Written by Katy Perry, Bonnie McKee, Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, and Henry Walter
Produced by Dr. Luke & Cirkut
Katy Perry’s single “Wide Awake” shows what it’s like when someone wake up from a dream and realizes that their worst nightmares have come true. In this case, the dream-like state was, as history is doomed to repeat, a bad relationship (ostensibly with Russell Brand in this regard).
Use of Melody
What makes this song interesting, from a production and songwriting standpoint, is there is only a single chord progression used throughout the entire song. The typical use of chord structure and differing progressions to differentiate the verses from the choruses and choruses from the bridge do not exist here. Instead, melody and instrumentation are used to break the song up into different sections. Want an exercise to become a better songwriter? Take a basic chord progression and create as many different melodies as you can with that single progression. “Wide Awake” shows us that melody and lyrical content are extremely important, and creative use of each is necessary to successful music production.
As for the chord progression, the song is in the key of G minor. Kind of. Home base for the song is G minor, at least. The chord progression is Gm – B♭ – F – C, or i – III – VII – IV. The triads that originally appear in G natural minor are i – ii° – III – iv – v – VI – VII. All this jibes except for the IV chord in the progression. According to our naturally-occurring triads, that C chord is supposed to be a minor chord, but is, in fact, a major chord!
The Katy Perry – Mozart Connection
Now, we all know that minor keys are representative of sadness, loneliness, demure feelings, etc. G minor has an especially-revered position as being considered by Mozart, the best key signature for expressing sadness. In fact, many of Mozart’s minor key works were written in the key of G minor (including symphonies number 25 & 40, two of his most famous symphonies).
Turning a Minor Chord into a Major Chord
So, what happens when you change out the C minor chord that’s originally in the list of G minor triads for a C major triad? You turn the G minor key into a mode!
Let’s take a closer look. The out-of-place chord is the IV, or C major in this case. The original key of G minor has the C as minor, or a iv chord. C minor is comprised of C – E♭– G. The C major chord used is C – E– G. So, the next step is to see what happens when you replace an E♭with an E♮. The new key consists of the notes G – A – B♭– C – D – E – F, or G Dorian mode.
Dorian mode has a long history of melancholy and sadness. Take a listen to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and The Bealtes’ “Elanor Rigby” for a primer.
Also note that the E♮ that appears in the scale only appears in that singe IV chord too. Otherwise they’d have to change the other chords around, which probably wouldn’t make much musical sense.
Other Tunes With the Same Progression
This chord progression for “Wide Awake” is used in several other extremely famous melancholy and glum tunes.