Nice Hits! is a Reverb column that unironically dissects, reviews, and appreciates the best songs of the current Top 40. It is unsnobbishly premised on>"/>
Nice Hits! is a Reverb column that unironically dissects, reviews, and appreciates the best songs of the current Top 40. It is unsnobbishly premised on the logic that just because a lot of the music on the radio is crap doesn't mean all the music on the radio is crap.
The hit: "The One That Got Away," Katy Perry (off Teenage Dream).
Current chart position: #34 on the Billboard Hot 100; #18 on iTunes. Should "The One" hit #1 on Billboard, it will make history, making Perry the only musician in Billboard history to have six singles from the same album go to #1. (Right now she is the only woman to ever have five--"California Gurls," "Teenage Dream," "Firework," "E.T.," and "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" all hit the top spot--and is tied with Michael Jackson for the record). It's a momentous song for Perry fans.
The team: Perry usually has a hand in writing her own songs; here she was assisted by Max Martin and Lukasz Gottwald, better known as Dr. Luke, who co-wrote and produced "The One." Gottwald has produced a number of hip-hop tracks, for Nappy Roots, Mos Def, Flo Rida, Three 6 Mafia, and T.I., but he's also one of pop music's most sought-after producers; he's written smashes for Miley Cyrus ("Party in the U.S.A.") and Ke$ha ("TiK ToK"). The ultra-prolific Martin, of course, wrote the last two weeks' Hits--Cher Lloyd's "With Ur Love" and Britney Spears' "Criminal". Gottwald and Martin are frequent collaborators--together, they've created the biggest career hits for Kelly Clarkson ("Since U Been Gone," "My Life Would Suck Without You"), as well as Spears' recent Femme Fatale hits "'Til the World Ends" and "Hold It Against Me." The Gottwald/Martin team is also largely responsible for Perry's enormous success as a pop star, having written and produced "I Kissed a Girl," "Hot N Cold," and five of the six Teenage Dream singles.
Breakdown: "The One That Got Away" was a surprising choice as the would-be record breaker--the racier "Hummingbird Heartbeat" or the already infamous "Peacock" would have been more obvious choices. When Perry played the KeyArena back in July, "The One" wasn't even included in the set list. It's not sensual like "Teenage Dream," it's not wild and carefree like "Last Friday Night," it's not fist-pumping positive like "Firework," and it's not wacky like "E.T."--and all of these reasons are probably why it was chosen to be released as her next single. It showcases a different side of Perry, a more intimate and vulnerable side--it reminds me of "Thinking of You," from her previous album, One of the Boys.
The song starts with a steady, midtempo drum beat and a plinking piano before Perry launches into the story of a teenage lost love. The relative minimalism of the instrumentation allows the focus to be on Perry's voice--something that doesn't always happen with her songs--and she sounds clear, disarming, and convincingly heartsore. In between the sweeping, mournful chorus--"In another life/I would be your girl/We'd keep all our promises/Be us against the world"--she inserts her usual lyrical quirks--making out in the car listening to Radiohead, 18th birthdays, getting matching tattoos, breaking into the parents' liquor cabinets--details that elevate the song to a story. The genius of Martin's and Gottwald's production comes in when Perry echoes the chorus, singing, "the ooo-ooo--ooo-ooone/the ooo-ooo-ooo-oone." (It sounds a little like the wordless hook from "California Gurls.") That one earworm of a detail gives the song a memorable hook and transforms it from being a straightforward, in-and-out ballad, like Spears' "Criminal" is, into yet another insanely catchy pop song. Time will reveal if the song will be able to go to number one; a couple listens already tell that it deserves to.
BTW: Last month, Perry performed an acoustic version of "The One That Got Away" on the UK's X Factor; it's a beautiful rendition that turns the song a little bit folksier, which makes the June and Johnny Cash reference a little more relevant.