A new biopic about Elvis Presley came out this summer, and it was naturally accompanied by a big soundtrack full of popular Elvis tracks like “Suspicious Minds.” But the biggest hit of the album — the one getting radio play this year — was “Vegas.” The song, performed by Doja Cat, didn’t include a lick of Elvis’ work but did include samplings of Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” — a song that Elvis covered to great success in the ’50s.
And that was kind of the point. Many of the songs on the soundtrack — the ones not sung by Elvis or the guy playing Elvis in the movie — were borrowing motifs and samplings of Elvis-associated songs. They were attempts by Elvis’ former label, RCA, to capitalize off the songs many of us already know. And RCA isn’t just doing this with Elvis’ catalog. Nor is RCA the only label borrowing old songs to make new ones.
There’s a whole industry in music centered around interpolation: the act of inserting familiar elements of older songs into newer music to breed familiarity in audiences. Labels are doing everything they can to get you to listen to the music they produce — including relying on nostalgia, and it’s very big business. In fact, it’s such a big business, it might even be the future of music.
For the next three Mondays, The Vergecast is out to explore what the future of music will sound like. This week, I spoke with music journalist and Switched on Pop podcast host Charlie Harding about how labels are using old music to create new hits. We talk about how old, unused recordings are transformed for new albums, how AI is recreating famous singers, and how labels are purposely using elements of old, extremely profitable catalogs like Elvis’ to create new hits through remixes and interpolations.