an album from the pop star until Rare in 2020. — J. Lipshutz
Interpolations that take a vocal hook that just about everyone knows and loves and invite you to join in the chorus.
Beyoncé, “Naughty Girl” (2004) int. Donna Summer, “Love to Love You Baby” (1975)
Get Lifted: Queen Bey opened up her 2004 Dangerously In Love single with a sultry interpretation of the Queen of Disco’s hushed cry from her breakthrough hit “Love to Love You Baby.” As some funky bass guitars riff off the “Naughty Girl” pre-chorus, Beyoncé moans along to Summer’s star-making title refrain.
Why It Works: For a song as overtly sexy as “Naughty Girl,” Beyoncé invoking the spirit of Summer’s sexually charged smash hit only helps to set the mood, heighten the tension, and put the superstar’s name right next to an icon she had looked up to for years.
Bigger Than Original? It’s a close race, but Donna Summer still reigns supreme with her 1975 classic, which earned the disco legend her first Hot 100 entry and peaked at No. 2. Beyoncé would end up having greater success with Dangerously In Love singles “Baby Boy” and “Crazy In Love,” but “Naughty Girl” capped its run at No. 3. — S.D.
Get Lifted: With “Right Round,” top 40 mainstay Flo Rida morphed a British new wave hook from a quarter-century earlier into an anthem for the turbo-pop era, complete with sexual innuendo (“You spin my head right round, right round / When you go down”) replacing that outdated “like a record” stuff from Dead or Alive’s refrain.
Why It Works: Like every good interpolation, “Right Round” takes something time-honored and well-liked, then repositions it in an exciting new context. “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” has an indelible hook, Flo Rida jacked it for party-rap purposes, and something both fresh and familiar was stumbled upon. Bonus points for an uncredited, pre-fame Kesha assisting on the chorus, too.
Bigger Than Original? Yup: while “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” climbed to No. 11 on the Hot 100 after topping the U.K. charts, “Right Round” reigned on the listing for six weeks in 2009 and helped continue Flo Rida’s momentum following hits like “Low” and “In The Ayer.” — J. Lipshutz
Get Lifted: Emo rap group Gym Class Heroes didn’t just lean into English band Supertramp’s 1979 title track on their mid-’00s breakout hit: It’s literally the very first thing you hear from Fall Out Boy singer Patrick Stump, and it provides the keening, melodic backbone of the song. “Take a look at my girlfriend, she’s the only one I got,” Stump sings, echoing the original’s chorus, before GCH frontman Travie McCoy dips into verses about his pancake-cooking new love.
Why it Works: The creamy Supertramp chorus and melody already have a bouncy, impossible-to-ignore effect, and sandwiching that between McCoy’s smooth, clever verses about his budding love(s) and Stump’s airy take on the refrain make for the Reese’s Cup of poppy alt-rap.
Bigger Than Original?: The Supertramp track hit No. 62 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1981, but GCH blew that away by rising all the way to No. 4 on the tally, as well as No. 3 on the U.K. singles chart. (Supertramp only managed to hit No. 9 in their native country). — G.K.
Jay-Z, “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)” (2000) int. Rick James, “Give It to Me Baby” (1981)
Get Lifted: The Pharrell-crooned chorus from Jay-Z’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia lead single is a slinky, laid-back update on the chorus of Rick James’ party-starting dirty-funk classic.
Why It Works: While James all but barked his substance-fueled come-on back in 1981, an uncredited Pharrell (who also produced brittle funk-hop jam as part of The Neptunes) delivers the same words with a confident, detached cool that perfectly pairs with Hova’s charming braggadocio, which was in peak form circa 2000.
Bigger Than Original? While Jay hit No. 1 with Mariah Carey thanks to “Heartbreaker” in 1999, this 2000 single became his highest charting hit as the primary artist at the time, reaching No. 11 on the Hot 100 – easily besting James’ “Give” peak at No. 40. (Both, however, topped the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.) — J. Lynch
Get Lifted: Nelly’s sweet, smoothly delivered come-ons — “I like the way you brush your hair, and I like those stylish clothes you wear” — were lifted directly from DeBarge’s funked up slow jam, aside from opting for “brush” instead of “comb.”
