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Happily Numb

QUESTION

In the music video "Chained to the Rhythm" by Katy Perry, how does Perry form revelations about America’s past and present political circumstances while she maps her way through the amusement park Oblivia?

ABSTRACT

In the music video "Chained to the Rhythm," I will analyze Perry's facial expressions and embodied movement as she spends her day in a futuristic theme park. Moreover, I will tackle tough concepts such as whiteness and representation through mapping in America in order to construct the idea that individuals would rather be sheltered and happily numb to issues pertinent to the world around them. Beginning from the first scene during the daytime to the last scene during the nighttime, I will build on and address concepts regarding America's progression and its enduring problems.

Performance Description and Gallery

all videos and images images shown belong to Capital Records

At the beginning of the music video, the individual is seen entering the colorful amusement park, Oblivia. This person has short curled hair that is dyed a pastel pink, is wearing blue eyeshadow with a light pink lip gloss, and has large dangling earrings. The park guests along with Perry are dressed in vibrant 1950s attire. Moreover, the individual is wearing an all white dress. The top of the dress is tight around the waist and made with latex. Moving forward into the music video, Perry is seen smelling roses, but gets pricked by one. Then, the sharp transition from the pricking of the finger to Perry’s face signifies a tinge of confusion. The individual’s furrowing brows, eyes (which are not looking directly at the camera), and solemn mouth, free of the wrinkles when you smile, illustrate the individual as uncertain of the space around them. Towards the middle of the music video, the individual is seen lip singing on a rollercoaster as the shots alter between a gigantic line of individuals waiting to go on and Perry. At the end of the ride, the individual and the male sitting besides Perry are given validation scores. The freezed frame depicts two hearts with their images in the middle and scores beneath. Simon, the male sitting besides Perry, is given a score of 9,478 and Perry is given a mere 17. The scene then quickly transitions to Perry’s face as the individual turns their head. As Perry looks around, the music video shows clips of numerous rides offered and their names. At around two minutes into the music video, when the lines “so comfortable we’re living in a bubble, bubble” play, Perry is seen twirling their skirt as Perry walks around the park. In the background, many individuals are seen laughing. At 2:33, Perry is seen wearing an entirely different outfit and overall appearance. In an all black and silver latex dress and blonde hair, Perry is seen putting on 3D glasses as a movie begins to play. Then, the camera shifts to a closeup of the individual’s face as Perry begins to take off their glasses. With eyes wide and mouth slightly open, Perry is seen standing up as the line “the truth they feed is feeble” plays. Now, the individual is seen standing in the center of a circle admist the many individuals circling Perry. As the music video ends, a close up shot of Perry is seen. Wearing red eyeshadow with eyes peering down and mouth open, Perry is seen to be in a raw emotional state. Meanwhile, the video slowly pans out, implying that the character is in a phased, almost enlightened state of mind.

Amusement Park Rides
Katy "wakes up"
The ending scene - is there hope for humanity?

ESSAY

There lies a level of comfort that lays on the brink of the term "greed." It is easier to nod our heads in acceptance rather than to delve into the subtle nuances of complex matters. It is easier to remain within the invisible sphere that encloses us all. However, change is evoked only when we puncture the seals of these insulated bubbles. In Katy Perry's music video, "Chained to the Rhythm," the artist substantiates the idea that Americans are "happily numb" to America's enduring matters through her embodied performance at the amusement park Oblivia.

Upon entering Oblivia, Perry is awestruck by the futuristic theme park tinted with bright pastel colors and enthusiastic park-goers in outlandish outfits. Smiling brightly with her all white outfit and pink cotton candy hair, Perry sings the lines "Are we crazy? Living our lives through a lens" The artist suggests that having a narrow point of view deters us from viewing our surroundings. She is commenting on the notion that at the forefront of technological progress lies social media—a lifestyle that has dominated our way of living. In the image shown below, guests are depicted as seduced by social media. By taking pictures of themselves, these individuals further perpetuate the idea that everyone wants to fit in.

Mouth agape while subsequent wide shots of the rides appear on the screen, Perry sings the next few lines of the song: "trapped in our white picket fence, like ornaments." These white-picket fences are symbolic of the American Dream—aspirations to live an affluent life in a suburban neighborhood while pursuing a myriad of opportunities. Katy highlights Americans as being metaphorically chained and imprisoned by this concept. According to Stuart Hall's constructionist perspective, Katy is merely making meaning out of "three different orders of things: what we broadly call the world of things, people, events and experiences." (Hall 111) Through these few lines, Perry demonstrates her curiosity of the space around her while inducing meaning out of interactions between the park guests. Further into the music video, Katy is seen sniffing a red rose, but gets pricked by a thorn. With her eyes focused on her hand, Perry is depicted as being shocked and confused. In a seemingly utopian amusement park, Perry is no longer smiling. With eyebrows furrowed and lips slightly open, Perry's lines "so comfortable, we're living in a bubble, bubble; so comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble" play in the background. Perry is referring to the political turmoil that followed the 2016 election. In President Obama's farewell address, he notes that

"for too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles" (Genius).

