Messages from close friends and industry folks alike flooded Oliver Tree’s phone after the Kid Laroi released the cinematically eccentric video for “Thousand Miles” in late April. Friends and colleagues wanted to know if Tree had helped direct the video, as snippets from it seemed to mirror his own work.
The 28-year-old took a closer look and realized that some scenes were nearly identical to visuals he came up with for his own music. So, on April 28, Tree posted a TikTok showing side-by-side clips of his 2021 video for “Asshole” and Laroi’s recent work, accusing the visual’s director of cribbing. The visual similarities are hard to ignore: In each video, Laroi and Tree stick their heads out of a vehicle while driving, get hit by identical ambulances, and lie flattened on the ground — in exactly the same position — as a camera zooms in from above. “They steal that many shots and thought I wouldn’t notice?” Tree captioned the post.
The video soon went viral on TikTok, gaining nearly two million likes and 12 million views as commenters pointed out the obvious mirroring.
“The exact same frame, the exact same ambulance, the exact same thing,” Tree tells Rolling Stone. “It just seemed a little bit odd that even the framing is exactly the same.”
On TikTok, Tree said he didn’t blame Laroi for the alleged concept-biting, but instead mentioned Christian Breslauer, the high-end director behind the visual. “It turns out this dude follows me on Instagram,” Tree says in the TikTok. “Coincidence? I think not.”
Tree, who dropped his album Cowboy Tears in February, took a beat to decide whether to call Breslauer out publicly, since “no one really invents the wheel with art,” but the similarities seemed way too striking to just let slide. Plus, when Laroi dropped the video, Breslauer pointed out that he “only had a week to turn this around from start to finish.” For Tree, that was an even clearer indication that he may have been copied.
“It’s a lot easier to just build off the things that already exist and flipping it than doing something new,” he says.
Neither Laroi nor Breslauer responded to Rolling Stone’s multiple requests for comment, although in an Instagram post about the visual, Breslauer — who’s directed videos such as Lil Nas X’s “Industry Baby” and Doja Cat’s “Streets” — said he was “inspired by the concept off of the Spy vs. Spy comics” in the making of “Thousand Miles.”
But Tree doesn’t buy it. “It’s all about taking something that exists and flipping it and doing something new, but you got to be smart about it,” Tree says. “You got to try to be more creative about the way you steal.” After Tree shared his TikTok, commenters flooded Laroi’s Instagram accusing him of “ripping off” Tree. “This is copy-paste,” wrote one fan.
After consulting with his lawyer, Tree ultimately decided not to pursue legal action against Breslauer or Laroi. And he says he’s “not trying to ruin the guy’s career” either, but he wants to raise awareness for smaller artists whose visual and sonic concepts are sometimes used for inspiration in prominent acts’ work, often without credit.
Last March, Andrew Huang, the director behind Fka Twigs’ “Cellophane” video, tweeted a thread drawing comparisons between the visual he directed for Twigs and Lil Nas X’s satan-twerking “Montero” video. Like Tree, Huang was upset that “Cellophane” — and its ethereal pole-dancing — seemed to serve as inspiration for key elements in Nas’ internet-breaking video.
“When an artist is in a position of power (amplified with the help of major record labels, social media, PR, etc) and repurposes someone’s labor and ideas to serve their brand image, they cause harm by displacing the efforts of the artists who did the original leg work,” Huang said at the time.
Huang’s outcry led to “gentle honest conversations” between Twigs and Nas, who later shared that he was “not aware that [Twigs’] visual world served as inspiration for those who worked on the effects of my video.” Of Twigs, Nas said at the time, “You deserve so much more love and praise.”
And like Twigs, the visuals for Tree’s music are “at the core” of what he does. “That’s kind of my signature,” he says. “The people who do fuck with me know me because of my videos.” It’s part of the reason why he signed to Atlantic Records in the first place, he says. He wanted to have the budget to make visually impressive videos for his music. “Music is my day job,” Tree says. “But my real dream is to be making feature films. When I did these videos, that was my practice for it.”
Tree says he has yet to be contacted by Laroi and Breslauer, but hopes his situation prevents other artists from facing the same thing.
“I’m a much smaller artist. I don’t have a song with Justin Bieber. I don’t have a ‘one of the biggest songs of the year’ type situation,” he says. “It’s not cool to take that much influence from smaller artists and give it to bigger ones when they have a bigger budget and can make it look crazier… My contributions just get buried under the rug, which is something smaller artists feel all the time.”