As much as I’ve tried to hold onto something meaningful from “Chained to the Rhythm,” the latest offering from problematic pop purveyor Katy Perry, the music video for the tune has slaughtered that last bit of hope.
Debuting on Tuesday, February 21, more than a week after the song received its first live outing at the 2017 Grammys, the Matthew Cullen-directed visual features Katy exploring a near-idyllic amusement park as others around her, and for a time, Ms. Perry herself, fails to witness the dangers that befall those who venture through the “fun-time” establishment.
As the “Chained to the Rhythm” video goes on and through several negative experiences of her own, including one that involves a literal prick of a rose stem, Katy’s eyes become clear from the rose-colored hue that blinded her from the realities of the harsh world and changes her once-locked bemused expression to one of empathy — with the help of a “magical negro.”
Yes, you read that phrase correctly.
Before we get into all that, however, I must express a simple, albeit necessary, truth: in spite of its main faults, some of which we’ll get into later, I am a huge fan of the song itself. In fact, I’d personally go on record to say that the Sia-penned ode to an actual life necessity in these trying times: maintaining an open mind and stronger still, open eyes, is one of the best songs released by any pop artist within the first quarter of this entire new year — and we’re not even at the three-month mark yet.
Regardless of how many of us wish that most of the younger generation would follow their own voice and strengths instead of a “fave’s” powerful message, at least Katy is using her prominence and privilege not just as a celebrity, but as a white, cis-gender, heterosexual-outside-of-dive-bars female to express why it’s imperative now, more than ever, to raise that voice and own that power in an oppressive world that is set, again, now more than ever, to cut them out from leading promising lives while also killing any hope to possibly press on from the madness.
Be that as it may, nevertheless, there has always been a feeling of dread that has come up within my gut every single time that I hear the heavily-accented verse of the artist that joins Ms. Perry on the exceptional track, reggae artist and son of music legend Bob Marley, Skip Marley.
And no, that has nothing specifically to do with Skip as a performer — I know some of y’all may have jumped to that conclusion, but as a Bronx-born music lover with ties to a myriad of beautiful cultures other than the African-American and Haitian sects I was born into, it’s most definitely not that. It has to do with how Marley was used not just in the song itself but as a guest star in the “Chained to the Rhythm” music video.
Remember that line about the “magical negro”? Well, as much as I want to take credit for such a controversial term, I personally can’t. That phrase genuinely belongs to another black writer; albeit one whose talent and bank account could suffocate me by their shared sheer force, scriptwriter and film director Spike Lee, who coined the term around 2001 while visiting several colleges to best explain how a repeated trope of black, male characters are often fictionalized in movies, TV shows, and yes, the occasional music video, as noted by Salon.
“In order to show the world that minority characters are not bad people, one will step forward to help a “normal” person, with their pure heart and folksy wisdom,” TV Tropes further explains.
“They are usually black and/or poor, but may come from another oppressed minority. They step (often clad in a clean, white suit) into the life of the much more privileged (and, in particular, almost always white) central character and, in some way, enrich that central character’s life.”
Marley’s short scene in the “Chained to the Rhythm” music video actually consists of him stepping out of a movie screen in a 3D effect as Perry looks on, stunned and amazed by the luminescent African-American man, dressed in all-white (save for some black stripes), reaching his hand out to impart some kind of unspoken know-how between himself and the previously sheltered white woman who is now more “woke” than she’s ever been before.
The son of one of the most “woke” entertainers in the history of the world, the late, great Bob Marley was somehow relegated to the role of “magical negro” in a song and video that he co-wrote and is credited on as a guest performer — and no one thought this might be seen as problematic.
You cannot make this up, people.
And the thing is, if it just this one time, I might be able to let it go as something I’m looking way too deeply into, but let’snot forget that Katy Perry has been called to the court of public opinion several times on different counts of queer-baiting (“I Kissed a Girl”), homophobia, (“Ur So Gay”), cultural appropriation (“This Is How We Do”), and most recently, the mental health of another pop vixen, the legendary Miss Britney Spears (on the red carpet at the aforementioned Grammy Awards).
At some point, you would think that someone in her camp would tap her on her shoulder and say, “you know, Katy? Perhaps you should really give this some thought into what you’re putting out into the world. You’ve done some damage and perhaps it’s time to show that you’re not as ignorant to as some believe you to be, especially with a song that more or less lyrically displays that.”
But that’s not happening at all here. In fact, it’s getting a lot worse and a lot more complicated to defend her music and career in the same vein as another annoyingly troublesome pop diva, Taylor Swift, who ironically, does not like Katy Perry too much (“Bad Blood,” anyone?).
To emphasize and conclude this all in one fell swoop, I have no idea what actual rhythm Katy was attached to when it comes to the “Chained To The Rhythm” music video, but it’s severely offbeat and it needs to be reset ASAP. Let’s hope she does so before she continues to try to get others to stand on their own on own her behalf.
[Featured Image by Christopher Polk/Getty Images]