The pop artist's concerns are a direct reflection of Obama's concerns: we are oblivious to the problems within America. Moreover, the threat of "white nativism" is of major concern in the United States. Demographic changes in the states could be the rise of an anti-Hispanic, anti-black, and anti-immigrant movement composed predominantly white, working- and middle-class males (Huntington 268). The singer acknowledges this threat through utilizing symbolic references in the music video such as the lyric "trapped in our white picket fence" and the scene of an individual getting thrown out of an amusement ride into the other side of the fence which says "Safe Trip Home!" Although Perry as a performer in the music video may be oblivious to the underlying significance of the scene, seen through her slightly open mouth and eyes following the trajectory of the individual being thrown, Perry as an artist had crafted the music video to be representative of the everyday American.

Shifting from Perry's ground perspective, she ventures onto her first ride called Love Me, a roller coaster embellished with hearts and likes emoticons. These mere emojis heavily suggest that Perry is referring to how individuals in America are constantly seeking social media validation, perpetuating the idea that emotions are falsified to appease the masses. Her facial expressions mask her feelings because she lip syncs while on the ride. Whether it be fear or excitement, these emotions suggest that the future of society is an amalgam of both. The camera switches shots between Perry on the ride and the guests on the ground. In the images shown below, these shots depict park guests waiting in a seemingly endless line to go on the World's Greatest Ride. They are seen swaying back and forth—as if they are truly "Chained to the Rhythm." Upon close inspection of this scene, there is a '1984' George Orwell reference on the timer (ClaireRollins).

IN LINE FOR "THE WORLD'S GREATEST RIDE"

These individuals are seemingly happy, but are they in reality? The stark contrast between what Perry observes on the ground floor in Utopia versus on the rollercoaster is uncanny. The singer further builds on the idea that we have been numbed into agreement. Shortly after this scene, Perry is seen to be in line for the World's Greatest Ride—which is revealed to be a human-sized hamster wheel.

With her back facing the camera, the audience is able to see her change in attire and hair color. Now with blonde hair and all black outfit, Perry's transformation from colors that are deemed positive such as white to an black suggests that the artist is cognizant of what is happening at hand. Although not entirely "awaken," the singer begins to realize that she along with the guests in Oblivia are mere assets. The wheel symbolizes how one can never move up in society. Although you may be moving, even running, you are like a hamster on a hamster wheel—unable to go anywhere. The mere title of the song "Chained to the Rhythm" further elaborates on how Americans are complacent and willing to preserve the status quo in their lives. Are we comfortable with unquestioning conformity? (Savage)

In the final scenes of the music video, Perry watches a 3D movie inside the amusement park. Rhythmically swaying their heads from right to left, the park guests surrounding Perry are seen to be hypnotized by the screen.

Nervously smiling at first, Perry turns her head to the audience then diverts her attention back to the screen. Taking off her 3D glasses, Perry's eyes are wide open as she listens to Skip Marley's (the featured artist on the song) lyrics. Every line hits poignantly without being cliché. The lines "and we're about to riot; they woke up, they woke up the lions" is a key turning point in the music video. Amongst the crowd, Perry is the only one who removes her 3D glasses and walks toward the screen. During these lines, Marley's physical body walks out of the screen and reaches out to Perry's hand. Perry is now "awaken." In the penultimate scene, Katy is at last fully aware of the space around her. Situated in the middle of the chaotic circle of park guests, the singer voices the line "it goes on, and on, and on." She illustrates how injustices in the world are like an endless cycle; what can we do except succumb to the government? Ultimately, in the last scene, Perry confides that "we're all chained to the rhythm." With bright pink eyeshadow and eyes peering indirectly at the camera, her catchy song and repetitive lyrics register emotions of anger, horror, and confusion into the audience despite these reactions being not prevalent in Katy Perry's performance. She does not directly vouch for the audience to break the chains, but instead for them to "dance to the distortion." Katy's embodied performance encapsulates how Americans today may be feeling in today's political climate; her reactions inadvertently depict how an individual who is unaware of the space around them may feel an inflated sense of content and complacency, whereas through visual and physical experiences, one can truly be cognizant of the issues pertinent in today's world.

It can be hard to see the big picture at first, but it is not impossible. Perry inverts pop music to uphold the message that you can not be shielded from and escape substantial matters: there are no apolitical sanctuaries. By calling out matters regarding the social structures of racial and gender inequality, Perry is pushing the progression and advancement of America. The pop number "Chained to the Rhythm" may be superficial at its surface but it at its core lies weighty undercurrents about the state of the American society.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

ClaireRollins Assistant Music Editor at Hit The Floor. You will probably find her on a train. “Did You Spot The Secret Messages In Katy Perry's 'Chained To The Rhythm' Video?: HTF Magazine.” Hit The Floor, 3 Mar. 2018.

“Did You Spot The Secret Messages In Katy Perry's 'Chained To The Rhythm' Video?: HTF Magazine.” Hit The Floor, 3 Mar. 2018.

Hall, Stuart. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London; Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1997, p. 111.

Huntington, Samuel P. “The Threat of White Nativism?” Foreign Policy, Foreign Policy, 28 Oct. 2009, p. 268.

“Katy Perry (Ft. Skip Marley) – Chained to the Rhythm.” Genius, 10 Feb. 2017, genius.com/Katy-perry-chained-to-the-rhythm-lyrics.

Katy Perry. "Chained to the Rhythm." YouTube, 11 Nov. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Um7pMggPnug.

Savage, Mark. “We Break down Katy Perry's Video for Chained to the Rhythm.” BBC News,