I’m a big fan of pop music. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t listen to Katy Perry, Gaga or Britney at least four times a week. These artists play an important role in pop culture. Wherever you look, you see their faces. Wherever you are, you hear their music. Whether it seems like it or not, musicians such as these control an enormous audience of people. Fans and critics alike. What they wear, you wear. What they eat, you eat. It’s an incredible thought that someone who sings about such frivolous things as teenage romance can have such an influence on millions of people. As the saying goes, with great power, comes great responsibility, right? This begs the question, with such an important platform, what do they do with it?
What it means to be a pop-star has changed dramatically in the last ten years. In the early noughties, Britney was everywhere. Selling perfumes, promoting singles. She wasn’t just America’s sweetheart, she was the world’s sweetheart. However, when I think back to Spears’ hay-day, I don’t recall any activism of any kind, or even any advocacy. The reason for this was because back in the early 2000’s, it wasn’t a pop stars job to do so. It was left to lobby groups, and the social activists themselves. Pop stars such as Spears, at that time, had one job, and one job only. Music. [That’s not to say she hasn’t advocated for LGBTQ+ rights in the past. I’m simply saying her career didn’t hinge on activism like modern pop stars]
Yet, with the turn of the last decade, there has been a significant shift in the role of pop musicians and influencers. This began with the colossal rise of Lady Gaga around 2010. She doubled as a pop star and a social activist. She created the Born This Way Foundation to inspire youth and build communities. She advocated for LGBTQ+ rights. Most recently, she performed ‘Born This Way’ to an audience of 111 million people at the Superbowl. It might not seem that significant, until you imagine the closeted gay kid in a small town that saw a stadium full of people cheer to the idea that being “born this way” was ok, then it matters. Gaga has historically advocated for LGBTQ+ rights, and has publicly opposed Trump’s presidency. She is a prime example of a pop musician using her platform to promote social issues.
Another major player in the pop universe is Katy Perry. In the past, when I thought of Perry, the word ‘activist’ was not the first thing to come to mind. However, recently, I am seeing a major shift in Perry’s position and role as an influencer. ‘Chained to the Rhythm’ marks her first major release since 2013. In the four years since then, the world has become much more politically charged. Trump’s ascendancy to president marks a historic change in the world of politics and has called for many public figures around the world to advocate for the rights of millions of people. Perry, for one, has not shied away from this.
Throughout Hillary’s campaign, Perry has been a visible figure of support. She performed at the Democratic National Convention. After Hillary’s defeat, she was seen at Women’s Marches across the US. While she has remained in the sidelines of the political discussion in the past, with the release of her newest single, she is jumping straight to the forefront to tackle the issue head-on. ‘Chained to the Rhythm’ is pinnacle Perry. [If you haven’t listened to it already, I’ll have a link at the bottom to the song + video] She’s known for her light-hearted, distinctly pop, anthems, like “Firework” or “Roar”. However, her newest hit is dark and more political, as she tackles the current state of affairs in America, and the world . Throughout the song, she laments how people are “living in a bubble”, and the chorus says we all “think we’re free”, but remain “chained to the rhythm”. Clearly, her music has evolved, but more importantly, her message has evolved.
The accompanying music video is drenched with pointed political statements. One scene sees Perry smelling the roses, only to be pricked by the thorns. The video depicts a fictional theme park, ‘Oblivia’, where she pokes fun at things such as selfie culture and the American dream. Oblivia itself, is a series of emphatic remarks at the ignorance of people to take notice of political issues that surround them everyday. The final shot of the music video features a close up of Perry’s face, shrouded with frustration, anger and realization. Even her performance at the Brits this week was politically charged. During her set, she brought two gigantic skeletons on stage – one dressed as Trump, and the other Theresa May. I have always admired Perry as an artist, however, I respect her as an activist. She is using her elevated platform in the pop world to broadcast political and social messages.
Pop music has changed, and with good reason. The state of the world is significantly different than it was ten or fifteen years ago. Now more than ever, we need people in positions of power to give voices to those who can’t be heard. Artists such as Gaga and Perry are recognizing their power and using it to call for changes in society. Their activism is something to be respected. Maybe they are the role models we need today. The American writer John Podhoretz once said that pop culture is a “reflection of social change”, and not the cause of it – and to that, I ask: Why can’t it?
[Image used belongs to billboard. Link: http://www.billboard.com/files/media/03-Katy-Perry-Chained-to-the-Rhythm-2016-screenshot-press-billboard-1548.jpg]