When Katy Perry burst onto the mainstream musical scene three years ago with her so-called “bi-curious” hit ” I Kissed a Girl,” it remained to be seen whether the controversy-courting newcomer—and former contemporary Christian musician—would be a firework or a fizzle.
Turns out it was the former. In a pretty explosive way.
Early in 2011, Katy became only the second artist (tying Michael Jackson) to have five No. 1 hits from a single album. And with the release of “The One That Got Away,” she’s on the threshold of owning that record all by herself—while simultaneously becoming the fifth artist ever to chart six Top 10 singles from the same album.
“The One That Got Away,” penned by Perry with assists from hit-making maestros Max Martin and Dr. Luke, is a straightforward ode to regret as Perry sadly yet fondly reminisces about a teenage romance she thought would last forever … but didn’t.
“In another life/I would make you stay,” she sings in the chorus, “So I don’t have to say/You were the one that got away.”
Digging deeper into the lyrics, though, it’s clear the couple’s common ground consisted mostly of rebellion and risk-taking, hardly a solid foundation for a lifetime of love. “We make out in your Mustang to Radiohead/And on my 18th birthday/We got matching tattoos”—pictured in the video as somewhat bloody do-it-yourself jobs. Doesn’t sound like the kind of guy you’d really want to bring home to Mom, an assessment confirmed in the next lines: “Used to steal your parents’ liquor/And climb to the roof/Talk about our future/Like we had a clue.”
There were clues, then, that this relationship likely wouldn’t last. But Katy’s character here doesn’t have the wisdom or perspective to recognize them. Instead, she serves up an airbrushed recollection of a reckless teenage love.
As for the already mentioned video, it’s an even more melodramatic and melancholy affair—on the verge of being depressing, even. In it, we see a tale of two Katys, one young and full of vim and vigor, the other aged and full of regret over what might’ve been.
Young Katy is swooning over her artist boy. (And one scene pictures him painting her in nothing but an unbuttoned dress shirt.) Their days are full of kissing, laughing and embracing … until a fight sunders their smiles and he races angrily down a road in his Mustang, then swerves and plunges off a cliff to his death. (I told you it was melodramatic and depressing.) Cut throughout these scenes are images of Katy as an old woman who’s clearly married a very wealthy man, but whose face tells the story of a life of regret about what could have been.
Katy believes the premise of the song is easily accessible. “This song shows a very different side of me that I haven’t shown with my past singles on this record. I think that everyone can relate to this song. I wrote [it] about when you promise someone forever, but you end up not being able to follow through. It’s a bittersweet story. Hopefully, the listener learns from hearing it and never has to say they had ‘The One’ get away.”
Is it possible the song could inspire listeners not to let someone slip from their grasp? Sure. But it’s also possible it could inspire fans to try to hold on to a destructive affair that’s actually better left in the past. And it certainly romanticizes the idea that a single decision made in one’s youth can exert power over you for the rest of your life.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.