Why It Works: Evoking the classic come-hither jam lends both emotional weight and generational knowledge to Nelly’s most flirtatious hit.
Bigger Than Original? Indeed: While DeBarge did hit No. 31 on the Hot 100 with “I Like It” in 1983, Nelly transcended that success and then some when “Ride Wit Me” hit No. 3 on the chart in the summer of 2001. — K.B.
TALK THAT TALK
Interpolations that borrow lyrics and flows from a rapped or spoken section of a song.
Aaliyah, “Try Again” (2000) int. Eric B. & Rakim, “I Know You Got Soul” (1987)
Get Lifted: Aaliyah’s Romeo Must Die soundtrack single snags its “been a long time” intro from Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid in Full standout — with a slight twist: rapper Rakim regrets leaving you without a “strong rhyme” to step to, while producer Timbaland bemoans depriving you of a “dope beat” instead.
Why It Works: To be fair, it hadn’t been that long since Aaliyah and Timbaland had left us — “Are You That Somebody?” was released less than two years prior — but we still appreciated their musical concern, as the familiar intro serves as a boastful (and accurate) proclamation that we’re in for something dope.
Bigger Than Original? Much. “I Know You Got Soul” never cracked the Hot 100, whereas “Try Again” was Aaliyah’s lone No. 1 on the chart. — K.A.
Get Lifted: To kick off the third verse on this Nothing Was the Same track, Drake snatches the opening lines of Mase’s verse on the 1997 classic — “Who’s hot, who’s not? / Tell me who rock, who sell out in stores” — and smushes them into DJ Dahi’s warped beat before quickly moving on to his own boasts.
Why It Works: Considering that “Worst Behavior” serves as a chest-thumping heat check on NWTS, with Drake seeing how far-out he can push his beats and braggadocio early in his career, the “Mo’ Money” interpolation serves as a sly bit of showmanship with a still-ascending superstar.
Bigger Than Original? “Worst Behavior,” which peaked at No. 89 on the Hot 100, never had a shot at superseding former No. 1 “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems,” instead quickly paying homage to it. — J. Lipshutz
Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Blake, “Kings Dead” (2018) int. Juicy J “Slob on My Knob” (1999)
Get Lifted: “Kings Dead” is Jay Rock’s star-studded epic from the Black Panther soundtrack, with Rock, Kendrick Lamar, James Blake and Future trading verses. Certainly the most shocking (and memorable) of the four, Future opens his turn with an interpolation of the Juicy J song “Slob On My Knob,” as he sings “la di da di da, slob on me knob.”
Why It Works: While it may be over-inflating the merits of the line “slob on me knob,” it’s a perfect first hook into Future’s verse: With one phrase, it’s both a call back to one of rap’s preeminent Y2K anthems and furthers the theme of Panther’s Killmonger as the song’s character du jour, as Future introduces himself with the same arrogant, don’t-f-ck-with-me attitude as the Michael B. Jordan antagonist. Plus, it’s just a funny line.
Bigger Than Original? One of the highest-charting songs from the Black Panther soundtrack, “Kings Dead” earned the No. 21 spot on the Hot 100 — just as two other interpolations of “Slob on My Knob” also landed on the Hot 100. Between “Plain Jane” by A$AP Ferg, “No Limit” by G-Eazy, A$AP Rocky and Cardi B, and “Kings Dead,” it’s clear Juicy J’s “Slob on My Knob” was far more influential to modern rap than its lack of Hot 100 charting reflects. — K.R.
Get Lifted: The first voice you hear on Usher’s third 8701 single isn’t of Mr. Raymond or even producers The Neptunes, but mentor Jermaine Dupri, who sets the tone with a line borrowed from Biggie on his remixed Ready to Die smash — “Don’t leave your girl ’round me, true player for real…” — before changing the ending “ask Puff Daddy” to the more appropriate “ask my n—a Pharrell.”
