Thursday, October 31, 2013

Music Review: Roar

Previously on the SDP, I reviewed the latest output from one of our pop princesses, Britney Spears. Now to take on another!

  • Artist: Katy Perry
  • Album: Prism
  • Release: 10 August 2013
  • Label: Capitol (Universal)
  • Genre: Pop
  • Writers: Katy Perry, Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee, Henry "Cirkut" Walter
  • Producers: Dr. Luke, Max Martin, Cirkut
It seems that the pop divas come in easily comparable pairs. In the '80s we had Madonna vs. Cyndi Lauper, the '90s was... mostly Mariah Carey with a bit of Paula Abdul thrown in, and the 2000s gave us Britney Spears vs. Christina Aguilera and a host of others. Now it is the 2010s and we have on our plate Lady Gaga vs. Katy Perry, with acts like Ke$ha and Nicki Minaj on the side. The reason I'm outlining this is because you can get a pretty good idea of someone when you ask him or her which they prefer. For example, I'm more of a Lady Gaga fanboy, because the music she attaches her name to is more interesting and innovative. Meanwhile, my dad is more of a Katy Perry person, presumably because she's less stimulating, but more of a safe bet musically. And with the odd exception like "Waking Up In Vegas" or "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F)", I find most of her stuff boring and overplayed. None more so than her latest number-one single, "Roar".

Remember over the past couple of years how we got a glut of pop songs revolving around the subject of self-esteem? First there were songs that could be boiled down to "You are good although you don't know it", and from them evolved the sub-genre of "I am good and I know it" songs. Good messages to espouse, yes, but even they can be played out when over-used. In the case of "Roar", however, I don't only mean "overused" in reference to all the previous examples over the years, I'm talking within the same song. For example, let's count how many cliched metaphors this song packs:
  • Eye of the tiger? Check.
  • Dancing through the fire? Check.
  • Zero to hero? Check.
  • Fighter? Check.
  • Thunder? Check.
  • Other giant cats? Check.
  • I am woman, hear me roar? Partial credit, but hey, it's got the title of the freakin' song in it!
Cliches aside, "Roar" doesn't work because it's just too cute for its own message. Katy's sprightly staccato delivery on the verses, and the way she drags out the word "roar" in the chorus, for example, contrast with the potential intensity which the words themselves hold. And while I'm on the subject, the melody is just boring; most of it is just three notes rolling over and over and over. Now that a lot of songs on the radio also have repetitive melodies, this is something I'm really getting bugged by. There's nothing interesting happening at the bottom of the track either, just a bunch of random, dingy guitar chords which I think are supposed to evole the great power-ballads of the '80s, but in practice serve as nothing more than background noise. Seriously, it might as well just be Katy singing a capella.

Let's get back to the lyrics. There's a reason for all those self-empowerment cliches I listed earlier: in this song, Katy's persona has been metaphorically [verb]ed upon, and now she has built up the mental strength to stand against it. It works in the music video, where she lives through a plane crash in the middle of the jungle (filmed in Los Angeles) and gets over her fears to survive. Campy, yes, but it works in its own... campy way. But without that superfluous context, one would imply this to be about a breakup. If that's the case, where does the guy stand in all of this? I mean, he's doing stuff like this:
I let you push me past the breaking point
You held me down, but I got up
And not much else, admittedly. See, that's the thing with bad breakup songs, not enough to give us a clear idea of the opposing party. And the worst part is that "Katy" let "him" do that:
I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
I stood for nothing, so I feel for everything
For the record, Perry herself has stated that she wrote "Roar" after undergoing therapy for her break-up with Russell Brand. [1]  Now, if she says she had a lot of pent-up emotions after the event, and she did, that's one thing, and I can understand that. But was your relationship with him so bad that you had to portray him as some domineering meanie? I mean, I'd expect that about Chris Brown, but Russell Brand? That's news to me! "But Kevin", you hypothetically retort, "this isn't a song about Katy herself! You're supposed to project yourself into her role!" Well in that case, we're going to see this in a wide load of movies, TV shows, and adverts as shorthand for overcoming a personal struggle. And whilst at least the whole of the lyrics support this message, it's just going to vindicate the use of all those cliches I just railed on!

I should also mention the similarities between this song and "Brave" by Sara Bareilles. Now this was another empowerment anthem, albeit this time directed at the user instead of the singer. I don't know about you, but having Bareilles telling me "I wanna see you be brave" is more of a pick-me-up than Katy asserting "you're gonna hear me roar". Apart from the message, the key signature's the same, the tempo's the same, it's even got the same plinky piano line (although the chorus melody is more than just the same three notes repeated over and over). So it should be no surprise that accusations of plagiarism have been bandied about regarding "Roar". Bareilles played down the accusations since, you know, both songs are about positive messages, [2] and Dr. Luke, co-writer and co-producer of "Roar", claimed that his song was written and recorded before "Brave" released. [3]  As for my two cents, I'll take their word for it, and even if I were to learn that it was plagiarised, it wouldn't change my opinion that "Roar" is a mostly dreadful song.

It's not that "Roar" is terrible in the same way as being mauled by a real tiger, or even sitting through a pop song performed by said tiger. But still, nothing in this song works the way it should. Whilst the message it attempts to espouse is admirable in its intention, all the cliches it is expressed with undo the seriousness it deserves. Let me put it to you this way: I'm not a huge fan of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger". (U mad bro?) Mainly that's because the ways it's been used in popular culture since its creation, and the frequency with which it has been used, have turned the product into a walking, singing cliche. And for "Roar" to use it in turn, almost literally, create a new layer of cliches. Worst-case scenario, this process may be repeated with other songs down the road, creating an Inception-esque network of cliches and collapsing all other music into a point of cliche singularity. But for now, it's more of a whimper, really.

Lyrics: 1 roars out of 5
Music: 1 roars out of 5
Performance: 2 roars out of 5
The Call: 2 out of 5 (D)

[1] "Katy Perry new song called Roar". 12 August 2013.
[2] Pavlova, Victoria. "Katy Perry And Sara Bareilles "Brave"-ly "Roar" In The Face Of Plagiarism Speculation". August 13, 2013.
[3] @TheDoctorLuke. "too bad .....". Twitter. 14 August 2013.

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