The One Who Got Away
Album: Teenage Dream
Katy Perry wonders what could’ve been in with an ex-boyfriend in the wistful “The One Who Got Away.”
A quivering drum and tender synth open the single, setting an aching tone. She knew of him in high school. She had seen him perform with his band during the local arts festivals. His lyrics were insightful and personal. She would’ve loved to have a moment to tell him how much she related to them and reminded her she wasn’t alone. But after they finished their set, he was swarmed by girls and she didn’t even try to plan a way to talk to him. It wasn’t going to happen. Until one day she went shopping at a local music store to find some vinyl albums for her collection. She was sifting through the “G’s” and had a found a record that interested her. He complimented her on her good taste. She told him he had seen the band whose album he was holding. They began to compare their favorite concerts. They walked out of the record store together and continued to talk throughout the day. Within the week, she was stretched out in the front seat of his car, kissing him to Radiohead’s “Kid A.” In October, it was her 18th birthday and he said he wanted to make it special. He asked her to choose a design of his she liked best. She chose a navy blue star. He drove her to a tattoo parlor and they each got a star on their wrist. She spent most of her time at his apartment. His parents were always gone. They climb to the top of his building with bottles of whiskey, vodka, or whatever he could easily replace from his parents’ liquor cabinet in hand and talk about who they wanted to become. At the time, she thought they would stay together and get married. It was more than a summer romance and they already lasted longer than most people thought.(“ Summer after high school/When we first met/We'd make out in your Mustangto Radiohead/And on my 18th birthday/We got matching tattoos/Used to steal your parents' liquor/And climb to the roof/Talk about our future/Like we had a clue/Never planned that one day/I'd be losing you.”)
In the chorus, she remembers their breakup. He had written a song and wanted her input on it. She told him it was a good start but she couldn’t get into the melody. He exploded at her, telling her she didn’t know what she was talking about. She apologized and didn’t intend to call him a hack. He told her it didn’t matter and asked her to leave his apartment. They didn’t ever talk again. She often replays the conversation in her mind, softening her response each time. With each response, she could picture him in the room with her, strumming his guitar and then he disappears. (“In another life/I would be your girl/We'd keep all our promises/Be us against the world/In another life/I would make you stay/So I don't have to say you were/The one that got away/The one that got away.”)
While they dated, a lot of his music was written about her. She often rehearsed with him and eventually joined him on stage for a duet they wrote. They had vowed to remain a team and not let their egos get between them. On the anniversary days they first met and dated, and his birthday, she puts on Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash’s “Jackson” on repeat and listens to it throughout the day. She had run into an old friend of hers and she said she had seen him playing. The navy blue star on his wrist was gone. She had to see how he was doing for herself. She scoured the entertainment section of the newspaper and found a venue in the city where he was performing. His phrasing had changed and his words no longer had metaphors attached to them. Someone new had taken her place. (“I was June and you were
My Johnny Cash/Never one without the other/We made a pact/Sometimes when I miss you/I put those records on/Someone said you had your tattoo removed/Saw you downtown/
Singing the blues/It's time to face the music/I'm no longer your muse.”)
The chorus is sung again.
In the bridge, she repeats the song’s title. She looks around at her house. There are well-known artists hanging on her wall. She has designer clothes in her closet and a BMW in her garage. In her bedroom, she has rings and necklaces in her jewelry box from past boyfriends. She believes she should’ve been more sensitive to him and let him know she had confidence in his work. Her current option of revolving relationships and living alone is far more than she can bear. (“The one/The one/The one/The one that got away/All this money can't buy me a time machine, no/Can't replace you with a million rings, no/I should have told you what you meant to me, whoa/'Cause now I pay the price.”)
The chorus is sung again.
She repeats “The one (one)” three times.
She repeats the last half of the chorus to end the single. (“In another life..the one that got away.”)
Perry’s tearful, repentant vocals crack, a lashing for not saying anything, for saying anything at all and not handling the moment way she should’ve. She could be married to him by now with a kid, touring around the country and performing their music together. That’s the life she wants.
The references to Radiohead, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash are used appropriately in the single, functioning as the former couple’s shared interest of music. There’s an understanding of who the people are and what they represent in music as well as what they mean to Perry in the single.
The downhearted “One Who Got Away” lives on memories and unanswered questions with the present being a haunted reminder.