It’s not unusual for songs to become cultural fixtures, but it’s a little rarer for their emotional use to be so generally prescribed: “I Will Survive” is so ensconced as the go-to cry of defiance for the jilted girl that it feels more ubiquitous than it actually is. I can’t remember the last time I heard “I Will Survive” on the radio, or at karaoke, and it’s almost impossible to imagine it ever being used seriously on TV or in a film now. But none of that lessens its familiarity.
Its status as a culture cliche is unfair on the song – after all, it got that way for a reason, and the reason is that Gaynor gives a monster performance, full of guts but with plenty of nuance too: the hard-won sneer in her voice on “I used to cry”, the perfectly marshalled anger on “Go! Walk out the door!”. But she’s never so bravura as to be inimitable – she owns the song, but she’s happy to lend it out.
The beat does its job, jogging along while Gloria warms to her theme, but the instrumental star here is those giddy strings on the coda, twirling off to a liberated future. Ultimately, what makes “I Will Survive” a keeper is its complete lack of ambiguity – there’s never a hint that she’ll reconsider, no attempt to show a different side. Go, in this case, means go.