Katy Perry shows us America. We should listen to her.

Summary: The new music video by Katy Perry provides a warning and a call to action for America. Looking deeper, it reveals much about America. The video deserves attention as entertainment, as art, and as a mirror in which we can more clearly see ourselves. Below is the video, followed by analysis.

 

Katy Perry in "Chained to the Rhythm"

 

Are we crazy?
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
Aren’t you lonely
Up there in utopia
Where nothing will ever be enough?
Happily numb
So comfortable, we’re living in a bubble, bubble
So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble

 

Katy Perry in "Chained to the Rhythm"

So put your rose-colored glasses on
And party on

Turn it up, it’s your favorite song
Dance, dance, dance to the distortion
Come on, turn it up, keep it on repeat
Stumbling around like a wasted zombie
Yeah, we think we’re free
Drink, this one is on me
We’re all chained to the rhythm
To the rhythm
To the rhythm

Are we tone deaf?
Keep sweeping it under the mat
Thought we could do better than that
I hope we can
So comfortable, we’re living in a bubble, bubble
So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble

Katy Perry in "Chained to the Rhythm"

So put your rose-colored glasses on
And party on

[Skip Marley sings.]

It is my desire
Break down the walls to connect, inspire
Ay, up in your high place, liars
Time is ticking for the empire
The truth they feed is feeble
As so many times before
They greed over the people
They stumbling and fumbling
And we’re about to riot
They woke up, they woke up the lions
(Woo!)

Katy Perry in "Chained to the Rhythm"

Turn it up
Turn it up
It goes on, and on, and on
It goes on, and on, and on
It goes on, and on, and on
‘Cause we’re all chained to the rhythm

Thoughts about “Chained to the Rhythm”

This is a powerful counterpoint to the advertisements by Apple, Microsoft, and the interchangeable cell phone companies showing fashionable upper class professionals rocking with their techno-toys. And the innumerable TED talks to that market about the glossy 21st century of fashionista libertarianism, security, and prosperity.

Rather than the avant garde insiders who all get it, Katy Perry plays the outsider — an ingénue who wanders into the Oblivia amusement. She see things familiar to the others but wondrous to her. She begins with a desire to join but ends in doubt.

Offstage there are the other 80% of America slowly (or rapidly) getting crushed by the unrestrained forces of capitalism (cutely called “markets”) unleashed by the bipartisan alliance riding under the banners of neoliberalism.

Here Katy Perry speaks for the small number of Millennials living in the world built by the Boomers, those who party in palaces but warn of stress gathering in the crowds outside the gates.

But she uses an exhausted perspective.

The tropes Katy Perry uses to show of 21st C America are retro, based on the false leftist picture of the 1950s as an era of sterile conformity. After two generations of leftist propaganda, that’s all the Millennials know about it. A critique of today’s America based on a false vision of the distant past can rouse emotions — but can produce neither individual change nor political action. She might as well warn of the velociraptor menace, or film a reboot of the mad Reagan-era Red Dawn (Already done! See the even madder WOT-era Red Dawn).

In “Chained to the Rhythm” Katy Perry takes the safe path by criticizing the present as a continuation of long-dead trends. Doing so offends no powerful economic or cultural forces. Our taste-setters hate the 1950s, and robotically applaud condemnations of it (even if dumbed-down to the level of Pleasantville).

It’s always about class.

An oddity of modern America is that we’re inspired and even instructed about social problems, by wealthy pop stars. They’re not shy about flaunting their wealth.

In this video Katy Perry — net worth $125 million — breezes into Oblivia like a princess (the best dressed women there). In “Blank Space” Taylor Swift — net worth $250 million — introduces her boy toys to life in the aristocracy (nice mansion!). In “Touch My Body” Mariah Carey — net worth $250 million — a working stiff visits her mansion and fantasizes about the fun life of the aristocracy.

Contrast this rock stars of the past. Bruce Springsteen, a man of the people. Rebels like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Working class singers like Johnny Cash.

These inspirational lectures from the rich — with the 1% of stars collecting 3/4 of the revenue — mirror the America of which they are a part, as our new aristocracy slowly dominates all aspects of society. This reaches theater of the absurd levels in our elections, where representatives of wealthy clans vie for office — the winners are those who best portray populists on TV.

The bottom line.

We are a transitional stage, as people slowly realize what is happening to America. Find insights and inspirations to action where you can, however imperfect. As we develop clearer visions and deeper understandings, artists will reflect this in their work. In turn this will help us grow more.

