It is not always about what is said, but how one says it. The use of language that is intentionally chosen to target a certain audience improves success and understanding, as well as gives meaning to all communication. In today’s world, this is easily identified in popular culture. Television shows have short, memorable names, and movies have simple taglines. Thousands of songs are released each year, and there are determining factors that go in to making one that people will buy, including language. Catchy lyrics and relatability is crucial in determining a song’s audience and life span on top billboards, as well as how long it will be stuck in its listener’s heads. Katy Perry’s “Roar” is an example of a song that owes its success to its universal theme of self-empowerment and the language elements such as metaphors and similes that made it so well received.
The song begins with lyrics about being timid and holding back: “I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath…so I sit quietly,” (Perry). This feeling of uncertainty and low self-confidence is one that many people know, making the tune receptible immediately. Because the speaker describes the feeling with idioms, the song becomes more universal because everyone has experience with self-doubt; but if Perry was more specific with what was originally making her feel down, the audience may have been smaller. Overall, this particular instance of language usage has major impact on the success of “Roar.” The use of figurative language makes the opening of the song more general and able to be appreciated by more people. Parents and kids alike have rated this song acceptable for those as young as seven years old, inevitably leading to more success for it (“Roar”).
The song continues to build into the pre-chorus when Perry says, “you hear my voice, hear that sound, like thunder gonna shake your ground,” (Perry). This is a turning point in the song. The speaker stops dwelling on being down or holding herself back and acknowledges that she can be heard and give herself a voice through this simile. The idea is that she is as important as thunder shaking the earth beneath someone’s feet-they cannot help but notice. MTV describes this moment in the song as “an epiphany,” (Vena). This is suiting because it is the moment or realization of power, a turning point, and Perry offers that to her audience as a way for them to acknowledge that they also have the power to be noticed and heard. In this way, the speaker gives encouragement to the audience, as well as a voice. This only further increases the success of the song because not only does the speaker express having common ground with the audience when bad feelings dominate, but also that everyone can come out of a rough patch with power, which is something anyone would like to hear.
This particular part of the song has evolved and stayed relevant not only in encouraging all age groups, but it has also come into a small political spotlight. Hillary Clinton and Katy Perry exchanged jokes about having a “theme song” for Clinton’s campaign, and Clinton claimed that in a way “Roar” is a theme song already (Haskell). The democratic nominee fits well into a group who could find inspiration in Perry’s song because she was defeated in 2008 and is making a political comeback in order to run for president again, and she intends for her roar to be heard. Further, the idea of being the first female president of the United States would give a large voice to feminists and women throughout the country, enhancing their roar as well. The metaphor for having a voice and mattering is an important one for everyone, and it is evident as Perry repeats the line multiple times throughout the song.
The overall theme of the song is that one determines his/her own self-worth and is strong. This is evident as the chorus breaks out with, “I’ve got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire,” (Perry). This headlining lyric is packed with figurative language that radiates the song’s theme. The “eye of the tiger” lyric alludes to the movie about the boxer Rocky, a famous symbol of perseverance and power (“Quotes.”). The line references being fierce and focused like a tiger, the powerful jungle cat. Further, Perry sings about dancing through the fire, a metaphor about being strong enough to make it through tough times and even thriving in times of struggle. This opening chorus line ultimately shifts the tone of the song. While the music is relatively upbeat the entire time, the words are not. The song started of reflecting on hard times, and the pre-chorus has the tone of a warning, letting the audience know it should watch out for the speaker. However, the chorus focuses solely on building oneself up-Perry even calls herself a “champion,” (Perry). This transition gives “Roar” and the rest of the album a positive tone. Perry agreed when she said, “There’s really not any darkness on the record…I really let that light in,” (Carlin). Ultimately, the ability to communicate through well-known allusions and metaphors brings together the theme of the song in the chorus, and the repetition of the chorus throughout the song reinforces the power idea.
All in all, “Roar” is successful because of its artful use of relatable and empowering figurative language. From the first words to the emphasized chorus, listeners are both sympathetic and encouraged. Through every-day-metaphors, the speaker and audience can share common emotions. Through similes, the lyrics show a change from timid anxiety to believing in oneself that the speaker and audience can go through together, which improves the song’s success because it makes the journey more accessible to the audience. Then throughout the song, the metaphors used to describe the self-empowerment are uplifting to an already receptive audience. Further, the comparisons and widely accepted symbols of strength such as jungle cats reinforce the message of power throughout the song and even in the title. “Roar” owes its popularity and message to the tactfully used language throughout the song.
- Carlin, Shannon. “Behind the Song: Katy Perry’s ‘Roar'” Radio.com. N.p., 2 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.
- Haskell, Will. “The Music Hillary Clinton Uses to Define Her Campaign Is Missing One Pivotal Element.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 16 June 2015. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.
- Perry, Katy. “”Roar” Lyrics.” A to Z Lyrics. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.
“Quotes.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.
- “”Roar” (CD Single).” Common Sense Media. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.
- Vena, Jocelyn. “Go Behind Katy Perry’s ‘Raw and Emotional’ Prism Writing Sessions.” MTV News. N.p., 23 Oct. 2013. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.