I listen to the radio because it’s the only thing that consistently works in my 19-year-old car. Starting the car means turning the key, then turning up the volume; unlike the windshield, the mirrors, the engine, the tires, the fuel pump or the battery, the radio does not break down (brakes, that’s another one). Flipping through the stations, resting on one for a song or two, and singing off-key by the flickering lights of my faulty dash is the only way I know how to drive. Right now, there are about a dozen stations I roll through every day; sometimes I stop for Led Zeppelin, sometimes for Doomtree, and sometimes I skip them both to belt out the stupidly catchy Ke$ha part of Pitbull’s “Timber.”
Because here’s the thing, I like all music, including top 40 pop songs. I’ve seen Aerosmith, Barbra Streisand, New Kids on the Block, Childish Gambino, and Tool in concert all within my adult life. 31 Songs by Nick Hornby and The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop are two of my all-time favorite books. So I try not to judge anyone’s taste in music; don’t listen to what you think makes you cool. Listen to whatever brings you joy.
But I have some seriously complicated feelings about Katy Perry.
I cannot decide if I like Katy Perry’s music, or if I like hating it. Occasionally I am impressed by her voice, while other times she reminds me of an Eastern Spadefoot toad. Sometimes I think she’s a genius getting the last laugh through slick satire, and other times I want to rage against everything she represents for pop music, feminism, and the future of the species.
Like I said, complicated.
“Roar,” I think, is the perfect Katy Perry song. Observe.
It has everything: the patented Belting/Heavy Breathing/Random Sound Effect style of Katy Perry vocals, occasionally within the same word (“Ro-a-a-a-a-a–uhuhr!”). It is Uncannily Current, in the sense that it sounds exactly like what else is out there at the time (Sara Bareilles’ “Brave”). And most importantly, the lyrics that are Nonsense Clichés Strung Together In a Forced-Rhyming Fashion (“Now I’m floating like a butterfly / Stinging like a bee I earned my stripes / I went from zero, to my own hero”).
In college, I had an English professor who could not stand a single cliché in anything her students wrote. She was an older Sister with an attitude and health problems, and she would slam her cane on the floor for emphasis as she wheezed out “Clichéd! Clichéd! Clichéd!” She was a little scary and mean, and it took me years to realize how much I actually liked her and appreciated her guidance, by which point she had passed away. This is what I think about every time I hear Katy Perry sing I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything: a nun who yelled a lot and then she died. I am not the first person to notice and be bothered by Katy Perry’s clichés – here’s a list of all 226 found on her most recent album – but I am willing to bet I’m the first person to tell that particular nun story.
And now there’s this new song, “Dark Horse,” which I initially thought I hallucinated due to my clearly unhealthy obsession with Figuring Out Katy Perry.
A) It has the singing style that haunts my dreams. B) It sounds Uncannily Current in that it sent me down an internet rabbit hole, starting with Miley Cyrus/Mike WiLL Made It collaborations and ending with too much information about what is or is not “ratchet” culture (don’t look it up). C) The title itself is a cliché. And D) I can’t stop hate-listening to it. Katy Perry may be a complex genius hiding behind bright colors and loud noises because that’s what sells, or she might be so simple that singing “I know a place where the grass is really greener” while dressed as candy is equivalent to her baring her soul. I don’t know.
But I do know she’s a multimillionaire while I drive a ’95 Lumina. So. Dear Katy Perry, I am willing to give up all my English-major principles and follow your formula to success. I’ve done the research and I’ve got some ideas. Here’s a little something I came up with while cleaning my bathroom:
I’m taking out the trash
You’re my receptacle
I can’t see the light
You’re my spectacles
Your reflection! It’s perfection!
Think it’s a Jedi mind trick
You ask do I love you?
Boy, Is the Pope Catholic?
(random vocalization breakdown, Tuvan throat singing, maybe you go “Catholic! Lic! Lic!” for a while, etc)
Yeah. There’s more where that came from, Katy Perry. I bought a book of Mad Libs and filled in all the spaces with clichés, euphemisms and glitter. Let’s collab.