Katy Perry Aims for “Purposeful Pop” with New Single “Chained to the Rhythm”
More than three years after the release of 2013’s Prism, Katy Perry is back with new music (yes, we are aware she released “Rise” last summer, and, no, we are not counting it). Perry released the single “Chained to the Rhythm” at midnight Friday, and the song will presumably serve as the lead track for a forthcoming album (though no details about her album plans have been made public).
There is more to unpack in this song than with your run-of-the-mill pop single. On some level, it has all the hallmarks of a traditional “classic” Katy Perry song. It’s propulsive and upbeat! She sings about dancing to your favorite song! It’s produced by Max Martin and co-written by Sia! But this is not a purely frothy sunshine-and-good-vibes track, in the vein of “Walking on Air,” nor a straight-up empowerment jam, like “Roar.” Instead, there is a certain anxiety lingering behind the music, both due to the semi-frenetic chorus (Perry shouts “YEAH!” and “DRINK!” within it) but also in the lyrics as a whole, through which Perry seems to be pondering the cultural state of affairs post-election (Perry was one of Hillary Clinton’s most visible celebrity supporters).
She begins by noting we’re “living our lives through a lens / Trapped in our white-picket fence . . . so comfortable, we live in a bubble.” This is a departure from straight-forward firework metaphors and nostalgic teenage romance anthems. The chorus contemplates the way we're “stumbling around like a wasted zombie.” Yes, the idea is that we are chained to the “rhythm,” perhaps not questioning our daily lives and existences as much as we should be. The song features a verse from Skip Marley—Bob’s 20-year-old grandson—which is laced with a more overt political message (“And we’re about to riot / they woke up, they woke up the lions”).
It will be interesting to see how the song is received by the general public (it is, as of this posting, at the No. 4 spot on the iTunes single chart). It’s catchy and well-constructed and it will work very well in a Friday night pre-gaming mix or elliptical playlist. And it also, at least based on several of the tweets Perry responded to after the song was released, seems to be making her fans contemplative, apparently her intended goal. To a commenter who suggested Perry “invented woke-pop as a genre” with this track, Perry wrote, “We gonna call this era Purposeful Pop.” She told another—who was mulling the way the song made her think about her “mundane lifestyle”—to “question everything.” She also retweeted a listener who said the song made her want to “step out of [her] bubble and speak what’s on [her] mind.”
Perry—who told People in an interview about her new shoe line this week that she has “given up on what people think about me”—will be performing “Chained to the Rhythm” at the Grammys on Sunday night, and it seems likely she will highlight the intended message of the song in the performance. Will she refer overtly to Clinton, who introduced her at the UNICEF Snowflake Ball in November? Will she play with similar imagery to the lyric video she released for the song in which a hamster is seen watching a hamster wheel on television? Or will she will go for a more subtle approach, simply presenting it as the fun pop dance track it (also) is?