(Originally planned this as a Tumblr post, but the number of quick thoughts, um, quickly escalated.)
1. Yes, “Roar” sounds like Sara Bareilles’ “Brave,” as it seems the entire Internet is figuring out. It sounds a lot like a number of other pop songs as well, but the similarity of the piano lines/lyrical ideas, plus fact that Perry tweeted just three months ago about how much she loved “Brave,” all makes this a bit more suspicious than your typical pop takeover. I’m no legal expert, so I’m not sure how much of a case there would be here, but it’s interesting that it’s Perry’s tweet that would take the “independent creation” legal defence of the table off the table (that was what Coldplay argued when Jo Satriani sued them for “Viva La Vida,” although the case was eventually settled out-of-court). When pop stars are sharing their likes and dislikes in real-time, we gain insight into what’s circling their radar when they’re writing/recording. which, when combined with pop’s appropriation foundation, leads to some potentially challenging collisions, like this one.
2. What both “Roar” and “Brave” sound like, really, is Fun. (This makes sense in the case of “Brave” because it was co-written with Fun.’s Jack Antonoff, also formerly of Steel Train). Although not entirely my cup of tea, I have a funny feeling we’ll look back on the current pop moment and treat last year’s Some Nights as rather infuential record.
3. The “piano pound” sound is officially a thing — hardly new, but particularly popular right now. The use of the keys to provide a staccato rhythm is sort of a double signifier: it references to hip hop (its main proponent in the 90s/2000s) but also more traditional genres like ragtime, and therefore makes songs seem both modern and classic at the same time.
4. Half-baked pop theory: I’ve been trying to figure out why it is that the young people I saw belting out every word to Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers at Osheaga were the same ones decked out in colour, dancing and singing their lungs out to the small handful of Icona Pop songs they knew. There seems to be a strange bipolarity to the current pop moment: hyper-produced, autotune-sheen electro dance jams at one hand, and hyper-stylized “authentic” folk on the other, with much of the same audience consuming them. Perhaps the latter of these is this generation’s way of hoping with the former: consuming an anachronistic, simulated musical representation of “realness” to somehow try and balance out a diet of hyper-processed consumables. “Roar’s” piano seems aimed at finding a spot somewhere between the two…
5. …but, of course, it ends up hyper-processed, and this — alongside Perry’s higher profile — is why “Roar” will be a hit and “Brave” will be forgotten as its footnote. Listen to what Dr. Luke, Max Martin and Perry’s other writer/producers do with the foundation to ramp it up to play in the online radio, MP3-file age: a headphone-filling synth line in the versus, amped-up drum lines and, most crucial, Perry’s vocal, compressed to the point where its timbre feels more like a guitar or a synthesizer than a human voice. This last one one of Dr. Luke’s trademarks, and it’s part of what makes him such a compelling evil pop genius: he creates simulations of human feeling by, essentially, picking away at the humanity of his music. It’s a talent that deserves both fear and great respect.
6. All in all, I like “Roar” well enough, but it’s lacking in one key department: a bridge. Songs like this can sometimes get away without a mid-song pattern change (Perry’s “Teenage Dream” or Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” are great examples of changing the dynamics where the bridge would be but sticking with the familiar melody) and I appreciate the dance-club need for a slight moment of reprieve before ramping up for the final pop assault. But Perry’s go-to producer, Dr. Luke, is typically masterful with bridges. He made his name on Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” and “Behind These Hazel Eyes”; just try and imagine either of those without the bridge. Plus, he’s written some gems for Perry already: “Hot n’ Cold’s” bridge is killer, and “Firework’s” bridge may be the only part of the song I actually like. Here, it just feels like he forgot to write one.