TBAW is back! We are very excited to be welcoming a host of new staff, and also to be teaming up with College Film and Blazer this year. To kick off this year, Logan Ye (with his usual precision and logicality) dives into the mind and Philosophy of Katy Perry to examine five major ethical perspectives in her works.
Like most works that aren’t intended to be philosophical, Katy Perry’s songs (when dealing with ethical issues) are composed of largely descriptive language, as opposed to normative claims. However, one could assume that all of a pop icon’s descriptive ethics become normative as a lot of people look up to these people’s actions as moral standards or codes, and thus an is becomes an ought. Whichever way, Katy Perry obviously doesn’t provide any justification for her ethics, and thus this exploration will only seek to identify and analyze ethical codes Perry presents in her songs, as opposed to justifying her stances.
Katy Perry and Naturalism
Released in late 2013, Katy Perry’s Roar follows her Lost-esque crash landing on a tropical island, where she learns both to survive and be independent. As usual, the official music video for the song and the actual lyrics don’t focus on the same elements, but both present a worldview that a human ought choose actions that fulfill their body and mind’s natural purpose.
Naturalists would argue that the ultimate purpose of the individual is to survive. That is, the only objective goal of the human mind body is to live long and then reproduce. The entire music video focuses on Perry’s physical ability to survive. Perry exits the plane crash fearful and cautious (0:12) of her new surroundings, preparing for foreign threats. Meanwhile, her male counterpart naively stares at a not-so-sneakily sponsored Nokia phone which symbolizes his ignorance of his body’s natural purpose. Shortly after, he is appropriately punished by being eaten by a tiger (0:40). Again, Perry does not attempt to save him, as that would put her further in harm’s way. Instead, she decides to become master of the jungle and later defeats the lion. Survive and thrive, that is the name of the game.
Instead of simple survival, the lyrics of the song focus on the expressiveness of the individual. Instead of providing evidence for a commonly accepted principle of Naturalism, the lyrics argue that humans should naturally be outspoken and active because of our physical nature. The very first line, “I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath” implies that the primary purpose of the mouth is speak and express, as biting your tongue and holding your breath are unnatural. Tampering with the inherent structure of the mouth is unnatural, thus, the outcome of that action (being inexpressive and a pushover) is also unethical. Similarly, the following lyrics read “So I sat quietly, agree politely / I guess that I forgot I had a choice.” Perry is implying that our body parts are built with the function to move and we should use it.
Unfortunately, she uses her newfound naturalist expressiveness to repeat the same set of lyrics over and over again. Perhaps this a clever indirect clarification that her lyrics argue not for the proper use of her vocal cords or limbs, but that she should simply actively use them. There is nothing within these bodily constructs that seems to require the owner to use them for a certain purpose or cause, but to act however they please, of their own volition (although there is still the naturalist claim that these actions should somehow improve survival).
Katy Perry and Hedonism
Released in 2008, Katy Perry’s I Kissed a Girl describes her pleasurable experience kissing another girl. This flies straight in the face of her religious upbringing, and the naturalistic viewpoint which would likely argue that any act that could lead to unproductive sexual intercourse would be unethical. In the world of the song, Perry does plenty of things that compromise other people’s happiness and other ethical considerations in favour of direct, personal happiness.
Perry engages in binge drinking, to the point where she is doing things that were “never the way she planned.” She loses her discretion and is completely inebriated. Essentially, she is glorifying drinking culture as an escape from her normal teenage consciousness that she is dissatisfied with. This happiness – or reduction of sadness if you look at it cynically – is at the cost of Perry’s self control. Even if we don’t consider her self control a factor for happiness, Perry is impairing the natural function of her mind, and thus, violating naturalistic principles in favour of self-pleasure.
Furthemore Perry remarks casually that she kissed a girl “hop[ing] [her] boyfriend don’t mind it.” This is clearly her valuing her own satisfaction over the desires and feelings of others. She even acknowledges that “it’s not what, good girls do / Not how they should behave.” Although she feels a duty or obligation to not cheat, she prioritizes her own happiness. She also ignores the emotions or happiness of the other girl involved, stating “no, I don’t even know your name / It doesn’t matter.” Even worse, the girl may also be drunk, and therefore can’t properly consent to her advance. Everything is about Perry and her own enjoyment, regardless of how it violates the natural purpose of her body or the rights and happiness of others.
