She has lost the blue hair, for now at least, and has come out with an empowerment anthem that pulled the carpet out from under Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” to take the number one spot. Of course we’re referring to Katy Perry and her song “Roar”, which soared to the top of the charts last week and stayed there this week.
The video, with its gimmicky jungle scenes seems a bit contrived, almost as though it’s being used to take the edge off what is in fact a very powerful song. In the beginning Perry is seen as a mousy-looking, beaten-down woman who emerges from a plane that has crashed in the jungle with Mr Chauvinistic himself. He tosses her his bag to carry, takes a ‘selfie’ and stalks off ahead of her only to be immediately taken out by a tiger. Perry runs off, obviously scared, but manages to survive and by the end of the video, she has conquered the jungle and everything in it. She is mother to the crocodile (brushing its teeth); she is ‘besties’ with the elephant (painting its nails) and she manages to out-roar the tiger. Yes, it is a bit over the top.
However, the lyrics she wrote and sang have a much more powerful and serious message that we hope her many fans, especially young girls, can see beyond the quirky video and get. She sings: “…I guess that I forgot I had a choice//I let you push me past the breaking point//I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything//You held me down, but I got up//Already brushing off the dust//You hear my voice, you hear that sound//Like thunder gonna shake the ground…//I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire//Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar…”
Along with ‘the eye of the tiger’, Perry borrows Muhammed Ali’s ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ and the much clichéd ‘zero to hero’ phrase. But still the song roars. “Roar” is definitely an anthem. It is the kind of song that we have heard from Beyoncé and Alicia Keys among others. Among the best known are 2001’s “Survivor” written by Beyoncé along with Anthony Dent and Mathew Knowles and performed by her then group Destiny’s Child: “…You thought that I’d be weak without you//But I’m stronger//You thought that I’d be broke without you//But I’m richer//You thought that I’d be sad without you//I laugh harder//You thought I wouldn’t grow without you//Now I’m wiser//You thought that I’d be helpless without you//But I’m smarter…”
Then there’s 2000’s “Independent Women” also written by Beyoncé and others: “…If you’re gonna brag, make sure it’s your money you flaunt//Depend on no one else to give you what you want//The shoes on my feet, I’ve bought it//The clothes I’m wearing, I’ve bought it…//’Cause I depend on me…”
Although she also sings of love and heartbreak, Beyoncé has been almost militant in her femininity. She went to great lengths in 2006 to select her all-female, ten-member band – the Suga Mamas. And who can forget the tongue-in-cheek, break-up-but-no-heartbreak song “Irreplaceable”, which debuted that same year or, for that matter, 2011’s “Run The World (Girls)”.
Alicia Keys also gets the point across, though in a less strident fashion that certainly fits her personality. “You will lose, if you choose, to refuse to put her first…//And a real man just can’t deny//A woman’s worth…” she sings in the 2001 ballad, “A Woman’s Worth” which she co-wrote with Erika Rose.
In last year’s “Brand New Me”, which she co-wrote with Emeli Sandé (whose “Read All About It” is yet another soul-stirring anthem), Keys sings: “Don’t be surprised…If I talk a little louder//If I speak up when you’re wrong//If I walk a little taller//I’d been under you too long…//…it’s just a brand new kind of me//Oh, it took a long, long road to get here//It took a brave, brave girl to try…”
While Keys’s empowerment anthems also speak to women coming into their own, she’s neither roaring nor running the world. She’s saying, softly but very firmly, this is what it is; take it or leave it. There are thousands of songs which are lewd, rude and which degrade women. It is gratifying when singers like Beyoncé, Alicia Keys and others, and now Katy Perry seek to do the opposite and when this is recognised not just by women, but by men as well.