Indonesian singer-songwriter Pamungkas has quietly released a new version of his single ‘Birdy’ after accusations emerged on social media that he had borrowed its lyrics heavily from Charles Bukowski’s poem ‘The Bluebird’.
Days after the release of ‘Birdy’ on January 27, Hamzah Muhammad wrote a Twitter thread accusing Pamungkas of “badly paraphrasing” the Bukowski poem.
“Pamungkas’ problem is not musicality. But mentality,” Muhammad wrote in Indonesian, adding, “His new single ‘Birdy’ is no re-reading of Charles Bukowski’s ‘The Bluebird’. ‘Birdy’ is a bad paraphrasing [of the poem].”
An East Jakarta-based artist manager, Muhammad has also translated works by poets Bukowski, Pablo Neruda and Mahmoud Darwish. His translations of selected Bukowski poems from the collection On Love were published in 2020 by small Jakarta indie Penerbit Anagram.
See the start of Muhammad’s thread, which has garnered over 9,000 likes, here:
Problem Pamungkas bukan musikalitas. Tapi mentalitas.
Single terbarunya Birdy tidak menawarkan pembacaan ulang atas the bluebird Charles Bukowski. Birdy adalah parafrase yang buruk.
Setelah kasus plagiasi cover album, sekarang puisi. Rasanya ada yang belum selesai di dirinya. pic.twitter.com/rn29Jnx7f6
— Hamzah Muhammad (@hmzhmhmmdlghz) February 2, 2022
Save its chorus, the original lyrics for ‘Birdy’, which are still accessible on lyrics database Genius, bear a notable resemblance to Bukowski’s poem, which was first published in 1992.
For instance, the original first verse of Pamungkas’ song goes: “Birdy in my heart / That wants to get out / But I am too clever / I won’t let him out, never / No I’m not going to let anyone see him around, no”.
The first verse of Bukowski’s poem reads: “There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out / but I’m too tough for him / I say, stay in there, I’m not going to let anybody see you”.
On February 9, Pamungkas released a new version of ‘Birdy’ that replaced the original track on digital platforms. Though its chorus remains unchanged, most of the song has been reworked to distance it from the Bukowski poem. For example, the aforementioned verse has been changed to: “Birdy in my heart / The walls flock about / Maybe it’s still noble / As your body double”. Hear the new version of the song below:
NME has reached out to Pamungkas’ management for comment on the new version of ‘Birdy’ and the Bukowski accusations.
In his thread, Hamzah Muhammad noted Pamungkas had previously faced accusations of plagiarism over album cover art. In 2021, the singer-songwriter – real name Rizky Rahmahadian Pamungkas – was called out for plagiarising artwork by a French illustrator for the cover art of his latest album ‘Solipsism 0.2’.
The illustrator, Baptiste Virot, said he hadn’t allowed Pamungkas and his team to use his work. Pamungkas managed to resolve the issue with Virot, whose art was ultimately featured on the album cover, and shared a two-minute video apologising for the oversight, calling it “a reality check for me and the whole team of [his label] Maspam Records family”.
In an interview with NME about ‘Solipsism 0.2’, Pamungkas reflected on the episode: “Sometimes we tend to look at things in a very micro perspective. It’s a learning curve for me to really understand the bigger picture. I’m just glad loads of people remind me of that.”
‘Birdy’ is the title track of Pamungkas’ fourth studio album, which will be out sometime this year. Earlier this week, he released its second single, ‘Please, Baby, Please’, and is planning to release a third track, ‘Trust Me With This (Mama)’ on March 3.
In a statement to NME, Muhammad said that a friend alerted him to the similarities between the Pamungkas song and Bukowski poem on the night of February 1. The following morning, Efek Rumah Kaca vocalist Cholil Mahmud texted Muhammad to ask his opinion on the matter, which inspired him to create the thread.
“Cholil knows that I’ve been working with Bukowski since 2020,” Muhammad told NME. “A few hours after the message, I textually examined the lyrics of ‘Birdy’ in comparison to ‘The Bluebird’. It turns out that the main premise of the two works is the same, even down to the beginning of sentences and verses. For me, that’s cheating.”
Muhammad, who says he has yet to be contacted by Pamungkas or his representatives since the thread went viral, said that in his opinion Pamungkas’ revision of ‘Birdy’ effectively amounted to an admission of guilt. “It was done without any clarification, and that’s certainly ethically disappointing. The absence of any credit for Bukowski’s work illustrates the mentality problem I mentioned in my thread,” he said.
“Pamungkas was once caught up in a case of plagiarism over album artwork. Now it’s the lyrics. It seems like there has been some cheating in Pamungkas’ creative process, and ‘Birdy’ is proof.”