Hello, and welcome to Radio Rants. Whose on today?
Remember last year, when women ran the pop conversations and the pop charts so well that the idea that their place in pop music had been fundamentally rewritten was exciting and entirely plausible?
Yeah, 2015 ain’t having that shit; this year’s mission is all hail the status
quo bro. The lone female artist whose made it to number one this year is Taylor Swift, and, of the two times she’s pulled that off, once was on a 2014 holdover, and the other held the top spot for a week, despite weak competition and major promotion. Female representation’s been down throughout the year: of the 14 longest running top ten hits introduced this year, only one is by a female artist, Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” at #8 (7 of last year’s 14 longest running hits included a female performer, including “All About That Bass” at #1).
The austerity has extended to the summer, too, where we’ve only seen three hits lead by female artists. There’s the aforementioned Swift and also Selena Gomez, both of whom have dudes featured, and then Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song”. So, how’s Platten managed to go it alone? Let’s take a look.
Rachel Platten’s story might as well have come from a singer-songwriter movie. You know the beats: played instruments at a young age, sang all her life, and happened into a Big Moment performance in front of thousands. She was probably a lead when her high school did Guys and Dolls or The Music Man. Her formal music career started in 2003, and she’s been active in some capacity since then with just enough momentum to keep going (singer-songwriters get dumped on, but the career path certainly has legs; most other acts couldn’t sustain that long). From an industry perspective, Platten’s has mostly existed in the margins of soundtracking: her songs have appeared in Pretty Little Liars, the movie The Good Guy, VH1’s Basketball Wives, Finding Carter on MTV, and she wrote the theme song for ABC Family’s Jane By Design.
Platten’s resume displays her skill at competently assembled if too broad for its own good adult alternative music in the mold of Andy Grammar, Ingrid Michaelson, and Sara Bareilles. Bareilles especially stands as a comparison for “Fight Song” because, like “Love Song”, it’s an empowerment anthem that doubles as a meta-commentary on the artist’s career (I also didn’t realize until just now that they’re both “___ Song”). “Love Song” was a kiss-off to the label who wanted, er, a love song from Bareilles that works as a general kiss off, while “Fight Song” is Platten refusing to give up on a career that still hasn’t coalesced over a decade that gets perfectly by on being inspirational to anyone.
How you feel about “Fight Song” is going to depend on your tolerance for boring music. Platten’s good at writing to a universal theme with some nice imagery, and as an “I’m going to make it” anthem, the song’s more believable than “Roar”, “Welcome to New York”, or even “Brave”, but it’s still incredibly generic. This isn’t necessarily damning; I’d even argue that “Fight Song” wouldn’t have been blown up like it did if it leaned a little harder in any direction, but there’s still no getting around how pedestrian a song it is.
You even see that in the “something for everyone” music. It starts with some singer-songwriter piano, adds in arena rock sized drums and fake strings at the chorus, layers the vocals, and even sneaks in a drum machine and some acoustic guitar strumming before it ends. You’d be hard pressed to find a segment of the general population who wouldn’t stomach at least part of it, hence why it’s been used in TV (twice already) and in a car commercial. In fact, “Fight Song” made its way all the way up to Taylor Swift, who invited Platten to play “Fight Song” with her on stage as part of Swift’s campaign to have more famous guests than fucking Jimmy Fallon this year.
For my part, the music reminds me of those corny as shit contemporary Christian rock praise/celebration bands whose mission is to make you sway in place and raise your hands in front of you if you feel extra blessed. That vibe is all over the song’s blandly positive tempo, constant vamping, and artificial size, but comes in especially during the “vocals and drums only” version of the chorus after the bridge. If I close my eyes and imagine myself in an ill-fitting polo, I can almost imagine the hack band leader/music director’s call on everyone between lyrics.
“This is my fight song”
“Come on and clap, everybody!”
“Take back my life song”
“We’re gonna take it back through Him!”
“Prove I’m alright song”
“With God, it’s all possible, I wanna hear you sing!”
Lyrically, “Fight Song” holds together well enough. A few of the metaphors don’t make sense (how exactly does a small boat set a big wave into motion? Or how is there a fire in your bones?), some are actually pretty solid (“I might only have one match/But I can make an explosion”), and some are both (“Wrecking balls inside my brain” is some Noel Gallagher level shit). Like the rest of the song, they’re a blank slate by design, and for the time of year that starts with graduation ceremonies and ends with going back to school or starting college, that sort of garden variety determination can work.
Even if my feelings on “Fight Song” come down to a genial shrug, it’s a good song to have around this summer. The music, lyrics, and Platten’s vocals hold up well enough together to resonate with a lot of people going through a lot of shit, and it’s better to have this over something like “Fancy”. It’s probably not going to go down as a classic, but if it gets someone through the next three and a half minutes, more power to them. Bring on another round.