Utilitarianism and Katy Perry
Released in 2010, Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night recounts the singers regrets as she realizes the consequences of a wild night the day before. She has to face unpleasant consequences of the lively party she threw the night before such as “a stranger in [her] bed,” “pounding in [her] head,” “pictures of [her] last night / End[ing] up online,” etc. Regardless, she is “pretty sure it ruled” and implies that she would make the same decision again. However, once the song shifts to recounting the previous night’s fun activities, she shifts into third person, and Perry includes her friends in all the excitement of “ danc[ing] on tabletops / t[aking] too many shots.” Perry’s willingness to be the host of the party and suffer a disproportionate amount of the negative consequences aligns with the utilitarian viewpoint, as she emphasizes the good of the collective whole. She could probably gain approximately the same enjoyment and simply let someone else host the party. However, given that she has a large house (as featured in the music video), and likely lives nearby the bars and beaches that they also use that night, she decides to take on the burden of host because it makes everyone else’s experience better. Thus, Perry is maximizing the average and net happiness (at least in short term given the repercussions the next day) of her social circle by taking on a larger burden.
The Categorical Imperative and Katy Perry
Released in 2013, Katy Perry’s Unconditionally details her surprisingly unconditional love for an unnamed lover. Throughout the song, Perry states that “[she] love[s] him unconditionally,” regardless of “insecurities … dirty laundry, etc.” Normal people may find these reasons to end a relationship but it “never made [her] blink one time.” Perry is telling her lover that regardless of the conditions that she might “see … on the inside [of her lover],” she will love him. Although this may be a misguided categorical imperative in that it’s probably not practical – if this guy committed murder or killed your family Perry should not continue loving him – the imperative does derive from an inner sense of duty to love this person. She asks her lover to “open up [his] heart and just let it begin,” presumably because this is the process by which she discovered her obligation to unconditionally love him. Also her categorical imperative is not contingent on any outcomes either, notice how no outcomes beyond simply “acceptance” are mentioned.
Furthermore, Perry’s perspective on love fulfills both of Kant’s maxims required for the categorical imperative. Firstly, Perry implies that she would will this action universally since she asks if her lover “will … do the same for [her]?” Clearly, she would be okay with/want all relationships (she’s speaking about romantic love in this song) being based on unconditional love as well. Secondly, Perry is explicitly treating her lover as a ends in himself as she wants him to“know that [he is] worthy [and] … [she] does it all because [she] love[s] [him].”
Katy Perry and Machiavellism
Released in 2010, Katy Perry’s Dark Horse presents a completely different version of ethics in relationships when compared with Unconditionally. First of all, the entire rap section of the song can be ignored as, following the trend of many other pop songs, the rap section does not have the same meaning as the rest of the song. Obviously, Perry is not singing about attempting to conquer an empire or rise through the power hierarchy (doing so would reveal your plan anyways). Instead, power in Dark Horse can be understood as Perry’s romantic satisfaction with her husband.
Perry begins by warning any suitors that “‘[she’s] capable of anything / Of anything and everything.” This means that her actions completely depend on the situation, and she will do whatever is the most favourable in terms of gaining a suitable husband (in the music video this includes vapourizing/transforming many husbands-to-be who don’t present adequate gifts). This is opposed to Kant’s idea of the categorical imperative, and aligns closely with Machiavelli’s idea each case must be treated individually with it’s own factors – so much for unconditionally.
Perry then repeats the line “cause once you’re mine, once you’re mine” many times. This implies that Perry views her husband(s) as objects that she owns and use to a greater end, whether it be her own happiness, or the stability of the greater pseudo-Egyptian world of her music video. She also doesn’t respect the personal autonomy of the suitors as “once [they]’re hers … /There’s no going back.” She clearly justifies her cruel and unjust treatment of both accepted and rejected husbands by weighing it against the greater good of her state (even if it’s not necessarily better to have that husband, as long as she believes that it is, that is the ethical judgement she is making).
Finally, Perry would definitely not be okay with her actions be universalized. In fact, she admits that she is a unique position (and thus the actions she takes are unique to her) that is reactive to what she thinks other people will do as she names the song “Dark Horse.” This connotes surprise and unexpected success.
Katy Perry presents many contradictory stances on ethics, and whichever one you choose to follow is already pre-determined anyways, so it really does not matter.