For More Information

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I want to ride this roller coaster someday.

Katy Perry: the Roller Coaster in "Chained to the Rhythm"

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14 thoughts on “Katy Perry shows us America. We should listen to her.

  1. 1) Just because she sings the song does not mean she wrote the words.
    2) Yes the lyrics are surprisingly political, especially come from an otherwise vapid pop star
    3) Connecting economics and generational issues to these lyrics has no basis. Politics and culture, yes.

    Like

    1. Bob,

      (1) “Just because she sings the song does not mean she wrote the words.”

      Why does that matter? Kennedy didn’t write his “we’re going to the moon” speech, either.

      (2) “come from an otherwise vapid pop star”

      Vapid: “offering nothing that is stimulating or challenging.” That’s not accurate. As I’ve mentioned in two other posts in this series (links in the For More Info section), some of her other songs had substantial meanings. I’ll be discussing some of her other videos later in this series, showing that they too challenge us to think about America. Perhaps you are just not listening closely.

      (3) “Connecting economics and generational issues to these lyrics has no basis.”

      Quite the sophomoric rebuttal. Can you explain specifically what is wrong with my analysis?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What the f***, does a progressive or lefty or whatever you consider yourself mean by the world built by the boomers? You fall into the oligarchy’s generational divideand conquer trap & then go to say it’s always about class. Consider what the ruling class wants you to think before you spout generational nonsense.

    How was this world built by the boomers? The policies that led to suburban sprawl & Middle Eastern involvement to keep down the price of oil? That would be absurd.

    The Reagan Revolution & the destruction of the post-WWII social contract? Maybe, if you can’t see how ridiculous articles like this one are: “How the baby boomers destroyed everything” by Bruce Cannon Gibney at the Boston Globe, 26 February 2017.

    Here’s a hint {bayoustjohndavid’s comment at Naked Capitalism about Gibney’s Boston Globe article}.

    I can’t speak for Bob, but I think that one line specifically f***s-up your analysis.

    Like

    1. John David,

      (1) “How was this world built by the boomers?”

      Each generation inherits a world and passes it on to the next generation, assuming responsibility for events during their time. You can disagree with that, just as you can argue with the tide.

      (2) “The Reagan Revolution & the destruction of the post-WWII social contract?”

      Yes, that is a good example.

      • Reagan started this process.
      • Bush Sr. continued it.
      • So did Clinton with his “welfare reform” — a catastrophic failure (WaPo: “How welfare reform changed American poverty, in 9 charts“). Clinton also initiated a new round of neoliberal reforms (e.g., liberating Wall Street), powerful forces for concentrating corporate power and increasing inequality.
      • Bush Jr.’s tax cuts supercharged these trends.
      • Obama squandered the opportunity to substantially push back (at the very least) Bush Jr.’s changes.

      (3) “I think that one line specifically f***s-up your analysis.”

      It’s a trivial detail. The validity of Perry’s criticism rests on her observations of the current situation, not how it came to be.

      (4) The rest of your comment is incoherent rhetoric, and hence beyond critique.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Come on, turn it up, keep it on repeat….” “Dance, dance, dance to the distortion!” Katy as Harriet Nelson with plastic exterior bra cups! Ironing board. Hamster cage ride. List is as numerous as each scene.
    GEMS!
    Great song, dance jag and portrayal of somebodies search or peek at life.
    Terrific entertainment. And Katy as every gorgeous young woman. Does she hear anything Marley is singing? Ha.
    What is it all for?
    ….
    And the Anaysis is spot on. Maybe each titled section deserves a Post of its own.
    The part that peels back the mat a bit is the reference to the Left:
    “But she uses an exhausted perspective.
    The tropes Katy Perry uses to show of 21st C America are retro, based on the false leftist picture of the 1950s as an era of sterile conformity. After two generations of leftist propaganda, that’s all the Millennials know about it. A critique of today’s America based on a false vision of the distant past can rouse emotions — but can produce neither individual change nor political action….”
    It is old and was even then false in its simplicity and naivety. In many ways that is exactly what got us right here.

    Katy makes big money while pointing out some elements of the end games of a real nihilism for some.
    No, I’ll ride a regular coaster thanks. But I’m sure at some party of millenials this year, I’ll see some disc jockey will spin this Tune and all the women will join up in the middle of the living room and dance, dance to the distortion! Love it! Are we crazy? Who needs to ask?

