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Katy Perry’s Postelection Malaise

The pop star’s new single, “Chained to the Rhythm” might sound bouncy, but it’s her darkest effort yet

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

For more than a year, Katy Perry stumped for Hillary Clinton. She was the campaign’s definitive celebrity avatar, having toured extensively with the team and headlined high-dollar fundraisers in support of Clinton’s candidacy. But Hillary Clinton lost. And Donald Trump won. And now Katy Perry has released the darkest single of her career.

Still, “Chained to the Rhythm,” released at midnight Friday, is a buoyant bop; a jam nonetheless. Her team is marketing the song as disco — they technically premiered the song Wednesday in physical form as a couple of dozen disco balls scattered across the world’s major cities in the manner of a cataclysmic terrorist plot — but I don’t really hear disco. All I hear is the darkness. She’s singing about bubbles — media bubbles — where life is “so comfortable, we cannot see the trouble.” She casts dancing as an urgent obligation carried out at gunpoint: “Turn it up! It’s your favorite song / Dance, dance, dance to the distortion!” “Chained to the Rhythm” is a rich, pessimistic text and a clear sign that the bold and flirtatious Katy Perry we’ve always known has now succumbed to disillusionment. It’s her “Fitter Happier,” which, I admit, is a totally insane thing to be able to say in all seriousness about the pop star who once shot whipped cream out of her nipples and played Candy Land with Snoop Dogg.

Naturally, Katy Perry pairs this free-form critique with a deceptively placid, suburban aesthetic; the trappings of complacency. Set in a diorama house, the music video for “Chained to the Rhythm” imitates the setup and production style of popular Japanese vlogger Miniature Space, who since 2014 has been producing YouTube cooking segments in which a human adult prepares entire meals using tiny cookware set in a tiny kitchen. In Katy Perry’s own music video, a person prepares a cheeseburger and then spaghetti, meatballs, and a seasoned tomato puree. In a later scene, a hamster named Mr. Parsons — supposedly inspired by 1984 protagonist Winston Smith’s fear of rodents — devours french fries, hot dogs, tacos, and what appear to be either pupusas or Totino’s Pizza Rolls. Notably, Perry’s music video for “Chained to the Rhythm” is produced not by the original mini-chef Miniature Space, but instead by relative latecomer Walking With Giants, who launched a cooking video series only 10 months ago. Wanna know the first dish Walking With Giants ever released? The spaghetti and meatballs that are featured in Katy Perry’s music video, using the exact same cookware. Interesting.

In her coming to grips with Hillary Clinton’s loss and the world of ruin that’s followed as consequence, Katy Perry first retreated into viral cooking videos, sci-fi paranoia, and late-breaking cynicism as a manner of coping, only to reemerge as a self-described “activist” at the historic Women’s March on Washington in January. For many Americans, it’s a familiar course of self-care, one that now comes with its own, official soundtrack.