Unconditionally

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For the Extreme song, see Waiting for the Punchline.
"Unconditionally"
Single by Katy Perry
from the album Prism
Released October 16, 2013 (2013-10-16)
Format
Recorded
Genre
Length 3:48
Label Capitol
Writer(s)
Producer(s)
Katy Perry singles chronology
"Who You Love"
(2013)
"Unconditionally"
(2013)
"Dark Horse"
(2013)

"Unconditionally" is a song by Katy Perry for her fourth studio album, Prism (2013). Perry co-wrote the song with its producers Dr. Luke, Max Martin, and Cirkut. It appears as the fifth song on the album and was released as the second single from the album on October 16, 2013. The next day, the song became available for streaming online along with the rest of Prism.[1] The song was released digitally on October 22, 2013.[2] Its lyrics address accepting the flaws of a loved one, through unconditional love. The song received positive reviews from music critics.

"Unconditionally" became a moderate worldwide success commercially, charting within the top twenty and top thirty of fourteen countries worldwide, including number 14 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It also became Perry's thirteenth Top 10 single on the Billboard Pop Songs chart.[3] The music video for the song was released on November 19, 2013, and features various scenes of dancers and Perry singing in the snow.

Background and recording[edit]

In November 2013, Perry told MTV: "I love this song because not only can it be a romantic, intimate song, but it can be about the type of love that a mother has when she sees her first child, or best friends or partners..... It's a transcendent love, it's not just relationship status." She mentioned that the song was influenced by the love shared among the people she worked with while working with UNICEF in Madagascar during April 2013, stating "I was kind of inspired by the love that I saw..... we'd go in these cruisers up the mountain for two or three hours, to the middle of nowhere, to check out these schools that they'd build, and I went to the top of this mountain, I saw all these children, and the love that they had towards each other". She noted: "It was this unconditional love between all of them. It was that kind of pure love that's unaffected by the trends of the world."[4]

Perry co-wrote "Unconditionally" with Dr. Luke, Max Martin, and Cirkut, all three of whom also handled production, instrumentation, and programming. It was recorded at MXM Studios in Stockholm, Sweden and Conway Recording Studios in Hollywood, California, with Perry handling the song's vocal production. Engineering was carried out by Peter Carlsson, Clint Gibbs, Sam Holland, and Michael Ilbert in March 2013 at Luke's In The Boo in Malibu, California and Secret Garden Studios in Montecito, California. Carlsson, Gibbs, Holland, and Ilbert were assisted by Eric Eylands, Rachael Findlen, Justin Fox, ANC Cory Bice. It was mixed by Serban Ghenea at MixStar Studios in Virginia Beach, Virginia, while John Hanes engineered the song for mix.[5]

Composition[edit]


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"Unconditionally" has a length of three minutes and forty-nine seconds. It is written in the key of E minor, and has a chordal progression of Em-C-G-D.[6] Musically, it is a power pop and rock ballad,[7][8] that contains elements of Christian and electronic dance music.[9] The song opens with a hushed minimal electronic production, complete with "pounding" tribal drums, woodblock percussion, and a dramatic bass line.[10] Perry mentioned that "Unconditionally" is her favorite song from Prism, and described the track as a song about unconditional love that could come in all forms, including those from relationships, from parent-to-child, and from sibling-to-sibling.[11]

Critical reception[edit]

Upon release, "Unconditionally" received positive reviews. Elijah Sarkesian from David Atlanta praised the song's chorus.[12] Capitol Records executive Greg Thompson felt the song was destined to become "the wedding song of 2014".[13] Jeff Benjamin from Fuse felt that while Perry did not show "Diva-esque vocals", he noted that she looked "keen to prove her pipes" in the song.[14] Bradley Stern from Muumuse praised the song's melody.[15] Radio personality Carson Daly spoke positively of the song, saying: "I love it. I think that's Katy Perry at her best." and that "There's a sense of urgency to it..... It sounds timeless."[16]

