It was a pretty lousy weekend for Katy Perry.
On Friday, her gold-plated Prism truck got smashed up in a Walmart parking lot. On Saturday, her hotly anticipated single “Roar” leaked. And then, on Sunday, she scrapped plans for the song’s very public unveiling at New York radio station Z100 and announced that it would be available for download at iTunes.
Still, as you can probably gather from the lyrical content of “Roar,” she wasn’t about to let any of that get her down. Sure, in the past, she’s sang about self-empowerment (“Firework,” for example) and overcoming adversity (“Wide Awake” ), but on the whole, her brand of pop has generally lacked in import — she’s the California Gurl , remember? — and purpose. That fun-filled formula has worked out pretty well for her up to this point … though it all changes right now.
Because “Roar” is Perry’s most purposeful single to date. It is the empowerment anthem to end all empowerment anthems, five-plus minutes of uplift and inspiration and more mantras than a guru’s guidebook. She is a champion, she has the eye of the tiger, she is thunder and she is going shake the earth beneath your feet. She is fed up and she is not going to take it anymore. She’s paraphrasing Malcolm X, for crying out loud.
It’s not exactly clear who Katy is standing up to in the song — Critics? Anonymous Internet commenters? Russell Brand? — though that’s probably the point. There wasn’t one specific catalyst behind her transformation … she discovered the power within herself, and to credit someone (or something) else for the change certainly cheapens the experience, not to mention dulls the impact of the message: namely, that you can do it too.
And though “Roar” makes that point rather subtly (or subtly for Katy, at least), there’s no mistaking the fact that this song was custom-crafted to be blasted at top volume, the kind of anthem designed to be chanted in arenas around the world. There’s the massive “Woah-oh-oh-oh’s” of the chorus, of course, but don’t overlook the last third of the song, where Katy unleashes her voice and just goes for it. She’s rarely sounded better, and though some credit has to be given to her usual team of pop experts — Max Martin, Dr. Luke and Bonnie McKee — I’d like to think she found strength in the sentiments she’s expressing. She sings it like she believes it.
And, sure, coming off the biggest album of her career, it would be easy to chalk all of this change up to ego, but there’s something undeniably genuine about “Roar.” It is personal, it is powerful, and, with its combination of sonorous hooks and searing sentiment, it is certainly one of the more perfect pop songs to come down the pipeline in quite a while.
Katy’s made it clear over the past few weeks that she’s putting her past behind her, though her new single drives that point home more than burning a billion blue wigs. She’s back, bolder and badder than ever. You can’t stop her, and you certainly can’t bring her down. She is a lion, and you’re gonna hear her roar, dammit.