If you crossed 2050s technology with 1950s fashion with 2017 ignorance and looked at it all through a pastel filter, you’d be within a stone’s throw of Katy Perry’s video compliment to her new single, “Chained to the Rhythm.” Set in a fictional theme park, the video is prime for the Katy Perry Teenage Dream-world treatment apparent in past videos like “Dark Horse” and “California Gurls.” Though all three videos share a director and a highly embellished visual vocabulary, “Chained to the Rhythm” decidedly leaves the CandyLand fantasy behind in favor of a confectionery nightmare.
To start, the theme park is called Oblivia. The viewer is not-so-subtly informed of this when the second image of the video features large neon cartoon letters that spell “OBLIVIA.” This frame is immediately succeeded by footage of Perry excitedly rushing through the park’s gates, complete with a futuristic white dress, pink hair and an over enthusiastic smile. She sings “are we crazy? / living our lives through a lens / trapped in our white-picket fence.”
It’s no coincidence that “Oblivia” differs only a few letters from “oblivious.” The opening lyrics alone are enough to hint at Perry’s distaste with the average person’s desire to ignore the conflict-ridden world by hiding in their peaceful fenced-in homes. When these lyrics are combined with the park’s name and performers’ plastered smiles, parallels between the blindly euphoric patrons of Oblivia and the ignorant residents of the real world are visible.
Let’s resume with this in mind.
The remaining four-minutes are a profusion of very happy people living very happy lives and wearing very brightly-colored clothing. But the perfection is tainted by the uneasiness that accompanies too much happiness. A quick flash of the number 1984 in the form of a ride’s wait time estimate draws a link to George Orwell’s dystopian novel suggesting this world is not as perfect as it appears.
Within these scenes of apparent bliss, Perry is able to tackle a staggering number of relevant issues. Panning through footage of blatant cultural references such as choreographed selfie-taking, a roller-coaster emoji tunnel and a “validation station” like-o-meter, Perry ensures no part of her satirical criticism of the over-connected, technology-obsessed masses gets lost in translation. Later, she stops by “Inferno H20” for a beaker of flaming water. Clearly resembling a gas station, “Inferno H20” predicts that abuse of our world’s resources may lead to the strict control of water distribution, similar to oil’s current regulation. At one point, happy couples hurriedly climb aboard “The Great American Dream Drop,” a ride that features quaint houses dangling from strings.
Yet despite all of this blaring commentary, the people of Oblivia remain oblivious. They continue to live comfortably in their bubble. Still, the bliss of being utterly disconnected does not last forever. As in all classic dystopian narratives, someone breaks out of the trance. Who? Katy Perry, of course.
A rose thorn pricking her finger in the first 30 seconds serves as the first sign that the world isn’t all cotton candy and flying roller coasters. The next and final realization moment comes in the final montage, which includes the 3D screening of a fictional film entitled “A Nuclear Family.” While spectators robotically bob their heads, Skip Marley appears on the colossal-sized retro TV to contribute his verse. Eventually stepping out of the screen, Marley seems to jolt Perry from her hypnotic daze.
Spliced into this scene are clips of Perry running on a human-sized hamster wheel. At first putting forward her best effort, she ultimately slows to a stand. Her expression suggests complete consciousness. The video ends with Perry’s pink painted eyelids locked on the camera and a look of complete horror.
This video marks a new era of Katy Perry. Although she has never shied away from releasing PSAs in the form of massively successful singles, the condemnation of modern society as oblivious and robotic is undoubtedly a step up from reminding everyone that they’re fireworks or saying it’s totally fine to kiss a girl and like it. Through this video, as well as a stellar Grammy performance, Perry has informed her fans and the general public that she is ready to approach the treacherous arena of current day politics. Prepare yourselves for a wave of political pop.