Lyric Analysis: Katy Perry and 'Roar' by Lydia Schoch

Lydia Schoch is a wonderful writer Jennifer and I met through Nathan Waddell on Twitter.  She's one of the examples I like to point to when I tell people how awesome Twitter is because without it, we'd never know Lydia and her talent.  Anyway, Lydia has written this insightful and thoughtful examination of Katy Perry's new song 'Roar' and we're so thrilled to host her on VampireNomad at last!  For more of Lydia's work, please visit her online home On The Other Hand or find her on Twitter as @TorontoLydia. 
- Corinne

Katy Perry's 'Roar'

Things that roar:

Lions,
Waterfalls,
And, now, Katy Perry.

On the surface this song appears to be an anthem of personal empowerment for everyone who has ever been wronged by someone.

But what happens if we dig a little deeper?

I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly, agreed politely

Like many women in the west, Katy was socialized to keep the peace even if it came at the expense of her own well being. Boundaries are not something “nice” women are supposed to set, especially when you grow up as a child of evangelical pastors.

There’s a reason why the stereotype about rebellious preacher’s kids exists. Not everyone lives up to it, of course, but the pressure placed on young women and PKs is unrelenting. To deal with it Katy damns up all of her emotions, positive and negative, into a corner of her heart where she believes they can stay locked away forever.  On the surface she appears to be content with her life.

What is actually happening in her mind is another matter. Pasting on a smile and actually being a happy, content person are two very different things.

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

Eventually all children grow up, and this is where her earlier training gets her into a lot of trouble.

If you don’t trust someone to make their own decisions on small matters they will never gain the self confidence or wisdom to know what to do about the really important stuff in life. And this indecision left Katy vulnerable to the influences of people who definitely did NOT have her best interests at heart.

This is where the lyrics get really interesting. How does Katy react to once again being pushed around by a new group of “friends” who used her to their own advantage?

You held me down, but I got up
Already brushing off the dust

She pushes back with all of the strength she’s been bottling up over the years.

The dam has burst and all of her emotions are flooding out.

You hear my voice, you hear that sound
Like thunder gonna shake the ground
You held me down, but I got up
Get ready cause I’ve had enough
I see it all, I see it now

This isn’t just self defense anymore, it’s war. Katy is at her breaking point, and at this point she’s abandoned what little self control she has left as she realizes how badly she has been used.

The time for measured, sober conversations has ended. Katy is on a rampage and until she feels like she’s no longer being held down there is nothing that can stop her.

[Chorus]
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
Louder, louder than a lion
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me ROAR
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’re gonna hear me roar

Most of the rest of the song is a repetition of these lyrics. Is Katy trying to convince herself that she’s a champion or is she reminding the people who have hurt her in the past that they no longer have any control over her?
Sometimes people go overboard on asserting their opinions as they recover. Good boundaries are as much about respecting other people’s limits as they are communicating your own, and Katy’s repetition of the idea of her roaring makes me wonder where she is at in the process of learning boundaries.

What is really interesting about this song in general is how Katy transforms from having too few emotions to having strong opinions about everything.

A family member of mine used to be quiet and passive like Katy and actually became even more accommodating when they were diagnosed with depression. At times other adults even dictated what my relative wore for reasons that were not at all related to health or safety.

After the mental illness that contributed to my relative’s passivity was treated they experienced a dramatic personality change. Suddenly they had strong opinions about things they had never outwardly had opinions about before, and other adults telling them to do (or not to do) something was in no way a guarantee they would “obey.”

I wonder if Katy was treated for a similar illness and if this song was written as she became emotionally healthy enough to express her true self.

Is 'Roar' about empowerment?

Perhaps.

But I’d also argue that it’s just as much about exiting the fog of mental illness and toxic cultural expectations to discover that you don’t need to be rescued after all.

As Katy sings,

I went from zero, to my own hero

- Lydia Schoch (@TorontoLydia on Twitter)