Satire: Pop Lyrics

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Perry’s Proof That Her Game Isn’t Tired

Like a Coupon Expired

In recent months, the media has been focusing on voices like Kendrick Lamar and Camila Cabello who have been producing critically-acclaimed pieces of art in our industry of music.  Critics have been inspired by these artists’ use of metaphors, symbolism, and many other rhetorical techniques throughout their pieces. However, we all seem to be forgetting one of our generation’s greatest makers of music. The creator of the modern sound. The inventor of profound pop. One whom our descendants will look up to on the Mount Rushmore of music. For some reason, we’ve all been overlooking Katy Perry.

Last year, Ms. Perry dropped her now-famous album, Witness, which is truly an odyssey from song to song, and every track on that album deserves a full-blown, in-depth analysis. Yet of course, there is one track of Perry’s that stands out amongst the rest: “Swish, Swish.” This heartfelt ballad covers many themes throughout, but as Ms. Perry has stated, at its core, this song is about “the liberation from all the negative that doesn’t serve you” (Romano). This message becomes apparent in her ear-catching first verse when she sings, “They know what it is what / But they don’t know what is what / They just strut / what the fuck?” (Perry). In just these few first lines, Perry has already created the ultimate paradox in the listener’s mind, who is immediately forced to question whether “they know what is what.” Since there is not very much context to this question, the vast sea of possible meanings leaves the listener’s mind excited and wandering. Ultimately, this first section begs a profound question: what is what? It’s a lot to think about, and somehow on top of it all, Perry also manages to incorporate a subtle AAAA rhyme scheme into these lines. This rhyming keeps the listener’s ear not only in-tune to the lyrics, but also in-tune to the symbolism. Overall, the first verse seems symbolize the presumptuous and often contradictory stance adopted by many of Ms. Perry’s “haters” (Perry 62). In lines one and two, by saying that her critics both “know what is what” and “don’t know what is what,” Perry highlights the unapologetic and gross inconsistency that lies at the very heart of her critics. In line three, by describing her critics’ movement with the word “strut,” Perry emphasizes their arrogance—a vicious blow to their ethos. Finally, by ending her short but sweet first verse with the line, “what the fuck?” (Perry 4), Perry makes clear that the negative feedback she occasionally receives from her critics is completely unwarranted and vile.

Throughout the entirety of her poetic anthem, Perry appeals to listeners emotions through her use of colloquialisms, increasing her pathos.  This incorporation of the vernacular allows those listening to her song to better comprehend her deeper themes, as she uses language that her modern listeners also use on a daily basis, such as “What the fuck?” from line 4 and “bish,” which is frequently repeated in her chorus (Perry).  Also, she incorporates the common phrase “I’ma,” which is young America’s contraction of “I am” and “going to.” This specific colloquialism allows Perry to reach that broader audience, as her lyrics are now understood by all Americans from the streets of Cleveland to the fields of Nebraska.  Overall, her courageous use of colloquialisms allows for listeners to immediately become attached to her brilliant song.

After grasping her listeners’ attentions, Perry adds more and more rhetorical moves to further her message.  For instance, Perry uses an inconsistent rhyme scheme throughout the entirety of her song, occasionally adding rhymes, whilst sometimes having lines that do not rhyme.  This inconsistency within her rhyming shows her message of chaos and inconsistency in life. For example, Perry uses a basketball game as a metaphor for life and builds on said metaphor with this inconsistent rhyming; she first uses an internal rhyme to begin the metaphor, as she rhymes “swish” with “bish” within one line, which likely shows how many “bishes” internalize many emotions at the beginning of their lives.  Perry then ends her next line with the term “basket,” continuing the basketball metaphor, and follows that line up with “Can’t touch this” (Perry). It is quite possible that Perry incorporated a slant rhyme here, as “this” almost sounds similar to “bish.” Finally, Perry concludes this miniature section of rhythm with the next line ending in “casket,” which does indeed rhyme with “basket” from two lines prior, completing her progression through the basketball game, which clearly symbolizes life, as it ends in death.  But she shows the inconsistency in life, as her ABAB rhyme scheme becomes an AA rhyme scheme in the following two lines: “Your game is tired / You should retire” (Perry). This inconsistency in the rhyme scheme is one of Perry’s most powerful choices, and also on an interesting note, in the second-to-last line in that section, “Your game is tired,” Perry subtly incorporates personification, referring to one’s game, or ability to play basketball, as tired, a human feeling. This personification of basketball serves to further connect the game of basketball symbolically to life.

