No, that's not a Bieber reference. If you haven't heard, Katy Perry has coined the term "purposeful pop" in reference to her new song Chained to the Rhythm. The music video was released yesterday. I'll get to the video. First, let's unpack why Katy thinks this song is so full of purpose.
The lyrics go like this:
Living our lives through a lens/ Trapped in our white picket fence/ Like ornaments/ So comfortable, we’re living in a bubble, bubble/ So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble
In the past, Katy has stuck to topics including cherry Chapstick and plastic bags so I almost understand why she thinks these vague meanderings are even remotely political. But if you are going to go around telling outlets on the Grammy red carpet that your song "starts conversations," shouldn't it contain a little more lyrical substance than simply rhyming “song” with “distortion” and ambiguous references to zombies? Are the “wasted zombies” supposed to be Trump supporters or just apathetic Americans who chose not to vote at all? Or is it just about people who are trapped in mundane routines? I know Katy stumped for Hillary hard during the campaign and that the song’s point seems to be to a comment on the state of America – sort of. She wore a “persist” armband at The Grammys. I get it. The artist who once did this is now trying to sell herself as Woke. This is Katy Perry’s attempt at protest music but the message in this song not radical or risky by any means. In fact, it’s so tame that a 19-year-old at a club “dancing to the distortion” might completely miss its purpose. Maybe I could get down with Chained to the Rhythm if that IS the commentary Katy Perry is trying to make but she is talking about this song like she’s John Lennon and this is her Imagine.
Vulture posted a great piece last week about Katy's “purposeful pop” and how other artists have been doing this for years and in much more effective ways.
"It feels like Perry arrived late to the political-pop party with a catchphrase to describe something her peers and predecessors have been doing all along."
Since Katy started saying this sh-t, I’ve been yelling at anyone who will listen that I can name five pop songs off the top of my head that are more purposeful. Vulture’s Craig Jenkins referenced Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, which would be on my list too. He also mentions Grace Jones and Michael and Janet Jackson. MJ’s They Don’t Care About Us explicitly said the words “police brutality.” Think about the powerful words of Born This Way. Or Formation. Or anything Kendrick Lamar has written in the past few years. Or – and it kills me to say this – Macklemore’s Same Love. To quote Jenkins, “pop has always had purpose."
So if the song itself still leaves something to be desired in its purposefulness, what about the video? Like Lainey mentioned yesterday in Smutty Tingles, visually, it’s Peak Katy Perry. The video looks like a box of crayons sh-t all over it. This video is what would happen if the Care Bears directed Pleasantville. The premise is that Katy and a bunch of 1950s “nicest kids in town” Hairspray extras go to an amusement park, literally run on a hamster wheel (subtle) and realize that they are just wasted zombies chained to the rhythm, or whatever. The video is supposed to be a commentary on the death of the American Dream, I guess. Many blogs have likened it to an episode of Black Mirror. I think we need to give Black Mirror a bit more credit.
Listen, I get what Katy was trying to do with this video. When Skip Marley comes in to explain that “time is ticking for the empire” while Katy and co. look on mindlessly, I fully grasp the intended message here. I don’t understand why Skip Marley is on this song at all but that’s a whole other rant. It seems like Katy, like the rest of non-Trump supporting America, is pissed off and emboldened to #RESIST. She is trying— albeit poorly— to turn her art into music that makes a difference. It’s hard to hate on that sentiment. My issue is with her execution and her attempt to come up with a new name or categorization for something other artists have done before and better.
If Katy Perry was really trying to make a statement with this video, maybe she should have put some same sex couples on the rollercoaster? Except for some strategically placed minorities, why is the video overwhelmingly white? (answer: it’s a Katy Perry video) I don’t think Katy Perry needs to save the world in one video or represent everyone all the time but if she’s going to act like her song is the soundtrack of the revolution, she’s going to have to come with a lot more than this.
Attached - Katy Perry at BBC Radio 1 in London yesterday.