Katy Perry, Roar, & the Power of Music

Mark Beuving —  January 13, 2014 — 6 Comments

When Katy Perry’s song “Roar” released in October 2013, I almost wrote a blog post about it. As much as I like the song (and my young daughters are constantly requesting it), I was going to point out what I saw as naïveté in the lyrics.

Perry sings about how life used to be, how she used to be insignificant, a zero. But now she’s dominating life. Why? Because she has the eye of the tiger. She’s a champion, and we’re gonna hear her roar.

What struck me as naïve is that simply calling yourself a champion does not make you a champion. I thought of the people who love that song. People who are feeling broken, oppressed, overwhelmed. These people would be singing “Roar” at the top of their lungs, thinking that declaring themselves champions and threatening to roar (and what would that actually mean in anyone’s real life situation?) would help them conquer their circumstances.

I almost wrote that blog post. But then I came across a handful of videos on Youtube that changed my mind. These were videos of cancer patients singing “Roar” with frail voices and absolute sincerity. Videos of down-syndrome teenagers singing “Roar” while footage rolled of them trying out and making the cheerleading squad. Real tearjerkers. (Scroll to the bottom of the post for a couple of examples—grab your kleenex.)

On the one hand, these people have debilitating and/or life-threatening diseases. Is declaring themselves champions and threatening to roar going to relinquish the strangle-hold of cancer or reverse the pervasive effects of a genetic disorder?

But on the other hand. On the other hand, these are champions. These are fighters. Whatever the eye of the tiger is, they’ve got it. These are boys and girls whose souls have withstood the crushing blows of cancer, even if their bodies are crumbling. These are teenagers with a zeal for life who refuse to sit in the background, even though society has not offered them any alternatives. They have spent their precious little lives roaring louder than lions, even if their vocal chords can’t produce more than whispers.

This stopped my original blog post in its tracks. It’s true that declaring oneself a champion is not going to reverse the oppressive and debilitating forces in a person’s life. But music has a power to express what lies beneath the surface of our thought lives. It names that which we feel but haven’t had the inclination, ability, or opportunity to explore.

So a weakened woman in an abusive relationship might listen to “Roar” and be reminded that she is more than her manipulative spouse declares her to be. A dying patient might hear this song and exult in the declaration that he will not go down without a fight, and that even if the illness steals his body, his soul will not be defeated.

What can a song do? Indeed. What can a song do other than inspire the resilient spirit of those who have a hidden reserve of strength in their bones? What can a song do other than rally those who have forgotten that in this world are things worth fighting for? What can a song do other than remind us of what we’ve always known but never expressed?

Music is powerful stuff. So I’m glad I procrastinated on my lame blog post. I’m glad that Katy Perry roared, and thereby inspired many others to do the same.

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Mark Beuving

Mark Beuving

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Mark Beuving currently serves as Associate Pastor at Creekside Church in Rocklin, CA. Prior to going back into pastoral ministry, Mark spent ten years on staff at Eternity Bible College as a Campus Pastor, Dean of Students, and then Associate Professor. Mark now teaches online adjunct for Eternity. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of "Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music" and the co-author with Francis Chan of "Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples." Mark lives in Rocklin with his wife and two daughters.
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  • Jean

    Would it be a stretch to say that in the beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12), Jesus gave us his version of Roar?

    • MarkBeuving

      Haha, Jean! I would never have thought of that, but I think you’re right. The beatitudes are all about the humble and broken being exalted, which fits right in with “Roar.” Maybe Katy Perry owes Jesus some royalties…

      • Jean

        The “prosperity” gospel preachers also use this type of self-actualizing message.

        • MarkBeuving

          That’s true, Jean, but I think it’s more about the substance of what they’re saying. Encouragement is a biblical concept, as are commands to stand firm, to be strong, etc. So it’s not inherently bad to call someone to regain their strength. I think the difference is in where we believe the strength comes from. From a biblical perspective, the strength comes from the Spirit of God. From a self-help perspective, it’s all about pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps. I can’t speak for Katy Perry, but she may well have a self-help concept in mind. I don’t think that makes her encouragement to be a fighter less powerful to those of us who know where the true strength comes from however. And with regard to the prosperity preachers, I think the goal also comes into play. For them, conquering means temporal wealth and health. For a true believer, conquering means glorifying God and furthering his mission on earth, even if that means we “lose” in the world’s eyes.

          • Jean

            Yes, I agree with everything you’ve said. We hadn’t peaked below the surface into motivations and agendas, like you just did, which needed to be done and was well said by you.