    Good one.

    Like

  4. Bruce Springsteen working class hero? Hmmm, at the start, perhaps. Now? Not so sure having read riders to his recent concerts…

    I always develop a twitch whenever I hear someone with money and influence telling me how I ought to live my life, particularly if they’re making money and furthering their career doing it :-) At some point, wealth, position, power and a social conscience collapse into cant. Think Gore, Bono or DeCaprio and their fellow travellers, their defining feature seeming to be a complete lack of self awareness.

    There are a few song lyrics that have stuck with me because they mean something about life in a more generic way:
    1. Money is the root of all evil they say, but if you ask for a rise, it’s no surprise they’re giving none away.
    2. Is it any wonder you have no power if you choose a thief to keep it for you, is it any wonder your wine is sour when you let a liar choose the brew he pours you.

    Or, there’s Joe Jackson’s “Obvious Song”.

    “When a voice said ‘Buddy can you spare that tree
    We gotta save this world-starting with your land’.
    It was a rock ‘n’ roll millionaire from the USA
    Doing three to the gallon in a big white car
    And he sang and he sang ’till he polluted the air
    And he blew a lot of smoke from a Cuban cigar”

    Sooner or later we always end up being told to make sacrifices by people who, plainly, do not have to make those sacrifices. If you’re on $20,000 dollars a year, someone on $250,000 is *not* going to feel your pain and barring act of god, they never will. In the UK we have a term for them, “Champagne Socialists” (limousine liberal in the US).

    Clearly, we still have a lot to learn from “Animal Farm”.

    Physically, I hate being 60. But boy does it provide a wonderful perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Steve,

      “Bruce Springsteen working class hero? Hmmm, at the start, perhaps. Now? Not so sure having read riders to his recent concerts…”

      Great point! I should have been more specific about that.

      “But boy does it provide a wonderful perspective on life, the universe, and everything.”

      Yes, I agree. Also there is the good/bad experience of watching my children mature so that their views sometimes prove more correct than mine (see the opening of today’s post for an example).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Katy Perry as a voice of reason?
    Only within a truly and completely perverse world!
    This is the same ‘artists’ who went full retard in her efforts to deliver this nation to the monster known as hillary clinton.
    If that doesn’t create massive cognitive dissonance…..
    I suspect a lack of mental fitness.

    Like

    1. Robert,

      “Katy Perry as a voice of reason? Only within a truly and completely perverse world!”

      Why? Can you explain that? The problem with rants is that they communicate nothing to people outside your bubble.

      “This is the same ‘artists’ who went full retard in her efforts to deliver this nation to the monster known as hillary clinton.”

      Wow. Over the top much?

      • Why the scare quotes about “artist”? Do you produce work of higher calibre, and so look down upon her?
      • “full retard” — are you God, and so get to pass judgement on those whose political views disagree with yours?
      • “monster known as Hillary Clinton” — you’re watching too much TV (& are cousin to those who condemn Trump as “Hitler”).

      “If that doesn’t create massive cognitive dissonance”

      “Cognitive dissonance” between what?

      “I suspect a lack of mental fitness.”

      Yes, your comment shows the thinking of extremists that I condemn in this post. It’s a pox on America, keeping us from clearly seeing our situation — and organizing to act.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m glad you’re treating her work seriously!

    As for rock stars in general (I’m not sure if Perry is quite a ‘rock star’) It has been the case for at least as long as I’ve been alive that one of the goals or outcomes of becoming a great rock musician is that you are famous and also, of course, wealthy. In hip-hop they don’t disguise it much.

    What I do find interesting is the deployment of that wealth as a counter-argument to what they are saying, which seems exclusively limited to when they are tacking against what I guess you could call “the right-wing consensus.”

    In a sense it is hypocrisy, but it’s also hypocrisy for people to want to undermine the institutions and government agencies that made America great (to coin a phrase) now that they’re old and will see more benefit from lower tax rates than infrastructure investments or so on. Yet somehow – SOMEHOW – for some reason, that doesn’t seem to bother people as much. Stephen King wrote a fun article addressing all the people who said “So why don’t you voluntarily contribute more of your money to the treasury, LIBERAL?” to him: “Tax Me, for F@%&’s Sake!” in The Daily Beast — “The iconic writer scolds the superrich (including himself and Mitt Romney) for not giving back, and warns of a Kingsian apocalyptic scenario if inequality is not addressed in America.”

    Like

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