A Painter Is Suing Ariana Grande for Allegedly Ripping Off His Work in a Viral Music Video

Sections of Grande's "God Is a Woman" music video bear a striking resemblance to two painting by Vladimir Kush.

Ariana Grande at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's gala for Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. Photo by Sean Zanni, © Patrick McMullan.
Ariana Grande at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's gala for Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. Photo by Sean Zanni, © Patrick McMullan.

Ariana Grande is the latest chart-topping recording artist charged with ripping off a visual artist in a music video.

Russian-American artist Vladimir Kush filed a lawsuit in a Nevada court accusing the pop star of plagiarizing two of his paintings in the video for her hit single “God Is a Woman.”

In two paintings from 1999 and 2000, The Candle and The Candle 2, both copyrighted by Kush, a giant candle burns in front of a cloudy blue sky, with a woman in silhouette standing in place of the wick. “A woman holds the torch of the spiritual light dispersing the dark night of ignorance. Inspired by spiritual passion she turns herself to the invisible forces of the cosmos controlling the elements on Earth,” writes the artist of the works on his website.

At three points during Grande’s video, she dances inside the flame of a candle. Kush discovered the striking resemblance to his own work after encountering a PopSugar listicle examining the various visuals in the music video.

“This depiction of Ms. Grande is strikingly similar to Plaintiffs’ copyrighted Works,” contends the lawsuit, filed by Las Vegas entertainment attorney Mark Tratos. The suit notes that Kush was never approached about the possible use of his work in Grande’s production.

The scene from Ariana Grande's music video for "God Is a Woman" that resembles Vladimir Kush's painting The Candle and The Candle 2. Screenshot via YouTube.

A scene from Ariana Grande’s music video for “God Is a Woman” that resembles Vladimir Kush’s paintings The Candle and The Candle 2. Screenshot via YouTube.

“While there are many ways to depict a woman dancing in the wick of a candle—even with a heavenly background—defendants clearly copied Mr. Kush’s expression of this idea,” the suit insists. “Specifically, defendants chose to use the same color palette, the same background of a cloudy sky, the same ring effect of the clouds around the flame, the same light beams radiating from the flame, and the same color candle, light fading to dark.”

The video also includes art historical allusions to Michelangelo’s famed fresco The Creation of Adam, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. (Grande wore a custom Vera Wang gown based on the Renaissance great’s The Last Judgement to last year’s Catholicism-themed Met Gala, and enacted an all-female version of Leonardo da Vinci‘s The Last Supper performing the song at the MTV Music Video Awards over the summer.)

Vladimir Kush's painting <em>The Candle</em> and <em>The Candle 2</em>. Courtesy of the artist.

Vladimir Kush’s painting The Candle and The Candle 2. Courtesy of the artist.

Kush’s lawsuits names several defendants beyond Grande, including the music video’s director, Dave Meyers, and a California company, Freenjoy Inc. Both “were sued in 2018 by another well-known visual artist, Lina Iris Viktor, for copying her distinctive paintings and using them without permission in a music video,” the suit alleges.

That case, against Kendrick Lamar and SZA for their music video “All the Stars,” was settled late last year. In the current proceeding, Kush is seeking damages and calling on Grande to remove the video, which has over 200 million views on YouTube, from the internet.

“This is a pretty clear-cut case of copyright infringement,” intellectual property attorney Sam P. Israel, who is not involved in the case, told artnet News. “Though created decades apart, the two images are practically identical. It’s very likely that Kush will walk away with a strong settlement.”

“The recent litigation over Kendrick Lamar’s music video casts a long shadow in this case,” Israel added. “It’s noteworthy that one of the defendants in the Lamar case is listed in the Grande suit. This defendant has already been through this process and knows a settlement is both likely and probably inevitable.”

A scene from Pink's "U + Ur Hand" music video compared to Vladimir Kush's painting <em>Countess Erotiques</em>. A copyright case reached a settlement in 2008. Courtesy of the artist/screenshot via YouTube.

A scene from Pink’s “U + Ur Hand” music video compared to Vladimir Kush’s painting Countess Erotiques. A copyright case reached a settlement in 2008. Courtesy of the artist/screenshot via YouTube.

Kush, for his part, has been through a similar lawsuit in the past, suing Pink in Manhattan District Court in 2007 over her “U + Ur Hand” music video. The clip’s opening scene, of a book straddled by a sculpture of a naked woman in red thigh high boots and arm-length gloves, is highly reminiscent of a painting by the artist. The two parties reached a settlement in 2008.


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