A few months ago, I ranked all of Katy Perry’s singles from worst to best, and I put “Firework” pretty far down the last. It’s just never been for me.
Then I went to a friend’s wedding last Friday, and about halfway through the dancing, “Firework” came pounding through the speakers. And for whatever reason, it got everybody crazy. Old, young, relative, friend… it didn’t matter. Everyone was united, and everyone was jumping up in the air on every syllable of “sky-eye-eye-ahhhh.” It was an exhilarating four minutes, and the floor was on fire for the rest of the night.
Since then, I’ve been pondering why, in that moment, “Firework” was exactly the song I wanted to hear. Because outside of that context? I still don’t like it that much. I don’t even want to listen to it as I sit here remembering the moment I loved it.
What made that possible? What made my personal tastes peel back for a second and let me open my heart to that song?
(1) Sometimes, The Group is Right
Ooooooh, I feel weird saying that! Suggesting the power of the group’s mentality? When I’m supposed to be a music critic, complete with my own set of individual opinions? But we’ve all experienced this, right? Whether it’s in a club or at prom or at a wedding, there are times when a group can just collectively decide to start enjoying a song, and then, almost like magic, the enjoyment races through the room.
If the beat is right and the vocals are powerful and the anthemic chorus comes on time, then I can get swept away by the visceral experience of a song I don’t even like that much. I can enjoy riding the wave of sound with my temporary community. This has happened to me at concerts, too. I’ve never loved Ben Folds, but when I’m seeing him at an outdoor festival with loads of screaming fans, I can enjoy myself.
(2) Sometimes, a Song Is Better Without Images
Again… I feel scandalous saying that on a website that’s connected to a cable channel and owned by the parent company of MTV. But still. At the wedding, it was good to hear “Firework” without also experiencing the Katy Perry Image Train. It was good to hear the song divorced from the packaging of the song. Without all that stuff, it’s easier to get lost in the thrill of a big notes and raw power.
Even with songs I like, this is true. Sometimes, “Bad Romance” is more fun without watching the video or thinking about Lady Gaga’s political statements/artistic personalities/scandal-courting fur coats.
And in this way, hearing a song in a big, dancing crowd is even better than hearing it on the radio. Because when the radio’s on, I may not be distracted by images, but I’m probably distracted by work or cleaning or the nachos I’m making.
So… there you go. Those are my two theories about why, for four minutes last Friday, “Firework” was my hottest hit. Has that happened to you? Has a song you didn’t love suddenly become your favorite, even if it was just for a minute?
Previously: Claire Danes is crying again, and we love it.
Mark Blankenship tweets as @IAmBlankenship. He’s not so much a firework shooting ‘cross the sky as a go-kart zipping down the road, road, ro-oooooad.