Single Review: Katy Perry – ‘The One That Got Away’

“It’s just about saved from turning into a complete disaster”


Digital Release: December 7, 2011

Physical Release: N/A

In just three short years, Katy Perry has taken us listeners on not so much a journey, but more obviously a pleasant musical excursion to explore her two most frequently-felt moods: hyperactivity and sorrow. When hyperactive, she sings about glitter, kissing girls and parties, channelling unrivalled amounts of goofball humour and an eye-rolling wit. When, on the worryingly infrequent occasion, she’s sorrowful, she drops the all the retina-burning spectroscopy and camp facial expressions in favour of a more sedate – sophisticated even – demeanour. It’s in these moments, when there are no aliens, no hopelessly indecisive boyfriends nor patronising equality marches, that the true musicianship of her earlier days shines through. If you care to wade through the attention-grabbing innuendos and bad-girl debauchery, there are moments – sporadic moments – to be found in her catalogue where glimpses of a far more sensitive and vulnerable girl is heard.

‘The One That Got Away’, the sixth track to be released from her second album, ‘Teenage Dream’, may first appear to be one such track, ready to join the ranks of her most heartfelt moments like ‘Thinking Of You’ and ‘Not Like The Movies’, but after closer inspection (or even just repeated listens, which should open your eyes to the intoxicating preciousness of it all) Katy’s hopes at clenching the heartstrings of many are felled in one deft swing of a sledgehammer: presumably the same sledgehammer used to stampede itself all over the otherwise delicate sentiment of the song. Dr. Luke’s militant drum loop is like a punch in the face compared to the fragilely twinkling piano ostinato or Katy’s featherweight voice, which often suffers the tendency to burst into an angelic-sounding gust of breath and then trail off into throaty hoarseness (though she is to be commended on how she handles the chorus like any normal singer). Not even at the crescendo towards the end are those reckless drums balanced out. They effectively ruin the song; it almost feels like the tempo is doubled because of them, as if Perry wants the whole ordeal of actually having to delve much further than puddle-deep into matters of the heart to be over as soon as possible, so she and Dr. Luke opt to whisk the listeners on without giving much time to reflect on any of the lyrics.

Almost every lyric before the first chorus is saturated with wide-eyed naïveté. But the cringe-inducing references to Radiohead, Mustangs, liquor and June & Johnny Cash are soon washed away by the grand chorus, ringing loudly with remorse and regret. The chorus, coupled with the hesitant removal of Perry’s rose-coloured glasses later in the song, just about save it from turning into a complete disaster, though wishes for a time machine might sound like a timeless reference to everything that could have been, but instead the dried-up cliché just ages the song.

‘The One The Got Away’ isn’t quite the nod to great country singers Perry probably aimed it to be, but that’s not to say it doesn’t sound like it never had the potential. Were she as ballsy in her recordings as she makes out in her lyrics to songs like ‘Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)’ and ‘I Kissed A Girl’, and risk falling out of the forefront of the general public’s minds for more than a few weeks, then she might chance to stop relying on Dr. Luke’s emotion-crippling productions so much. She shows all the raw materials to do so, but lacks any of the incentive.

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