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Self-esteem tips from beautiful rich people

I’ve been out of the loop musically for a while now, so forgive me picking up on a two-year-old song, but what spell has Katy Perry cast over the internet that I can’t find a single angry review of ‘Firework’?

Perry seems to have rehabilitated herself since the days of ‘I Kissed A Girl’ (slammed by Gossip singer Beth Ditto as a “boner dyke anthem”) and the ridiculously-defended ‘UR So Gay’, and decided that the real PR gold lies in Aguilera Hills. Xtina’s 2002 song ‘Beautiful’ basically did ‘Firework’ with a stronger vocal range eight years prior to Perry’s effort.

Let’s compare the two videos:

Beautiful (2002)
Negative female body image (skinny girl examining self in mirror)
Negative male body image (skinny boy lifting weights, surrounded by pictures of muscular men)
Gay kiss
Suggested transgender issues (not clear whether the cross-dressing guy is meant to be a transvestite or a transgender woman)

Firework (2010)
Negative female body image (girl at pool party afraid to take off robe around her skinny friends)
Childhood cancer (how a bouncy pop song is supposed to help you cope with that, I ain’t sure)
Gay kiss
White gay getting mugged by group of mixed-race men (hmm, really breaking down the barriers here) and using – get this – magic tricks to see them off. Sound advice for urban dwellers.

So I guess let’s start with the kiss in each case. I was never a Christina fan and lyrically ‘Beautiful’ is still cloying and self-helpy in that all-American way, but hell, at least it was written by someone who understood what it was like to be gay. At the time, the video did piss some people off, for no reason other than that the kiss between two men was passionate and sustained. Aguilera has not been averse to the odd faux-gay stunt (snogging Madonna onstage with Britney while wearing a sexy wedding frock was particularly cynical), but this, as saccharine as it was, felt sincere. Aguilera herself never comes into contact with the characters, singing from a bare room while the action goes on outside.

In contrast, the characters in Perry’s video, watched over by their firework-boobed guardian angel, seem chucked in to show that KATY PERRY CARES ABOUT UGLY PEOPLE AND CANCER CHILDREN. All they need is her singing and pyrotechnics to teach them not to care that people want to kill them, or leukaemia wants to kill them, or that muggers want to kill them, or that they want to kill themselves. Don’t be a downer! Come and boogie your knife wounds away!

Perhaps if Perry herself had at least appeared in the video without a trace of makeup, it would have been a start towards sincerity or solidarity with the girl suffering low self-esteem, but no, she’s painted, coiffed and gowned, placed above them all as a guidance figure and ultimately assuming a role of superiority in magically granting them the self-confidence to rise above their situation. It’s dishonest. Life, our bodies and our minds simply do not work like that.

Money does, though, and brand awareness. And yes, both parties can be accused of this. Xtina got to reinvent the ‘Dirrrty’ version of herself with a serious ballad, just as Perry got to sing a clubworthy tune to try and get the gay community back on side after her unapologetic blunders. ‘Firework’ is more obviously cynical though, trying to crowbar serious issues into a jaunty soundtrack from an outsider’s perspective. Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ did a similar thing, the difference being that that was worked more as a defiant call to arms than hurling a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul at people in varying states of despair. ‘Born This Way’ and ‘Beautiful’ are, crucially, sung from a first-person perspective, placing empathy high on the agenda, not forgetting our problems with a big bowl of strawberry ice cream.

Following Ditto’s criticism, Katy Perry said that it was “tacky” to criticise someone else’s music. It’s not. That’s how progress is made. It’s tacky to colonise the suffering of other people in a 2-D way in order to make money.

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