by Vanessa J. Chandler
Fourteen million viewers watched as Katy Perry catapulted from one song to the next during her much-anticipated Super Bowl Halftime premiere. My three-year-old nephew was one of those viewers watching the show in fascination. He stared at Perry with a confused expression and finally turned to ask, “Is she ‘nice’ or ‘bad’?” He sincerely couldn’t figure it out, and it’s a question people have been trying to answer since.
Many in the religious world wondered when she was going to tear off her fiery orange costume that subtly resonated a “girl on fire” theme and display something similar to a teeny-weeny bikini. If other women dance suggestively in nothing more than lingerie, and Justin Timberlake rips off Janet Jackson’s breastplate to showcase the unmentionable on primetime TV, then surely we need to quake in fear over what Perry might do. So, what did she do during our country’s most favorite all-American family event of the year?
Nothing but good, fun entertainment—complete with dancing sharks. (Wait, sharks? Yes…) It was even appropriate for church audiences, yet how dare she be that great? Now, before some of us rise up in offense to defend our good old-fashioned values, please take a few minutes to read on. I’d like to challenge us to broaden our sometimes one-sided view.
As Perry stood there on a shiny, golden tiger, her outfit blazing like makeshift fire, I felt proud. Not patronizingly proud as if I had the right to say, “Good job, Katy. I’m so proud of you.” But proud as in, “She knows who she is as a performer, and she does it well.” Think about it: If we as followers of God believe that God is Creator, then it makes sense that all creative gifts come from Him. Here’s a statement that will make some of us writhe with animosity: Katy Perry is manifesting a righteous gift of creativity just by being herself.
I suggest that we focus on the good Perry is bringing to the masses, not what she might be doing wrong.
“How?” Some of us might ask. “And what about the lyrics…?”
Okay, let’s look at the lyrics of her breakout hit, “I Kissed a Girl.” The first rule of literary criticism is that no one truly knows the intention of the artist’s words but the artist. Yet if we put our best interpretive hat on, we witness a girl stepping out of religious confinement into womanhood, and in the process, she’s attempting to find herself.
This was never the way I planned, not my intention.
I got so brave, drink in hand, lost my discretion…
Yes, it’s also as simple as her gaining fame in a guaranteed way—using sex and shock value to create controversy (Kim Kardashian, anyone?). Yes, she uses figures of demons in her “Dark Horse” dance routine. Regardless, her popularity is a testament to this next generation’s desire to understand themselves and their belief that pushing the boundary between good, bad, and gray areas will bring them to some sort of enlightenment. They are hungry for spiritual truth, and the Church as a whole is too afraid to address that need.
Think about recent teenage fixations: magic, vampires, and superheroes. Whether or not it’s her intention, Perry’s speaking directly to this generation, saying, “This world with all of its war, religious fanatics, bullying, and sexual confusion is difficult to understand. But you know what? You’re going to make it through. You’re going to find yourself. You’re going to figure life out.”
Before the song ever gets into its just-believe-in-yourself motto, “Firework” states,
Do you ever feel
Like a plastic bag
Drifting through the wind
Wanting to start again
The song sympathizes with what so many young people feel: lost, lonely, hopeless. Then it turns into talk-yourself-into-greatness:
“'Cause baby, you're a firework.” Which other pop singer—except for perhaps Colbie Caillet—is sending positive self-esteem messages to this up-and-coming generation? Parents are crying out for better teenage role models for their children, but oftentimes fail to see who’s actually speaking in their language, who’s meeting them right where they are.
With the release of Perry’s most recent album, Prism, and such songs as “By the Grace of God,” there has been some debate as to whether or not she has returned to faith. If Perry has come back to Christianity is not an issue to be debated. “By the Grace of God” suggests that she understands her past and wants something different in the future.
Through Perry’s lyrics, she’s honest and vulnerable. She sings from experience. She understands what it feels like to be lost. She grew up with an understanding of God, morality, and religion. She followed that path and found confining walls of judgment. She then forged a new path in the world by playing the game, and now, after winning that game, she has the freedom to return to the truths of her upbringing and reveal the spiritual ideas she values if she so chooses.
In Western culture, when someone has stood out in one way or another, be it through politics, Hollywood, or music, we tear them apart and call it “free speech.” Why do we feel we have the right to do this? Post Super Bowl, social media buzzed with positive and demoralizing comments about Perry. Some praised her for putting on a good show that was appropriate for all audiences while others criticized her for including songs with controversial lyrics. Yet, if any of us had an audience with her, I’m sure our negative commentary would take a much different tone.
Most people like the idea of being rich and famous or of being a “mover and a shaker” in their generation. But being in the limelight comes with cost. We certainly don’t want millions of people to analyze everything about us, our words, actions, family members, travel destinations, social media posts, or even, God help us, our restaurant choices.
Now my question is for the religious-minded, or more specifically, Christians: Who are we to judge Katy Perry, her actions or her heart? What we do with the information about her personal life choices displays more about our hearts than hers.
And let’s at least give credit where credit is due: Perry put on a respectful performance. She was wearing a skirt that nearly scraped her knees, and her backup dancers wore bikinis from 1956. Modesty and modern society rarely make it to primetime, but Perry managed to pull off a breathtaking show without displaying it all.
Vanessa is the Founder of Red Arrow Media. If she's not heartily working at the office, she can be found secretly stowed away in a closet reading a fictional story, researching historical facts in a library, or drinking thick, black coffee and eating pastries at a French cafe. She feels that writing is her life-blood, and after years of writing books and articles for others, she's finally able to pen her own work again. This is the first opinion piece she has published on the Red Arrow site.