Jason Lipshutz from Billboard deemed the song a "visceral ballad" capable of conveying its theme of relationships.[17] John Walker from MTV praised the track and felt that the song could be written from the perspective of Jesus and denoted possible Christian undertones lying.[18] Kitty Empire of The Guardian reckoned the track was "ungainly" and "adverbial";[19] Helen Brown of The Daily Telegraph wrote that its lyrics had "self-help lingo", although she remarked that "Perry's genuine faith in it, along with her wit and sense of fun, powers her through".[20] Kevin Fallon from The Daily Beast regarded it as adequate for a Nicholas Sparks-adapted movie, however, he noted that Perry's vocal delivery saved the song of being "schmaltzy".[21]

HitFix's Melinda Newman graded the track with a 'B'—she felt Perry's voice sounded "soaring", and opined that the theme of the song resonated due to Perry's vocal and overall delivery.[22] Glenn Gamboa of Newsday thought Perry "ruined" the track, which she deemed "decent", for pronouncing the song title as "uncondiSHUNally".[23] In his review for Prism, Jon Dolan from Rolling Stone wrote that the song "set stark revelations to torrential Euro splendor".[24] Katie Woodard from Nouse said the song's "power ballad approach" highlights Perry's vocal performance.[25] Trent Wolfe of The Verge, however, thought the song was part of the group of the Prism tracks that could "benefit from a preciously strummed six-string" instead of "beats and synths".[26] Digital Spy's Robert Copsey awarded the song with a four out of five points rating, writing that Perry sounded "effortless" as compared to her peers.[27]

Commercial performance[edit]

"Unconditionally" peaked at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song peaked at the Top 10 on both Pop Songs and Adult Pop Songs at number 8 and 7 respectively. This brings her total number of Top 10 hits on the Pop Songs chart to 13. "Unconditionally" topped the Hot Dance Club Songs extending her record for most consecutive number one-hit to 12 number ones. On the Billboard Adult Contemporary, "Unconditionally" rose from number 28 to 20 on the week ending January 18.[28] As of November 2013, the single had sold a total of 340,000 digital copies in the United States.[29] "Unconditionally" is Perry's first single not to reach the top 10 on the Hot 100 since 2009's "Thinking of You" and her first single not to reach the top 3 since 2009's "Waking Up in Vegas". Despite this, "Unconditionally" has sold a total of 1 million copies in the US alone as of March 2014 and has been certified Platinum.[30]

"Unconditionally" achieved moderate success in Oceanic regions. The song debuted at eleven on the ARIA Charts, to which it ultimately peaked at. The song descended outside the top ten after two weeks and spent a total of thirteen weeks in the chart, marking it as Perry's lowest spanning single in Australia. The song, however did receive a gold certification by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA).[31] In New Zealand, the song entered at twenty-six, where it ultimately peaked. Unable to peak higher, the song spent ten weeks on the singles chart. Ultimately, the song is Perry's lowest spanning single and her lowest charting single to date in New Zealand.[32]

Music video[edit]

Background[edit]

Two days after the song's debut, a black-and-white lyric video was released onto Vevo and YouTube.[33][34] The video features actress Janell Shirtcliff and androgynous model Erika Linder expressing their unconditional romantic love; it was directed by Aya Tanimura.[35] Joseph Kahn praised the video, calling it "So simple and soulful".[36] The song's official music video was filmed in October 2013 in London.[37] The video was partly inspired by the films Dangerous Liaisons and Anna Karenina.[38][39] A preview for the music video was released on November 14, 2013.[40] The official music video premiered on MTV on November 19, 2013.[41] The next day, it was uploaded to Vevo and YouTube.[42][43] On December 26, 2013, a behind-the-scenes video was uploaded to Perry's official Vevo account.[44]

Synopsis[edit]

