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Rodgers And Hammerstein Are Making A Bundle With Ariana Grande’s ‘7 Rings’

There may be no hit more ubiquitous for the musical team of Rodgers and Hammerstein than “My Favorite Things.” Despite being written by two Jews and sung, in its original context, by an ex-nun to her charges during a thunderstorm in an Austrian summer estate, the tune from “The Sound of Music” developed an unshakable association with Christmas guaranteeing its airplay each winter. The reason: It is, at its, core, an ode to commercialism.

While the original lyrics partially suppose the premise that the best things in life are free (“snowflakes that cover my nose and eyelashes… wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings,”) newer treatments of the song, whether piped in as muzak in shopping malls or featured in department store ads, have efficiently sapped that message. Most recently Ariana Grande’s song “7 Rings,” a celebration of a black card’s buying power that uses the melody and scansion of the lyrics of “My Favorite Things” as its foundation, extended the shelf life of the song beyond the holiday season.

Just this week, with spring upon us, Grande’s retail therapy anthem again reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. But the 2019 hit has a gift of its own for Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, both long dead, with The New York Times now reporting that 90 percent of the royalties go to Concord, the music company that controls their catalogue.

The hefty percentage was agreed to on-the-spot when Grande’s representatives and her label, Republic, brought the finished song to Concord shortly before the song’s release in January. The upshot is that Concord stands to make millions and Grande and her seven collaborators on the tune will only get a fraction of the royalties – sales are another matter.

When asked about the deal by the Times, Todd S. Purdum, the author of “Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution” posited that the songwriting pair would “love the ka-ching of it.”

Rodgers and Hammerstein were, in their time, at the center of popular culture and were not above allowing their work to break away from the proscenium stage and onto, say, a hair-coloring ad. (It’s worth mentioning here that Grande’s song boasts the memorable refrain: “You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it.”) Theodore S. Chapin, the executive in charge of the duo’s copyrights told The Times that Rodgers’ sign off on a Clairol spot prior to his death in 1979, “gave all of us a little license to feel that we should keep an open mind on these kinds of things.” Chapin added that Mary Rodgers, herself a composer and the late daughter of Richard Rodgers, “would have thought this is pretty kick-ass.”

As for Hammerstein, the mentor of that most persnickety lyricist Stephen Sondheim, we think he’d take issue with the redundancy in Grande’s line mentioning “Lashes and diamonds, ATM machines,” but probably wouldn’t say no to the check.

PJ Grisar os the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at [email protected].

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