Anyone who has seen the rash of cosmetic surgery adverts plastering the hoardings of London this year will be familiar with the notion that boobs, particularly expensively remoulded boobs, are the foundation of any modern woman’s confidence. I had no idea that this was meant so literally until I saw Katy Perry’s new music video, in which her breasts quite literally shoot jets of fiery self-esteem, prompting various young people in a generic eastern European city to make minor changes in their lives.
In the opening scenes of Firework — a clinically catchy pop excursion released last week to coincide with the height of the season during which Anglo-Saxons burn rockets, papier-mache terrorists and their principles — Perry wanders alone in an opulent ballgown on a balcony high above the city. The singer watches forlornly as young people face down a smorgasbord of personal difficulties: a young man is afraid to come out of the closet; a girl who is overweight is too shy to wear a swimsuit in front of her friends; a hipster-looking youth is getting mugged in a back-alley.
But wait! What’s this? Suddenly, CGI sparks begin to fizz and crackle in Perry’s chest. The celebrity burns with passion to save the poor lost children with the power of song and special effects; fireworks start to explode in her bosom and begin to burst out of her nipples, trailing huge incendiary arcs across the city. A young cancer patient gazes in emaciated wonder out of her hospital window as Perry’s exploding tits light up the sky.
Whoever is touched by Perry’s extraterrestrial mammary flames becomes suddenly courageous: the hipster dazzles his assailants with card-tricks, the young girl strips to her knickers and dives into the pool and the boy snogs a stranger in front of his friends as the lyrics remind us that, to overcome any obstacle, all we really need to do is “ignite the light, and let it shine”. Whatever that’s supposed to mean. It is not entirely clear whether Katy Perry’s computer-generated boobtacular light-show can actually cure cancer, but the implication is certainly there. “Katy’s got a lot of substance and a lot to say, and hopefully this video represents that,” said its director, Dave Meyers.
“Firework”, which Meyers insists is a solemn attempt to “articulate… what it means to be an underdog”, was rather hastily dedicated to the It Gets Better project, set up this autumn to console gay teenagers considering suicide with the knowledge that their lives will improve. It Gets Better is a worthy and necessary initiative in a world where LGBT youth invariably face savage bullying at school, at home and in their communities.
The problem with this approach is that it entirely evades responsibility to change the situation, accepting homophobic hostility as something young people just have to suffer through until they’re old enough to move somewhere with a passable scene. The notion that personal resilience is the only possible response to injustice is burnt into the retinas after a single viewing of “Firework”. There is something distinctly counter-revolutionary about the exploding tits hypothesis of personal transformation.
The serious message that “Firework” seems to be sending is that you can’t actually fight the social structures that put obstacles such as homophobia, body fascism or street crime in your way. All you can do is find the strength to battle against the odds, possibly with the help of a go-getting attitude and a pair of fantastic jugs — you’re not supposed to question why the odds are stacked against you in the first place. “Show ’em what you’re worth”.
The orthodoxy of consumer self-fashioning is entirely grounded on this notion of desperate individual striving. Outside music-video land, fighting social injustice often involves more meetings, marches and lobbying and fewer synth beats. It doesn’t just happen because some pop star in a party frock sprays magical fire from her nipples.
It is reassuring, then, that by the end of the video all the hundreds of young people blessed with Perry’s bosom-burning spurts of CGI self-worth seem to have gone into a sort of gleefully pagan trance of self-immolation, converging on the town square in a bacchanalia of contemporary dance. The incendiary rabble appears to turn on Perry in an orgy of flamey vengeance.
Clearly, come the revolution, the boobs-on-fire brigade will be the first against the wall.