Yes, Beyoncé Saw The Sanremo Performance, But No, It Wasn’t A Ripoff

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Beyoncé‘s much-lauded 2011 Billboard Music Awards performance came under scrutiny yesterday for its similarities to a performance by Italian singer Lorella Cuccarini at last year’s Sanremo Festival. But the 2010 performance was only one of many influences, according to the creators of the Billboard spectacle.

Beyoncé herself spoke to AOL Music about the comparisons. “My makeup artist showed me the performance of Lorella Cuccarini a year ago, and it inspired me so much,” she explained, adding, “Thank god for YouTube.” (Nevermind that Mary J. Blige performed at the same festival.) Though Beyoncé ultimately chose other collaborators for her performance, she did meet with “the talented people who worked on [Cuccarini's performance].”

One of Beyoncé’s collaborators, visual designer Kenzo Digital, was understandably more stung by the accusations. In a conversation with Daniel Kreps at the Yahoo! Music blog Amplifier, the up-and-coming new media artist explained, “It’s a technique in video art since the ’80s in terms of frontal projection and interactive things.” The art-history lesson would sound defensive if Kenzo Digital hadn’t studied under the inventor of video art, the late Nam June Paik, in whose work can be seen the seed of these types of presentations. Kenzo Digital’s work is that much more impressive considering that he maintains a day job at the advertising company Wieden-Kennedy, according to the Amplifier interview.

The animation itself was rendered by Brooklyn-based Dirt Empire, whose past work includes the music video for LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum.” The animators also rendered an alternate version that Kenzo Digital and Beyoncé decided not to use. This version leaked to YouTube and was quickly pulled by the animators’ request, but a phantom video still suggests that Beyoncé and her performance designers explored many options and influences besides Cuccarini’s performance: