Things aren’t as cheerful as they appear in Oblivia. That’s the name of the theme park visited by Katy Perry in the “Chained to the Rhythm” music video, and it looks like a sickly sweet confection of contemporary American life. But don’t be fooled: Oblivia is a mirror of the world we live in, and that means something far more sinister is happening underneath the pastel-colored sheen.
Superficially speaking, the video for “Chained To The Rhythm” is prototypical Perry: bright colors, plastered-on smiles, chipper choreography and a general air of carefree happiness. Perry is seen wandering around the Oblivia theme park, where she is surrounded by other theme park attendees eager to go on rides like “The Great American Dream Drop,” “Bombs Away” and “The Hamster Wheel.”
But everything about the theme park is meant to distract those in attendance from the darkness that lurks underneath. The name of the theme park, Oblivia, is a clear reference to the word “oblivion,” which could be correlated to the zombie-like state of existence referenced in the chorus of “Chained to the Rhythm”. It only gets darker when you keep digging.
The rides, clothing and aesthetic of the theme park have a mix of 1950s and 1980s pop to them; these time period references are no mistake either. Life in America during the 1950s and 1980s was full of political anxieties — between the nuclear war scares of the ’50s and Cold War fears in the ’80s — mixed with the cheerier pop culture aesthetics that spring to mind when you think of the respective decades. This basically spells trouble for those at the Oblivia theme park.
But Perry is making modern day commentary too. When she is on the “Love Me” roller-coaster, she goes through a tunnel with light up “Like,” “Love” and “Haha” buttons, which can typically be found on Facebook. It could be argued the roller-coaster acts like Facebook. Everyone is strapped on board, unable to get off, yet somehow super-happy with the ride they’re on and they’re all vying to get the best picture, the most likes and so forth.
There are other indicators in “Chained to the Rhythm” that prove our modern American culture is designed to distract, zombify and numb us to the dark reality going on behind the scenes. Zombie-like lines at every ride show that people will follow along blindly without breaking rank to explore the world around them. At the ride, “The Great American Dream Drop,” happy (presumably heterosexual couples) pile into squished, small house cabins and go up on a carousel swing and spin around until they’re probably sick, a commentary that behind every American front door lies a world we don’t even know about.
“Chained to the Rhythm” is unabashedly political and the message has been evidenced in various readings of the lyrics since it first dropped, as well as Perry’s 2017 Grammys performance. After becoming noticeably active during the 2016 election, it’s not too far a stretch to believe that Perry is continuing her political activism in the medium she knows best: music. With “Chained to the Rhythm,” she (and Sia, who wrote the hit song) is pleading with listeners to not get complacent now that the election year tension has (mostly) subsided. The lyrics effectively destroy that idea that ignorance is bliss; for Perry, ignorance is a death sentence.
It’s only after Perry sits down to watch a movie with the other theme park guests that she realizes things aren’t at all as positive or fun as she’s been led to believe. She’s the only one able to tear her head away from the movie and look around. Everyone is bopping along, but she cannot find the strength to do it too. The video ends on a melancholy note. Perry may be awake to the darker underpinnings of her world, but she appears unable to break away from the crowd or even leave Oblivia. Like listeners, it’s on her to find the willpower to really break free of the invisible chains tethering her to a broken world.
Are you ready to unchain yourself from the rhythm of a world trying to keep you zombified, dear listener?
Before you go, check out our slideshow below.