By Amanda Wicks
With the release of her new single “Chained to the Rhythm” (featuring Skip Marley), Katy Perry ushered in a new era a new era of “purposeful pop.”
“Chained to the Rhythm” may sound bright and catchy on the surface, but its lyrics tell a different story. The dystopian song encourages listeners to open their eyes to all the troubling political and social developments taking place around them instead of remaining confined to a bubble.
Perry doubled down on that message by releasing the song’s music video on February 21st. In it, she joins throngs of people visiting an amusement park called Oblivia. Although everyone and everything seems happy, in reality, visitors remain oblivious about the death of the American dream, the Flint water crisis, the threat of nuclear annihilation and more thanks to the endless distractions they encounter.
Perry’s new shift incorporates a stronger political tone than has ever existed in her previous music. In modern millennial parlance, it’s clear she has become “woke” since she released her last album Prism in 2014, but how did she arrive at her new perspective? Her path to political awakening hasn’t always been smooth, but here are five key instances to explain her journey.
Perry famously grew up in a strict religious household with evangelical minister parents who restricted what she and her sister heard, read and watched. “I come from a very non-accepting family, but I’m very accepting,” Perry told Billboard in 2011. She explained how religion prompted her to begin asking questions. “I have always been the kid who’s asked ‘Why?’ In my faith, you’re just supposed to have faith. But I was always like … why?” she said.
“Ur So Gay”
“Ur So Gay” marked the first single off Perry’s 2008 major label debut One of the Boys, and revealed the growing she still had to do. The song drew a line in the sand between Perry’s religious upbringing and her popular music persona, but it also attracted sharp criticism for its homophobic attitude and chorus. Perry explained it away as a joke she’d written about a moody ex-boyfriend, saying, “Everyone knows what it’s about and all my gay friends know what it’s about too,” but critics weren’t laughing (via Today).
“I Kissed a Girl”
Perry once again stirred up controversy when she followed “Ur So Gay” with her next single, “I Kissed a Girl.” Although some celebrated the sexual liberation Perry explored on the song, more conservative listeners criticized its homosexual subject matter, and critics in the LGBTQ community felt Perry’s song was unaware at best and homophobic at worst. The message may not be the overt political position Perry would eventually come to occupy with “Chained to the Rhythm,” but it certainly signaled her willingness to play with societal norms and push back against accepted behaviors.
Unicef Goodwill Ambassador
Perry became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2013. Her work with the organization ended up taking her to some of the world’s most impoverished areas to discuss child protection, education, and health. In 2016, UNICEF honored her with the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award for all she’d done. Perry posted a photo about the award on Instagram. “This award will be a constant reminder to get out of my bubble and back into the field to shine a light on issues that matter most, especially to illuminate the plight of vulnerable children who are living without basic human needs and rights,” she wrote.
Hillary Clinton Supporter
Perry’s political awakening was years in the making, but it culminated with Hillary Clinton’s loss. Nobody stumped as hard for the Democratic candidate in the 2016 presidential race as Perry. Among her many “I’m With Her” moments, she and boyfriend Orlando Bloom dressed up as Bill and Hillary Clinton for Halloween, she voted early for Clinton on her birthday and she participated in the “Get Out the Vote” rally in Philadelphia days before the November election. Watching Clinton lose to Donald Trump stirred something in Perry that erupted in “Chained to the Rhythm” and will likely keep seeping out in her music for years to come.
Clinton helped to honor Perry, presenting her the above mentioned UNICEF award, shortly after the 2016 elections. “Hillary lit a fire inside of me that burns brighter and brighter every day, and that fire will NEVER be put out,” Perry wrote on Instagram. “Feelings of despair still comes [sic] in waves, but now more than ever I am MOTIVATED to fight against social injustice and to promote equality and kindness as best I know how, through my art and influence. I am continually inspired by her strength and how she continues to rise like the Phoenix she is, every time. It’s funny, sometimes people who disagree with me just say, “Shut up and sing.” Boy, will I do so in a whole new way… next year.”
Slowly, I am coming down from the beautiful cloud that was Tuesday night's @UNICEF Snowflake Ball. First and foremost, I am incredibly grateful to have received the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award from my hero @HillaryClinton. This award will be a constant reminder to get out of my bubble and back into the field to shine a light on issues that matter most, especially to illuminate the plight of vulnerable children who are living without basic human needs and rights. This honor is a starting line, not a finish line, for me, and I am excited for where my new ambition and purpose leads me! I was profoundly moved and thoroughly surprised when Hillary showed up to give me this award. I broke down and wept watching her take the stage. The last time I was in NYC was for Election Night. I left covered in a blanket of sadness and despair because for me, and I imagine others, the results triggered a lot of dormant fears and emotions to the surface. I feared that we were not ever going to see the light of justice or fairness. I felt vulnerable, confused and frightened like a child. From the outside it probably looks as though I've always had a "voice." Truth is, I have never had one like I have found in the past year. I have a found a new voice, a more determined voice. I grew up sheltered, suppressed and kept silent for fear of giving the wrong answer. I would reveal my poor education. Or I was just scared. Hillary helped me see that we're all in this together, no matter where we come from, what color we are, or what status and education we have or don't have. Hillary lit a fire inside of me that burns brighter and brighter every day, and that fire will NEVER be put out. Feelings of despair still comes in waves, but now more than ever I am MOTIVATED to fight against social injustice and to promote equality and kindness as best I know how, through my art and influence. I am continually inspired by her strength and how she continues to rise like the Phoenix she is, every time. It's funny, sometimes people who disagree with me just say, "Shut up and sing." Boy, will I do so in a whole new way... next year. Hell hath no fury like a woman REBORN.