Katy Perry - What Is Her Message?
Katy Perry is one of the most well known pop singers of the day. Her songs are on
the radio all over the world and her videos have millions of views. If you are under
30, chances are very high that you have heard of Katy Perry. But who is she, where
did she come from, and what is she trying to tell us? Does she have a consistent message
or is she simply an entertainer? We will try to answer these questions by looking
at her three most viewed videos on YouTube - "Last Friday Night", "E. T." and "Firework".
Before she was the famous singer Katy Perry, she was unknown Christian singer Katy
Hudson. Born Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson on October 25, 1984 in Santa Barbara
California to two minister parents who were both pastors, Katy recorded a Christian
album in her late teens using her birth name. The album went nowhere but you can watch
a clip of a performance from when she was 16, here.
She starts off talking about how God understands when you know what you're supposed
to be doing, but are being a "slacker" instead. (She sounds exactly like "Kathy Beth
Terry" - her alter ego in "Last Friday Night", see below.)
Katy changed her last name to Perry, her mother's maiden name, so as not to be confused
with Kate Hudson. She decided to move to LA and start a pop music career. Katy was
signed by Columbia Records but then dropped before her first album was released. She
was referred to Capitol Music Group where she released the single "Ur So Gay" which
was about a man who had traits stereotypically associated with gay men, and made her
mainstream debut album, "One of the Boys". Hits from the album included the controversial
"I Kissed a Girl", "Hot n Cold" and "Waking Up in Vegas".
Her next album was "Teenage Dream". Hits so far from this 2010 album include "California
Gurls", Teenage Dream, Firework, E.T., and now "Last Friday Night". We will analyze
these last three, plus "I Kissed a Girl" below.
It is quite possible there was a conscious decision by someone to position Katy Perry
as a kooky, unconventional dressing, tongue-in-cheek pop superstar who would get attention
both on and off stage. Her marriage to British comedian Russell Brand only added to
the buzz, as he is eccentric and controversial with a history of drug use and possible
sex addiction. It should be noted that Brand is said to be an ex drug user now and
that he attends regular AA meetings.
First big hit - I kissed a girl
"I Kissed a Girl" is a complex song with a simple and memorable title. Katy Perry
mentions her ambivalence about the act; it felt both wrong and right, it's not what
good girls do but it's innocent and it doesn't mean that love is involved. She is
curious about what it would be like to kiss a girl, but never planned to do it. However,
once she has had some alcohol, she finds that girls are irresistible, with their soft
skin and kissable red lips. Human nature takes over, she experiments and hopes her
boyfriend won't mind.
The song became popular because of the driving melody and the controversial lyrics.
It is not clear if Katy Perry was advocating that all girls smooth with their girlfriends
but the song did provide some degree of social acceptance for those who did. At a
minimum, it made the concept a little less stigmatic to the massive pop music audience.
Some parents saw the song as decadent and another sign that we are in The End Times.
I feel that the song can be used to start a dialogue, with others or internally, about
what your values are, your degree of tolerance for alternate lifestyles, alcohol use,
and whether or not to try something just because it is currently trendy. Since I am
a huge fan of respectful communication of thoughts and feelings, I would like to think
the song contributed to some understanding between opposing culture warriors! I know
from my own personal experience that the Katy Perry's song provided an opening to
discuss social and sexual matters with friends and family, which may not have occurred
Firework, by Katy Perry, is a song that proclaims the value of every human life. You
might be experiencing hard times, you may not fit in, but it is good to show your
true colors and let others see that you are original and have something to express
that has always been inside of you.
Whereas "I Kissed a Girl" was mostly devoid of religious allusions, this song has
a few. Step into the light because you are unique and irreplaceable. The future holds
great things so don't let the closed doors keep you from noticing the open window
(or perfect road in this case).
This song can also contribute to dialogue about where one is headed in life, the importance
of self-esteem and hope for a better future.
One further aspect of this song that could be discussed is the motivation to do your
best with what life has given to you. Do you predominately want to express yourself
and use your talents so that others will be in awe of you and say, "oh oh oh!" Yes,
there is satisfaction in being admired and looked up to, but there is responsibility
in being some sort of idol. Also, should we make our life choices based on the recognition
we expect, or should we do what is right according to our values and thoughtful deliberations
regardless of what others may think of us?
Kanye West was not on the original version of this song, but he was added to the Single
version released on 2/11/11. It changed the entire aura of the song, in my opinion.
Kanye is still remembered by many as the man who disrespected Taylor Swift on Live
Television during the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Kanye West cut off Taylor Swift's
acceptance speech for Best Female Video, grabbing the mic to say, "...Ima let you
finish..." but Beyonce should have won. (Watch the video.)
His first line in E.T. states that he has a dirty mind and filthy ways. Is this really
the kind of person that most girls command to "Kiss Me!" It is clear that Kanye's
character in the song is only interested in a sexual encounter of the most casual
kind. This is a stereotype of the entire male gender and does nothing to advance the
formation of healthy relationships. Katy Perry's character is in a state of rapture
upon her meeting with this alien; she is ready to go, ready to be abducted.
Again there are religious overtones. Is this entity a devil or an angel? Katy is ready
to go into the light of this supernatural foreigner who opened her eyes and has power,
is cosmic and has magical moves. Although angels are known as beings of light and
heaven is sometimes experienced as a bright light in near death experiences, it should
be remembered that Lucifer means light-bearer. "Infect me with your loving, fill me
with your poison." Still unclear if she is talking about a devil she made a deal with
that will result in trouble later, or heavenly love which she may have later come
to equate with a kind of poison as her religious attachments slackened.
