After the Grammys broke my heart this year by failing to give the Queen of Pop her (rightfully deserved) first Grammy for the groundbreaking single “Roar”, I began researching out to determine why. With many ‘Song Of The Year’ nominees in the past, the live performance is a critical component of (literally) taking home the gold. While some saw “Roar” as a respectable, inspirational song that touched many different people and cultures, others viewed the lead ‘Prism’ single as campy, childish, and too much of a sing-along number. I seemed to take the more unpopular first approach, simply because behind the song’s production and catchiness is the songwriting – the one element that keeps Katy much further ahead from her competition. Coming from a Katycat, since her live performances (as a whole) are often hit-and-miss, establishing a way to effectively rank her “Roar” showings against the caliber delivered from other artists is key to understanding the #nogrammy problem.
There’s no denying that unlike most artists, songwriting is Katy’s strongest selling point. It’s at the crux of her artistry – and also unlike many others, she can take most of the credit for all of her hits. “Roar” continues a #stellarsongwriting trend that’s earned her over 50 million (and counting) Katycats since 2008. However, Katy’s ability to properly emote the inspiring tune “Roar” through her live performance has been immensely debatable. Even though she’s no powerhouse vocalist by any means, it doesn’t mean that Katy can’t put on a show through (subtle) other ways. Thus, the four ways in which “Roar” can be evaluated are:
1. Stage presence: how well Katy commands the stage including crowd participation, dancer interactions, and utilizing the most stage space.
2. The super-short second verse: how Katy sets up her steam for the climatic bridge may seem truncated, but it’s obviously for good reasons (see #3).
3. The bridge (“Roar, roar, roar, roarrrr…”): the climatic point in “Roar” is when she belts out several roars leading to the song’s final chorus, most likely in an effort to ensure listeners understand her message through her songwriting.
4. The last chorus ad-libs: where Katy’s true vocal #moneymaker is, the end of “Roar” finds her belting out two ad-libbed high notes in addition to the song’s emphatic closing note.
To date, there are over 20 Katy performances of “Roar”, but the shining live vocal comes from the ‘Good Morning America’ show dedicated to Lakewood High School, who won the singer’s viral contest. While this performance maintains the original arrangement of Katy’s single, the vocals and stage presence are some of the best she’s produced to date. Even after the #jumproping interlude and borderline inappropriate cheerleader outfit, Katy’s vocals are still super strong.
1. Stage Presence: A
2. The Super-Short Second Verse (2:25): A-
4. The Last Chorus Ad-Libs (4:21): B+
While the Good Morning America performance had a large amount of viewership, Katy’s 2013 MTV Video Music Awards performance undoubtedly reached the largest amount of people. Standing as the first televised vocal of “Roar”, the showing falls apart temporarily from the second verse to just after the bridge – possibly due to the heavy amount of choreo. But, like a true “champion”, Katy redeems herself by bringing passionate ad-libs to the song’s conclusion.
1. Stage Presence: B+
2. The Super-Short Second Verse (1:24): C+
3. The Bridge (3:08): B-
4. The Last Chorus Ad-Libs (3:20): B
Perhaps the most tragic of all the performances, however, is the highly publicized 15th annual NRJ Music Awards (aka the French Grammys). As the performance begins, the studio version of “Roar” plays. Katy seems to go along with it up to the song’s first chorus, until she’s visibly upset and the show’s host comes out (2:00) to apologize for the audio glitch. Katy looks extremely embarrassed – and even appears to wipe her tears – but delivers a strong, emotional vocal once the instrumental begins that makes up for the less-than-becoming start.
1. Stage Presence: A-
2. The Super-Short Second Verse (4:01): B+
3. The Bridge (5:24): A
4. The Last Chorus Ad-Libs (5:37): A-
View the NRJ Awards mix-up and performance here.
When it comes to the “campy” argument that so many use to discredit Katy, it strangely worked in her favor during her live showings. Dressed in a cat/leopard-inspired outfit, Katy works the stage and delivers a respectable stage presence for the British X-Factor audience.
1. Stage Presence: A+
2. The Super-Short Second Verse (2:09): A-
3. The Bridge (3:31): B+
4. The Last Chorus Ad-Libs (3:44): A-
The Sydney Opera House “Roar” performance is a great vocal showing for Katy, who wears a minimal leopard theme instead of an obvious costume look. Katy seems very in touch with her background dancers (way more than usual) and nails nearly every note change throughout the entire vocal. It’s also noticeable that the smaller stage also worked to KP’s advantage allowing for a much closer fan interaction and great candid photo ops. The only thing I could’ve did without was the jump-roping (again).
1. Stage Presence: A+
2. The Super-Short Second Verse (1:25): A-
3. The Bridge (3:08): A-
4. The Last Chorus Ad-Libs (3:20): A
Without question, my favorite “Roar” performance of all (and the best one to date) is the acoustic version done at Katy’s ‘We Can Survive’ benefit concert and on her ‘I Heart Katy’ CW album release party. Taking the #stripped approach to the #1 inspirational single, Katy’s “Roar” live vocal here is her at a very fine moment for a pop star. It’s not technically perfect (a la Beyonce’), but her ability to emote here is worth watching. Furthermore, not only is her adult look very trendy and high fashion, but her vocals also reflect much more maturity than all of the previous “Roar” showings.
1. Stage Presence: A
2. The Super-Short Second Verse (1:34): A+
3. The Bridge (2:58): B+
4. The Last Chorus Ad-Libs (3:12): A
Although many of the performances aren’t nearly as bad as her many naysayers make them out to be, there are a few performances that left even me – the ever-devout Katycat – scratching my head. The most notable of these is the ‘Saturday Night Live’ one, in which she takes the whole Jane-and-Tarzan theme to new lows using some of the cheapest stage set-ups I’ve seen on the NBC comedy show in a really long time. Katy’s Australian X-Factor finale showing wouldn’t have been half bad if the styling was better, but the weird mermaid-green capelet and matching shoes is just off-putting on every front possible. And then there’s the 2013 Jingle Ball performance, themed after The Wizard Of Oz-meets-Seven Dwarfs, which is almost an exact replica of the MTV VMA performance minus the boxing theme. But strangely the three most important post-VMA performances were the ones that Katy fared the worst on. Nevertheless, no artist is perfect and (thankfully) Katy’s vocal imperfections (or “flaws”) are left out in the open. And it’s because of this type of vulnerability that I’ll always be one of her biggest supporters.