The video features various scenes of dancers and Perry singing in the snow, as well as a scene of Perry holding an owl which she sets free. There are multiple scenes which all demonstrate a different type of unconditional love, such as a scene of a mother holding an infant and scenes of lovers embracing. As the song begins to reach its climax, Perry is shown to be on fire. A car crashes behind her as thousands of tiny broken debris from the car shatter behind her, and in a simultaneous scene the shattered car remnants are replaced with flowers. At the end of the video, Perry is shown lying on top of the car, which is covered in flowers (this scene is used in the single cover).[43]

Brent Bonacorso, the director, explained the music video, saying "when she sings this song she doesn't sing it lightly. This love that she speaks of is like a force of nature, epic storm and a tempest, and that's definitely something I wanted to capture". He added that he wanted to capture a "more mysterious, elegant and sophisticated world to live in..... less about a time period and more about creating an impression and a feeling". In regards to the scenes featuring Perry on fire, Bonacorso said that he and Perry "talked about how love can burn you like an inferno, like it's this fire inside you that you just have to let out", and that they used that idea in the music video. Bonacorso described the car crash scene as "one of the key images that I think was pivotal in the video". He said it was inspired by the idea that falling in love is like being hit by a car, saying that "suddenly your world is changed and it hits you out of the blue". In the music video, when a car crashes behind Perry she simultaneously appears to crash with dozens of flowers. Bonacorso said that "the car crash obviously represents the sudden, almost violent nature of love when it really gets its hooks into you and really changes your world. And then the flowers kind of represent that joyous and wonderful, yet still forceful impact of that love when it enters your life". In the video, Katy exists in two places, alone in the snow and also surrounded by dancers in a fancy ballroom, however according to the director those places are more psychological than physical, saying that "each world represents a different part of the subconscious".[45]

Reception[edit]

A Bit of Pop Music called the video "gorgeous" and complimented its "memorable" and "impressive" message.[46] Neon Limelight called the video a "striking" and "dazzling" visual and also complimented its message.[47] Markos Papadatos of Digital Journal described the video as "glamorous" and stated that Perry looked "stunning" in the "breathtaking" visual. Papadatos ultimately called the video one of Perry's best.[48]

Live performances[edit]

On October 22, 2013, Perry first performed "Unconditionally" along with her other Prism tracks at the iHeartRadio Theater in Los Angeles, California.[49] She also performed these songs the next day when hosting the "We Can Survive" concert along with friends Bonnie McKee, Kacey Musgraves, Sara Bareilles, Ellie Goulding, and duo Tegan and Sara at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.[38] Perry also performed the song on the Australian version of The X Factor on October 28, 2013 alongside "Roar"[50] and also performed it on the Australian breakfast program Sunrise the following day.[51] On November 10, 2013, she performed "Unconditionally" at the 2013 MTV Europe Music Awards.[52] She also opened the American Music Awards of 2013 on November 24, 2013 with a geisha-inspired performance of the song.[53] The performance led to controversy and accusations of cultural appropriation and racism[54][55] from Asian-American groups and media outlets from the Wall Street Journal to Psychology Today.[56][57][58] Her stylist Johnny Wujek explained during an interview that he and Perry both loved Japan, adding: "The people are so kind, there's so much there visually... Just walking around [in Japan], you feel something. We wanted to try and encompass that in the performance somehow, almost a tribute." Wujek also described his process of finding authentic kimonos then cutting them up according to his own inspirations.[59] Perry's friend Lady Gaga defended her, stating: "I think people are generally too sensitive and they should just leave her be".[60] On December 5, 2013, Perry performed the song on the Italian X Factor.[61] On December 13, 2013, Perry also performed the song on The Voice of Germany together with four contestants of the show.[62] On December 14, 2013, Perry performed "Unconditionally" at the NRJ Music Awards 2014.[63] She also performed "Unconditionally" on the season 10 finale of The X Factor (UK) on December 15, 2013.[64] Perry performed a stripped down version of the song on the December 20, 2013 episodes of The Ellen Degeneres Show and Alan Carr: Chatty Man.[65]

Track listing[edit]

  1. "Unconditionally" – 3:48
  2. "Unconditionally" (Instrumental) – 3:48

Charts[edit]