Kanye raps again, mid tune. "Ima disrobe you, then Ima probe you. See, I abducted
you, so I tell you what to do!" How does Katy Perry's character react to this? It
reminds me of Alice Kramden from TV's "The Honeymooners" from 60 years ago who realized
that Ralph had a need to be a braggart and to make himself appear to be a controlling
bigshot. Alice knew all along that Ralph was simply a little boy inside, not feeling
that good about himself, who needed to talk big to feel adequate. Katy realizes this
about the alien as well. She will be with him, but she will not let him tell her what
to do! The first thing she says after the alien finishes his statement about control
is to tell HIM what to do! "Take me, ta-ta-take me!" Katy decides that she wants to
be his "victim." She voluntarily enters the relationship and therefore is NOT a victim
of abduction. Kanye West's alien character comes off sounding like a little boy while
Katy Perry acts as the adult who chooses her own fate.
Last Friday Night
In an interesting accident of pop stars aligning in just the right way, Katy Perry
released her "Last Friday Night" video shortly after Rebecca Black got hundreds of
millions of views on her accidental pop tune / video "Friday." Katy's song was a year
old already, but it may be that those in charge of timing the releases of her singles
/ videos saw the similarity in the title and tempo of the tunes, while realizing that
both were parodies of partying lifestyles, even if "Friday" was an unintentional parody!
In any case, Rebecca Black, who was just 13, was just past the peak of her fame for
turning a $4000 semi-professionally created song and video into something the entire
net was talking about in much of March and April of this year. For all of these reasons,
it was not surprising to see Rebecca Black star in the Katy Perry video of "Last Friday
Night." Rebecca plays a popular girl who is having a large house party, similar to
the one in "Friday" right next door to "Kathy Beth Terry" who is a stereotypical 1980s
Katy Perry borrows a brilliant move from the Beatles, who after a few years of pop
stardom, decided that they wanted to be someone else and transformed into Sgt. Pepper's
Lonely Hearts Club Band, with huge success. Katy becomes Kathy the nerd, a lonely
heart who is into Sudoku and Astronomy. She is dressed in an ill fitting denim shorts
jumpsuit, has her hair in an 80s ponytail, and wears braces complete with wrap-around
metal headgear. The outrageous dental equipment and the opening scene of a paperboy
are taken directly from the 1985 teen romantic comedy "Better Off Dead" starring John
Cusack and, interestingly enough, Dan Schneider who went on to create iCarly, a very
popular teen comedy TV show.
So Katy Perry's video for "Last Friday Night" takes references from both the past
and today. Pop sax player Kenny G is in the video along with 80s stars Cory Feldman
and Debbie Gibson. Brother band Hanson (MMMBop) from the 90s is in there too, for
good measure! Katy does a Sudoku puzzle, plays a dance game on a videogame console,
has a laptop with internet access to social networks and a cell phone - all things
from the recent past.
In addition to the music video, several Kathy Beth Terry vlogs are on Katy Perry's
YouTube channel. She talks about Nerds as being a work in progress. Do Nerds need
to dress and act like everyone else to be accepted? Rebecca Black's character offers
Kathy a hot party outfit, along with falsies (damn!), a painful lip waxing and the indelicate removal of her headgear using a large
pair of pliers! But since the video is part flashback to the party and part present
next morning, we see Kathy is back to her nerd self even after her night of experimentation
with a more popular and mainstream look.
Again we see the concept of human nature and thoughts that something may or may not
be right. This time its not about kissing a girl, it is about what to do if you encounter
an attractive but incapacitated person who might not assent to any association were
they able to make their intents clear. Kathy wakes up to find a stranger in her bed
who's shirt is open, revealing a toned ab region. He may or may not be wearing anything
below the waist; that area is under the covers. A few times as the video proceeds,
and we see Kathy struggling with the desire to peek under the sheets at her bed mate's
One thing the video clearly does is indicate that the lyrics to the song "Last Friday
Night" are a parody and not an exhortation on how to live ones' life! "There's a stranger
in my bed, there's a pounding in my head!" Skinny Dipping, running around naked, having
sex with two other people, maxing out credit cards, drinking too much and ending up
with warrants out for your arrest is no way to go through life! (Neither is fat, drunk
and stupid, as we learned from "Animal House"!) But the video clears up the question
of how the stranger got in her bed. It seems that said stranger, who was showing off
his abs earlier, ended up in Kathy's bedroom when the party moved to her house. A
male nerd with an eye for Kathy became angry when the jock stranger pinched Kathy's
bottom, so he conjured up an image in his mind of a battle scene from a video game
such as EverQuest, World of Warcraft or Wizard 101 and then knocked the guy out cold!
Katy Perry is a pop singer who is known by nearly every person with access to a radio
or the internet between the ages of 4 and 40. Her songs are catchy and the lyrics
are controversial. Katy comes from a family strongly influenced by Christian values.
She seems to understand that people are listening and she can deliver a message to
a large audience. The message seems to be that you can live life your own way, experiment
and see how you feel about the choices you make. Realize that you are someone special
and unique, with something to share with the world. Take control even when others
are trying to dominate, but give in to having some fun in life! Lighten up and party
sometimes, but don't go too crazy or you may get arrested!
Kenny Crane has been writing about YouTube
videomakers and their videos at YouTubeStars.com since
June 2006. He also publishes the YouTube
Top 100 Weekly Chart of the Most Popular YouTube videomakers.
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