Why It Works: Over The Neptunes’ knocking beat, JD’s swaggering provides the perfect runway for Usher to come gliding onto the track with his tut-tutting about how his girl messed up their relationship.
Bigger Than Original? Almost: “U Don’t Have to Call” came just two spots away from matching prior 8701 hits “U Remind Me” and “U Got It Bad” at No. 1, but that was also one spot shy of “One More Chance,” which debuted at No. 2 in 1995. — A.U.
WHERE’VE I HEARD THAT ONE BEFORE?
Interpolations that you may very well know, but might take you a second to identify what specific scratch they’re itching.
Aloe Blacc, “The Man” (2014) int. Elton John, “Your Song” (1970)
Get Lifted: Aloe Blacc’s first (and so far only) top 10 hit as a lead artist borrowed a key lyric and melody (“you can tell everybody”) from Elton John’s first top 10 hit, the rock ballad perennial “Your Song.”
Why It Works: Aloe opens his warm, midtempo ballad with the line and returns to it numerous times, ultimately backed by a gospel-ish choir. Elton had many higher-charting hits, but “Your Song” is certainly one of his most beloved songs. Aloe tapped into the good feelings fans all over the world have for the original.
Bigger Than Original?: It was a rare tie: Both songs reached No. 8 on the Hot 100. — P.G.
Get Lifted: Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia knockout borrows the melody and rhythm of the staircase-tumbling guitar riff from INXS’s 1987 come-on classic for her own cascading chorus: “I should’ve stayed. at. home. / Coz-I-was-do-ing-be-tter-a-lone.”
Why It Works: Reminding pop audiences of a five-star banger like “Need You Tonight” is never a bad idea, and deploying the melodic pattern’s tension-and-release impact adds to both the anxiety and allure of Lipa’s captivating hook.
Bigger Than Original? Hard to get much higher than No. 1, and “Break My Heart” indeed came up 12 spots short of INXS’ lone Hot 100-topper. — A.U.
OutKast, “So Fresh, So Clean” (2000) int. Joe Simon, “Before the Night Is Over” (1977)
Get Lifted: The tiptoeing melody that runs throughout OutKast’s Stankonia single came from Joe Simon’s romantic, late-1970s R&B groove.
Why It Works: It’s a small part of Simon’s original, but that melody informs the entire OutKast song, from the way Sleepy Brown and André 3000 sing the chorus, mimicking the plucked strings, to the keyboard line, uniting the song along the same funky thread.
Bigger Than Original? Simon’s original never charted, but OutKast took the part to No. 10 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and US Rhythmic, No. 13 on Hot Rap Songs and No. 30 on the Hot 100. — C.W.
Get Lifted: “Feel it Still” borrows Mr Postman’s bubbly, feel-good vocal melody, with the 2017 track kicking in, “Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, now…” at the exact same time as The Marvelettes begin the original with “Oh yes, wait a minute Mister Postman…”
Why It Works: In interpolating the Marvelettes, “Feel It Still” builds upon a universal experience — blaming the messenger for delays hearing back from a loved one — and repurposes its angst and whimsy for another universal life moment, acknowledging one’s own adulthood through the birth of a child. By framing “Feel It Still” in familiarity, Portugal. The Man finds a way to lightly remind listeners that its OK to revisit the past and rebellious mindset of youth — “it might be over now,” but you’ll feel it still.
Bigger Than Original? While “Feel It Still” did earn some impressive honors that didn’t exist at in 1961 (most-Shazamed song in the country for seven weeks running), the Marvelettes’ hit is the one to be certified first class with a No.1 peak on the Billboard Hot 100 — the first No. 1 for Tamla-Motown, the Detroit label founded two years earlier by Berry Gordy Jr. “Please Mr. Postman” would hit No. 1 a second time in 1975 when it was covered by The Carpenters, while “Feel it Still” peaked at No. 4 on the Hot 100 in 2017. — DAVE BROOKS