Is Beyoncé proof that great artists steal? Here’s a look at new allegations

Late designer leaves gap between his alleged muse and his biggest collaborator

13 December 2023 - 11:43
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Beyoncé on stage with her dancers for the 'Renaissance' tour.
Beyoncé on stage with her dancers for the 'Renaissance' tour.
Image: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Parkwood

For her entire career, singer-songwriter Beyoncé has made references. Whether it is layered, meta easter eggs dropped between lyrics or paying homage to the icons she grew up respecting, the Single Ladies hitmaker is always looking to elevate her distinct visuals to create artistic pieces of work.

However, like most great artists, some of her art is not lauded by those who originated it. She recently landed in hot water for visuals from her Renaissance stage performances and artwork that features fembots similar to those created by Japanese artist Hajime Sorayama.

Known for his pin-up chromatic illustrations, Sorayama took to Instagram to suggest Beyoncé’s work was not up to scratch as a result of not consulting him.

“You should have asked me ‘officially’ so I could make much better work for you as like my man @theweeknd,” he said, referring to The Weeknd, the singer and frontman of critical flop The Idol.

In the post, Sorayama included images of Beyoncé in a metallic costume that bears resemblance to his past creations, particularly a headpiece with rods on either side of the face.

The oversized versions of the models seen as part of Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour could be seen in preceding shows by The Weeknd which were created by Sorayama, who is famed for these characters. He also featured in the technicolour light show at a Dior 2019 fashion show that looks similar to Beyoncé’s version seen between her show.

Sorayama has also reimagined pop icons in his chromatic illustrations, including Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. There was also a recent rendition of The Vitruvian Man done for noted fashion designer Stella McCartney.

However, Beyoncé’s fans have been quick to note this might be a shot in the dark for Sorayama, as the pop diva had a long-standing collaboration with another lover of all things sex and metal, the late Thierry Mugler.

According to Art Net, Sorayama undertook his first erotic robot sketch as far back as 1979, when he gave Star Wars character C3PO a drastic makeover. It was only in 1995 that Mugler would feature his sexy women of steel. His shows at the time were revered for being spectacles, which also marries with the showmanship of Beyoncé, something that has created a long-standing relationship between the two, with Beyoncé using many archival pieces from his collections in her stage and music video performances. Additionally, Mugler often tapped ballroom drag culture heavily referenced by Beyoncé in Renaissance, making the design house the best fit for an album dedicated to 1990s queer club culture.

However, for the 1995 collection it was reported Mugler took inspiration from multiple sources. Not just the 1920s film Metropolis but from Sorayama’s creations too. As Sorayama is no stranger to fashion collaborations, it should come as no surprise that this aesthetic was pulled from his own visuals, as quoted in a retrospective piece by Dazed.

This is not the first time Beyoncé has caught stray bullets over an artist’s view of her referencing without permission. She landed in hot water when looking to praise several female icons including Audrey Hepburn in her Countdown  music video. The creative direction took heavily from multiple works by choreographer Anne Teresa De Keesmaeker. She said in a statement she was concerned about Beyoncé and her team not reaching out to use her work but praised the pop star as they were both pregnant in their performances.

Beyoncé was also chided by fellow artist Amerie. The 1 Thing singer felt Beyoncé and other musos at the time were jumping on a sound she used heavily in her lesser-known works.

While there aren’t many interviews with Mugler calling Sorayama an inspiration for his fembots, it has become widely believed he took inspiration from his illustrations. As a result, it puts two of the three living artists in a pickle. Who do you reference, the artist or his alleged muse?

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