I heard the Katy Perry hit “Firework” sitting in a chiropractors waiting room the other day and marveled at how well the song is constructed and produced. Then it hit me that I had done a production analysis on the song in one of my Deconstructed Hits books, so I thought it might be a good time for an excerpt. The song was released in October of 2010, but as with most hits, I think it stands the test of time.
“Firework” epitomizes the best of current production (done by the production team Stargate and Sandy Vee, who are also cowriters of the song). The song was the third single from her second album Teenage Dream, and went to #1 on the Billboard charts and Top 5 in 20 countries around the world. It was also the fifth most played song in the United States in 2011, according to Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems.
“Firework” is a more or less traditional pop song in that it has a common structure found in most hits that looks like this:
short intro ➞ verse ➞ B section ➞ chorus ➞ chorus ➞ verse ➞ B section ➞ chorus ➞ chorus ➞ bridge ➞ chorus ➞ chorus ➞ outro
That doesn’t mean it’s boring, though. The song builds nicely and takes us through a couple of peaks (one at the bridge and one at the outro), thanks to its built-in dynamics. It even has an ending, which is becoming more the norm for a pop song, instead of the slow fade that most pop songs once had.
While it’s easy to concentrate on the music of “Firework,” the lyrics may be much more important to the song, at least in the view of many listeners. Katy sings of personal empowerment, a theme that resonates with young and old alike, in an elegant manner that doesn’t seem at all forced. All the rhymes work where they need to, and where they don’t, they still feel natural.
The arrangement is state-of-the-art. The intro and first verse are very sparse, with the strings entering at the first B section and continuing to build to a crescendo through the first chorus. The chorus repeats with additional movement thanks to the entrance of the bass.
The first half of the second verse drops down to just eighth notes on the keyboards plus the drum pattern, but changes with the entrance of the bass on the second half—a very nice arrangement touch that keeps the interest high by changing the dynamics of the song.
Dynamics is a huge key to excitement, both live and on a record, and this song is an excellent example of how it’s done.
The Foundation: Bass and drums
The Rhythm: Keyboard playing eighth notes, strings
The Pad: Synth in the bridge
The Lead: Lead vocal
The Fills: Strings in the chorus
Once again, here is an example of how the sound of pop records has returned to the 1980s and ’90s in that everything except the drums has some ambience to it, which provides depth as a result. Katy Perry has what sounds like a timed triplet delay on her voice which triggers the reverb, so there’s depth and spaciousness without washing out. The same is true on the rest of the track in that there’s some space around each instrument except for the bass and drums, which are dry and in your face.
While “Firework” isn’t what we’d call “hypercompressed” where all of the excitement is squeezed out of it, it’s still heavily compressed. This is something that seems unavoidable in pop music these days, as every producer and/or label tries to make their record sound louder than the competition.
To the entrance of the line in-between the repeat of the second chorus.
To the harmony vocals on the repeats of the chorus.
To the background vocal answers in the outro.
To how the vocal melody subtly changes on the second and third choruses.
As mentioned, “Firework” features state-of-the-art production in all aspects. It’s a well-written song, it’s recorded and mixed very well, and the arrangement is top notch in that the song has a lot of dynamics that keep the song interesting and moving. Check out how the intensity drops and peaks throughout the song.
It’s easy to think of Katy Perry as a lightweight because of her celebrity and exposure, but the girl has some pipes and this song proves it. She really sells the song and pulls you in. Plus, she sings harmony vocals with herself very well, which many singers can’t do. Check out how the first verse and chorus are a single vocal, then doubled in the second chorus as the harmonies join in.
Great production is not only about getting great performances but making sure that the song is exciting. Mission accomplished.”
You can read more from The Deconstructed Hits series and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.