Are You Wide Awake
[by Norm Ramil / 8CA.music.person]
Hearts On Our Sleeves is only a week old, but we’ve already covered some pretty huge topics. Why did I take 8 Count Audio beyond the realm of just mixing music for dance teams? How did 8CA staffer Mallory journey from reluctant dancer to dance minor in college? And why do you guys dance at all?
Well, back to the first post by me. I want Hearts On Our Sleeves to be a place where we can share our emotional reactions to dance and music. Some routines have really gotten to me over the years, and so many songs have really spoken to my soul as well.
Are you wide awake?
Katy Perry. Honestly, I wasn’t a huge fan of hers at first. “I Kissed A Girl,” her first hit, seemed mostly all about shock value. Then came those bubbly pop hits that changed my mind, infecting our brains because they were just way too catchy: ”Firework,” “Teenage Dream,” “Hot N Cold,” “California Gurls.” And you should definitely also check out a couple of her singles that weren’t exactly big hits (“Last Friday Night” and “Waking Up In Vegas”).
And then in the summer of 2012 she scored big with a really different sound in “Wide Awake.” When I first heard it, I wanted to tell her, “Now I know what your real voice sounds like.”
Before I dive in, I have to point out the cool technique that she and her producers used to tell the story (and every song and dance routine is actually a story, right?). Throughout the song there’s her main voice, and then a background voice fills in the details, emphasizes a point, or just hammers home the theme. It’s almost like it’s two shades of her mind, each one taking turns throwing her thoughts your way.
She tells ya something ASAP
I love how the very first sound of the song is her singing, “I’m wide awake.” It’s like a declaration that she needs you to understand up front, ASAP. Then the title sneaks in and out during the verses, that double-voice thing I wrote about above. (Imagine how this and the previous paragraph might come alive in choreography…)
Lyrically, she got to me pretty quickly even before the chorus or even the pre-chorus. It’s like those exceptional dance routines that just grab you early on, and you can’t help but be along for the ride until the final count. “How did I read the stars so wrong? And now it’s clear to me that everything you see ain’t always what it seems. Yeah, I was dreaming for so long.”
One of the worst feelings? That moment when you realize you were fooled. And you fed it, but innocently. I mean, you can’t blame yourself for the act of dreaming, of believing in what’s good. Otherwise, you might just end up afraid to dream at all.
Then Katy gets to the pre-chorus, and the picture starts filling in. “I wish I knew then what I know now…wouldn’t dive in, wouldn’t bow down.” Regret is pretty strong stuff, especially when it involves giving something of yourself to someone else (or something else).
The moment I met her voice for the first time
The chorus is such a pretty anthem, even taking the lyrics out of the equation. And like I said before, I feel like this is the moment in her career where I finally heard her real voice, both as a writer and as a singer. You don’t need the big, high notes to be heard all the time. “I’m letting go tooo-niiiiiiiight…”
So, verse 2. Life jolts you awake from your dream. Now what? “Not losing any sleep, I picked up every piece, and landed on my feet. Need nothing to complete myself.” So when you’re broken, all the parts are still there, available for when you’re ready to reassemble yourself into a whole. Nothing died or vanished or got stolen. You’re always you in its entirety.
Chorus 2 has that background voice, adding that little detail: “It was out of the blue” (@2:37 in the video). It’s like she’s coming back to a theme that you heard earlier (in chorus 1), but fills in the details. I really like that technique in both songwriting and dance routines, where you repeatedly hit a theme and do it a little bigger or more elaborately each time.
That part of every pop song that comes after the 2nd chorus–the one section that has a different melody? It’s got lots of names but most songwriters call it the “bridge.”
So Katy’s bridge (“Thunder rumbling, castles crumbling, I am trying to hold on…” @2:57 in the video) hit me especially hard, both musically and lyrically. She sings it like she’s pleading for you to understand how intense her story is, how tumultuous her emotions are. It’s just earnest. It’s one of my favorite bridges in pop music.
(Side note: when cutting lyrical songs for dances, the bridge often gets dumped for the sake of time. Try not to cut it out…imagine all the powerful storytelling you’d be missing out on if you left this section out of your routine!)
You’re getting set up for the big moment
Pop songs really go full-out in the final chorus. But it’s awesome when they set you up: before it gets big, there’s that quiet part. A lot of good routines take advantage of this kind of musicality. The end of her bridge is just a quiet interlude where she sings “I’m wide awake” a couple times (@3:20-3:31 in the video), and then you get her, “Yeah, I’m” without any instruments behind her (@3:32). The softest part of the song is a second before the big, loud, final chorus hits. It’s a powerful contrast, great in songs, and always cool in routines.
Musicality-wise, she’s got something good going on in that last set of choruses. She sings her “I’m letting go tonight” line in a totally different way than she did in the 1st or 2nd chorus (it’s @3:44 in the video). I just love when songs do that! I feel like her emotions are digging into me a little further when she adds that extra melodic flair to that line.
Singing & listening with our hearts on our sleeves
So, me? I hope I’m not jaded, or too much of a skeptic. I hope I’m not too reluctant to dream for fear of being let down. But I’ve got moments where I’m all of those things. When you dream with a big heart, you might end up wide awake. Not in that gentle “hit the snooze button 5 times” kind of way, but in that “woke up on the concrete” kind of way (the end of her 2nd verse).
Dreaming, and then wide awake. It could be a rocky process, but it’s definitely ok to change your mind about what used to seem like a good thing.
Even if you think you were blind before, and you’ve decided not to be anymore…you shouldn’t blame yourself for believing and dreaming. There’s no shame in being fooled, really. It’d be much worse to be afraid of being fooled at all, to be afraid of stepping into that next dream.