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Katy Perry Wakes Up to the Horror of Trump and the American Dream

Katy Perry

The pop star's video for "Chained to the Rhythm" appears to be a candy-coated trip to the amusement park, but it takes on white suburbia in deeply subversive ways.


A few weeks ago pop darling Katy Perry released "Chained to the Rhythm," a political song about a kind of insidious apathy that can lead to things like the election of Donald Trump that is ingeniously disguised as a lighthearted dance ditty. A week later Perry, an ardent Hillary Clinton fan and surrogate during election season, performed the song at the Grammy Awards while wearing a white suit and an armband that read "Persist" in reference to Sen. Mitch McConnell's remarks about Elizabeth Warren's vetting of Trump's pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, that essentially got her benched from the proceedings. "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted," McConnell said of Warren . The "persist" part became an instant rallying cry for women and the left. Proudly sporting her armband, Perry marched around the Grammys set, a standard suburban American dream house complete with the white picket fence, as storm clouds rolled in and the home exploded around her while a scroll of the Constitution flashed on the destroyed set piece.

If that performance didn't send a clear enough message, Perry just released the official video for "Chained to the Rhythm," and its excoriation of white suburban American culture of the '50s and early '60s is as savage as it is whimsical. It's Revolutionary Road meets Mad Men wrapped in New York World's Fair Futurama chic.


The video, directed by Matthew Cullen, who helmed her "Dark Horse" and "California Gurls" videos, depicts Perry in futuristic Jetson-like clothing at an amusement park entitled Oblivia.

"Are we crazy / Living our lives through a lens / Trapped in our white picket fence / Like ornaments," Perry sings as she bounces through the park, where the rides include the American Dream Drop, in which parkgoers climb into pastel-hued homes of the "Little Boxes" variety.


The ride hoists and spins the houses above the crowd before the machine stops and sends them into a death drop. Even as Perry's Oblivia alter ego struts and tumbles through the candy-coated world of make-believe, she's slowly made aware of the pitfalls of the American dream. An early sign that all is not right with the delusion of suburban safety is a shot in which she leans in to sniff a rose, but the pleasure of the moment is disrupted when she pricks her finger on a thorn, drawing blood.


Fears, ongoing and ignited anew under the Trump administration, are addressed in the video, including the threat of war in the form of mushroom cloud-shaped (although colorful) cotton candy and a ride called Bombs Away that sends missiles into the sky.


The environment, specifically the issue of clean water that's been in the news because of Flint, Mich., and the Dakota Access Pipeline , gets a nod at a freak show-like attraction entitled Fire Water that resembles a gas station where people breathe fire after sipping chemically poisoned blue liquid.


Past and present continually collide in the video, suggesting we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. For instance, the roller coaster Perry rides on a perpetual loop shoots her through a tunnel of love that features heart and smiley-face emojis. In another shot, women in futuristic '50s garb swipe at their tablets before stopping to take selfies.

Another theme of the video is the failure of Oblivia's attendees to step outside of the prescribed lines. One shot has an endless line of people, ostensibly waiting for a ride, but trudging in lockstep like sheep to the slaughter. Meanwhile, off in a corner of the park is a human hamster wheel with a line to get on.


The turning point for Perry's Oblivia persona occurs at a 3D screening of a film about the "nuclear" family in which an audience happily sits back and watches the perfect picture of domesticity -- a woman irons while her child colors on the floor and her husband reads the paper. Skip Marley, who sings on the "Chained to the Rhythm" track, appears on-screen singing his verse.


"It is my desire / Break down the walls to connect, inspire / 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 about to riot / They woke up, they woke up the lions," Marley chants as he walks out of the screen and into the world, thus causing Perry to become aware of her waking slumber.

Katy Perry

The video is so packed with meaningful and coded imagery that it bears several viewings to drill down, so it's a good thing that Perry's song is not only politically woke but also wildly catchy.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist