Thursday, July 10, 2014

Musical Cliches in Katy Perry's Song "Roar"

I like "Roar." It's an empowering pop song with a catchy melody. I just don't love the lyrics, written by Katy Perry, Bonnie McKee, Dr. Luke, Max Martin, and Cirkut. According to Wikipedia, "'Roar' received generally mixed reviews from music critics; many appreciated its overall production, while others felt that its lyrical content contained 'clichés.'"

It contains numerous clichés, which I will attempt to illustrate below. Let me know if I missed any.

Katy Perry, Creative Commons image by Eve Rinaldi
I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat (1) and make a mess 
So I sat quietly, agreed politely
I guess that I forgot I had a choice
I let you push me past the breaking point (2)
I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything (3) 

1. "Rock the Boat" was a hit song for the group called Hues Corporation in 1974, but rocking the boat was already a musical cliché at the time. "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" was a musical number in Guys and Dolls, which made its Broadway premiere in 1950. Aaliyah was a latecomer with her hit titled "Rock the Boat," released on her 2001 Aaliyah album.

Aaliyah, Creative Commons image by Aimee Taylor
2. Breaking Point was the name of medical drama in the United States that aired in 1963 and 1964 and the name of a movie from 1976 starring no one I've ever heard of. Musically, "Breaking Point" was a 2010 single performed and co-written (with Timbaland and others) by Keri Hilson.

Keri Hilson, Creative Commons image by Keith Hinkle
3. "If you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything" is a well-known quote attributed to British journalist Alex Hamilton in 1978. It's sometimes mistakenly attributed to U.S. president Alexander Hamilton, but that's only a name error. 

You held me down, but I got up (HEY!)
Already brushing off the dust (4)
You hear my voice, you hear that sound
Like thunder (5) gonna shake the ground 

You held me down, but I got up (HEY!)
Get ready 'cause I’ve had enough
I see it all, I see it now

4. Matthew 10:14: "And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet." That's the King James version of the Christian Bible. Perhaps Perry was thinking of her days as a gospel singer.

5. The metaphor of a voice like thunder is an even older Biblical reference, harking back to the Jewish Bible in Job 40:9. 


I got the eye of the tiger (6), a fighter (7), dancing through the fire (8)
'Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Louder, louder than a lion
'Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Oh oh oh oh oh oh (3x)
You’re gonna hear me roar

6. "Eye of the Tiger" was a 1982 hit for the group Survivor.

7. "Fighter" was Christina Aguilera's empowerment hit in 2002.

Christina Aguilera in a Creative Commons image by D.S.B.
8. "Dancing Through the Fire" was a song from a prog-rock group called Pallas' 1986 album The Wedge. That's an obscure reference, but the phrase also brings to mind Duran Duran's "A View to a Kill," the theme song from the James Bond film of the same name. The chorus includes the phrase "dance into the fire." The single was a #1 hit in the U.S. in 1985. If we really want to push it, we might even say that it calls to mind Leviticus 18:21: "And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD." 

Now I’m floating like a butterfly  
Stinging like a bee (9). I earned my stripes (10) 
I went from zero, to my own hero (11)

You held me down, but I got up (HEY!)
Already brushing off the dust
You hear my voice, you hear that sound
Like thunder gonna shake the ground
You held me down, but I got up (HEY!)
Get ready ’cause I’ve had enough
I see it all, I see it now...

(and then the chorus again)

9. Muhammad Ali, of course!

10. "To earn one's stripes," an idiom borrowed from the military (which uses stripes to denote rank on uniforms), is a favorite in hip-hop songs. Songs that use the phrase include "Thoughts on a Balcony" by Mac Miller, "Showin' Love" by Ab-Soul, "I'm So Hood (Remix)" by DJ Khaled, and "Outro" by Vince Staples.

Ab-Soul, in a Creative Commons image by comeupshow
11. "Zero to Hero" was a musical number in the 1998 Disney cartoon version of Hercules.

I like this song, but next time - Perry, McKee, Luke, Martin, and Cirkut, I'm talking to you - you might want to crack open A Dictionary of Clichés by Eric Partridge or The Dictionary of Clichés by James Rogers (preferably both) and avoid any phrase contained therein.

Note: Katy Perry is by far not the only musical artist guilty of this kind of atrocity against originality. Take, for example, "Why Don't You and I," the song Chad Kroeger wrote for Santana's 2003 album Shaman. It's just as bad, if not worse. 

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