Perry significantly increases her ethos through a variety of ways, but most importantly, her allusions to other artists increases her credibility most.  In her song, Perry references the great artist Kanye West in her fourth verse, as she says, “Young Money,” which is West’s record label. Her mentioning of West shows that she clearly has read other artists in her field’s works, which enhances her credibility, allowing listeners to trust her complex argument.  She also builds up her ethos when she says, “Can’t touch this” in her refrain. This line clearly shows Perry’s admiration of a forefather in her industry: MC Hammer. Perry’s reference to Hammer increases her ethos, as it provides evidence that Perry has studied the history books about making profound statements through rhythmic poetry.  Perry also gives a reference to a relatively young rapper, Offset from the group Migos, which shows that Perry not only has studied past artists, but also is taking new methods of persuasion from younglings in her industry like Offset.

Perry also makes use of numerous similes in her piece, but the epitome of a Perry-esque simile comes from the end of her second verse, when she states, “You’re ‘bout as cute as / An old coupon expired” (Perry).  This simile compares Perry’s listener to an expired coupon, which seems unusual, but that is exactly what Perry wants her analysts to believe. The crypticity of this comparison begs music analysts to dig deeper, and this further digging shows Perry’s true motivation; this simile is not used as a compliment to her audience, but instead, it is an insult, as Perry incorporates a subtle touch of sarcasm.  Clearly, this sarcasm forces listeners to really look deep inside themselves and question their inner elements of an expired coupon, which is Perry’s brilliant way of calling her listeners to evaluate their own values. Some other analysts have argued that this sarcasm is Perry’s way of keeping her more intelligent listeners paying attention to her argument. However, this argument seems to be under-analyzed and overall simple-minded, missing Perry’s understated points.  

Ultimately, all of Perry’s impressive literary moves build up to one section that stands out above the rest and is debated as potentially the greatest four lines in music history. After her hooking and thought-provoking first section, Perry does not slow down with the metaphors and symbolism in her second, which climaxes with the lines: “A tiger / Don’t lose no sleep / Don’t need options / from shellfish or a sheep.” Perry creatively begins this section by using two words to introduce an abstract concept. In the first line, the only idea Perry asks the listener to imagine is the idea of a tiger. Such a mysterious topic that is so offbeat from the previous lines of the song immediately attracts the reader’s full attention. However, not only does this line introduce the listener to the abstract theme of a tiger that will define the next three lines as well, but also it may be an allusion to a previous Perry hit, “Roar;” a song in which Perry defines herself, and her fans, as fierce cats. After the first line introducing the motif of a tiger, Perry follows with a line stating that tigers lose no sleep. In this sentence fragment, Perry seems to be stressing that tigers are such proud and fierce animals that trivial issues, such as “haters,” do not bother them and do not inhibit their peace of mind. Perry quickly follows this assertion with another that claims tigers also “don’t need options” from “shellfish or sheep.” These lines are slightly more vague, but seem to suggest the tiger’s independence. While the tiger likely represents Perry, shellfish and sheep could symbolize her critics which is a demeaning and powerful way to denounce them as trivial and harmless. In addition, the colorful alliteration in this line causes it to stand out in the listener’s ear, implying that the point conveyed is one Perry wishes to emphasize. Overall, these four lines are a scathing attack on Perry’s critics and enemies, and it paints Perry as a strong and independent women, which seems to be her overall intent with this incredible song.

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