Lo, the singer most associated with poorly trained shark dancers and weaponized bras and the last forthright celebration of homophobia on the pop charts has mentally molted: “Artist. Activist. Conscious,” reads Katy Perry’s recently updated Twitter bio. In late January she hinted at a change, writing, “Sometimes it’s scary opening up to consciousness … makes you realize how asleep you were, and how ok you were with it … ” Now comes her new single, “Chained to the Rhythm,” released to the world with Perry announcing, “We gonna call this era Purposeful Pop,” adding an eyeball emoji at the end.
A tropical-inflected disco anthem imploring the listener to dance, dance, dance, “Chained to the Rhythm” can pass into and out of the ears without forcing its Purpose on you. But listen close—maybe while watching the lyrics video about a hamster gourmand—and the politics are clear. It’s not just that Hillary Clinton’s No. 1 pop surrogate is mourning the election; it’s not just that she hired Skip Marley to sing “it is my desire to break down the walls / inspire,” which can’t help but be read as a Trump dig. It’s that Perry’s fed up with the complacency of the capitalist entertainment culture that she has thrived off—though, of course, she is going to try and keep thriving off it.