When I first heard “Skyscraper”, I was profoundly moved. Not by the song itself, but by the fact that a song such as that was #1 on iTunes. I thought to myself that there might be hope for pop music yet.
Demi Lovato is not, by any means, the greatest singer around. She strains to hit her notes and her voice is fairly weak, albeit one with a fairly impressive range. However, Lovato and the producer of her #1 hit song “Skyscraper”, Toby Gad, manage to make these traits an advantage.
Lovato understands the song. She didn’t write it (Gad, Kerli, and Lindy Robbins did), but the emotion and the soul are there. Like a great cover, she interprets the song with a profound emotion that you feel as you listen to it. Lovato recorded it before her medical treatment stint last year, and she herself remarked that “Gad wanted to re-record it”, but “the cry for help” was so real she had to insist it be kept.
Producer Toby Gad helped a bunch as well. Where many other producers would try to enhance Lovato’s voice with layering and other studio techniques, Gad focused entirely on doing the opposite–stripping Lovato’s vocal bare, letting all the tight breaths and strains and imperfections ring through the song by placing Lovato way on top of the sparse mix and using gain on her mic. Also, whereas other producers, including myself if I had the opportunity, would be tempted to expand the arrangement and make it more “epic”, Gad chooses to restrain himself and in doing so, gives more space for Lovato’s imperfect and soulful vocal to break through. This also matches up well with the lyrics. While the song is called “Skyscraper”, the key line is “like I’m made of glass / like I’m made of paper” (I love that line lyrically), a distinctly small and intimate setting (Lovato communicates this fragility in her vocal as well).
Even the reviews have been stunning, surprising for a modern pop single: Billboard said: “The ballad showcases the 18-year-old’s quivering voice as she sings about “catching teardrops in my hands,” but her strength allows to keep “rising from the ground, like a skyscraper.” The singer eventually displays her powerful range as breathy backing vocals and heavy percussion fill in the spaces left by a lonely piano in the beginning of the track.” Idolator wrote: “The piano and vocals that begin the track are mournful, fitting in with the somber vibe we predicted from this tune. But it all builds to a much stronger and more upbeat finish, sending a message to Lovato’s fans that she isn’t letting her recent struggles keep her down — or stop her from taking her career in a more mature, emotionally naked direction than we’ve seen yet from the Disney star.” About.com reviewed: “The song maintains a simple structure. It is a song of survival in the face of events that amount to efforts to “tear me down.” However, the audio pictures painted by words like “You can break everything I am / Like I’m made of glass,” coupled with Demi Lovato’s bravura vocal performance turn this into something truly special. […] The pop music field has been crowded lately with anthems about self-esteem. However, none has been as intimately personal as Demi Lovato sounds here. As she vocally swings for the fences following the bridge, Demi Lovato sounds as if she really does see herself as the towering survivor described in the words.”
It’s not the best song, but the lyrics are very good, the restraint is brilliant, and the soul is there–and that’s a lot more than can be said of pretty much any #1 song in the last 6 years. If all pop music moves in this direction, I wouldn’t be displeased in the slightest.