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Track Review

Breakup songs have become such a staple in pop music that their lyrical content rarely garners much attention anymore. Emotions get vented. People—the artist, fans—feel better. Or worse. End of track.

Except, of course, when a breakup song comes hot on the heels of a high-profile divorce … and gets introduced with venomous catharsis at the Grammy Awards. And that is the case with Katy Perry's latest hit, "Part of Me."

Perry wed British comedian and actor Russell Brand in October 2010. The couple seemed a picture of wedded bliss right up to the end, with Brand telling Ellen DeGeneres, "Yeah, I am really happily married," less than a month before he filed for divorce in December 2011. Then, throughout the proceedings, the couple seemed to be sundering their union amicably. In his official statement acknowledging the divorce, Brand said, "Sadly, Katy and I are ending our marriage. I'll always adore her, and I know we'll remain friends."

But if "Part of Me" is even remotely autobiographical, if its bitter, recriminating accusations of abuse and discord have any correlation with Brand and Katy's marital reality, well, you judge for yourself:

"Days like this I want to drive away," she begins, "Pack my bags and watch your shadow fade/You chewed me up and spit me out/Like I was poison in your mouth." And as the song progresses, Perry begins to chronicle the many ways her partner did her wrong: "You ripped me off, your love was cheap/ … You let me down/ … So you can keep the diamond ring/It don't mean nothing anyway."

The New York Post reports that that last zinger was a last-minute change. The original line, penned in 2010 by songwriter Bonnie McKee, didn't reference divorce but rather "just" a bad breakup. It read, "You can keep the dog for me, I never liked him anyway."

Had the song been recorded and released with that lyric, we might have been able to hear it as something of an empowerment ballad for the brokenhearted. Setting aside for the moment its implication that the couple was living together, you can appreciate the song's trumpeting of a woman's determination not to let a damaging relationship define her. "You took my light, you drained me down," Katy sings. "But you're not gonna break my soul/This is the part of me/That you're never gonna take away from me, no."

Framing the song in terms of her divorce from Brand, though, puts a much more somber and serious spin on things. This is no mere breakup. It's the demolition of a marital covenant.

So no matter how bad things were in her relationship, no matter how much better she feels now, no matter how cathartic the pulsing beats (courtesy of hitmeisters Max Martin and Dr. Luke) might feel, the ultimate end here is a very sad one indeed.

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Debuted at No. 1 on iTunes.

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February 13, 2012

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Adam R. Holz

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