Chained to the rhythm, (what does the gospel say?)
In January 2017 Katy Perry released Chained to the Rhythm, which is a particularly interesting song because it is clear she wants to convey a moral message.
View the video here if you want to watch: Chained to the rhythm
Why engage with the arts?
Music, like with film, is always about listening in on a conversation about God. After all, we live in God's world and so what we write speaks about him. There will be traces of goodness that comes from the world being created good. There will also be things that come from sin entering the world. There will be stories of redemption too. For more on how music and film point to the gospel, you may want to listen to my sermons here or read the notes from a recent seminar here.
So here are some questions that will help us get under the skin of Chained to the Rhythm (or other songs/films) with some observations. This should then provide gospel opportunities and awareness.
1. What’s the story?
Katy takes a trip through a theme park, which is no ordinary theme park. People appear happy, but in a George Orwell's 1984 kind of way, everyone is being controlled and lulled into a false security , which we are told by the song lyrics: 'we think we're free...we're chained to the rhythm'. As she walks through the theme park, she is walking us around the American dream as she sees it. One sign in the theme park reads 'American Dream Drop' and we see houses dropping down on strings as she sings: 'are we crazy trapped by our white picket fence?' The American dream is not what it seems and not enough according to the song. According to the BBC website it is a metaphor for the American housing crash. Katy is the only one who is free in the video, but by the end she finds herself putting on the rose coloured glasses in a cinema and we are left with her being deceived and joining the others in their state of unknowing.
2. Where am I?
A theme park which we note is called 'Oblivia.'Oblivion means: 'the state of being unaware or unconscious of what is happening around us', which describes the environment. It is a place where things are offered that form part of the American dream, but then seem to leave the people more unaware. For example, houses are dangled before them on a ride, but when they enter the door is closed and they are lifted up and spun around.
3. What is good? (creation, new creation influence)
Human enjoyment is seen, but it is clearly flawed and at a cost. There is a good character, however. A man reaches out to Katy through the cinema screen and offers to break down the barriers and seemingly rescue her. He steps into her reality, but it is to late for her.
4. What is bad or ugly? (fall)
There is a moment of fall for Katy which interestingly takes place in a garden setting (Eden-like?), where she pricks her finger on a beautiful rose. Eventually she is overcome by the rhythm people are walking to. We notice that the things which Katy hates she also seems to love at some level, as she shows great enjoyment in the theme park taking part in things. So the ugly thing is that she becomes like that which she hates and this says something profound about the nature of sin. Sometimes the reason we are trapped by sin is because the thing we claim to hate, we actually love, even though it harms us.
5. What is the redemption story (if there is one?)
People in this world are offered a rescuer, but the rescuer is unsuccessful due to the deception people are under. They are also oblivious to some of the warnings that are implicit in the signs around the theme park.
6. What does the true gospel say about this?
Katy taps into the frustration many of us have, including non-Christians, that the world is not all it seems and perhaps does not offer what it claims. Particularly she is critical of American culture but the gospel would spread its critique to the whole world. Katy touches on deception and enslavement, which is part of the Christian world view. We are told in the Bible that God's good gifts have been broken by sin. We also know that we are trapped by sin and so unable to see clearly or rescue ourselves (2 Corinthians 4:4). We need the Lord Jesus to come and set us free to live in ultimate reality. Unlike Katy's saviour who makes his offer but is unable to enact it, Jesus fully entered our world and lived among us. His salvation cannot be thwarted by the power of the curse and everyone who looks to him, is able to receive salvation. The future that he offers is in a place of enjoyment (our hearts desire), but it will be safe and without compromise. The truth will set you free, says Jesus (John 8:32).
This song provides a vehicle for evangelism (sharing Jesus with people.) It is a way of talking about true reality in a way that many understand. It shows us that there are areas of human need that should inspire sharing the truth with people, because the gospel offers hope to those trapped by sin, the world and the devil.
Chart music is obviously primarily in dialogue with youth culture. We can use such music to equip our young people. Why not watch it with them and chat about it as you walk along (Deut 6:4-7!)? 'What do you think this song says about your friends?', 'What does it say the problem is?' Maybe use the questions we did for our analysis.
There is a salt and light opportunity here (Matthew 5:13-16). The role of light is to dispel the darkness. The role of salt in Jesus' parable is to slow the process of decay in something, and in our case we are agents to slow the process in society. We need to keep showing the false idols of mortgage, home, career, family, which cannot deliver and then playing our part in change. That is part of fulfilling our responsibility as messengers and stewards of God's creation.
Credit: BBC website article 'We break down Katy Perry's video for chained to the rhythm' which put me onto the song and made some great observations about the moral message, although not through a Christian lens obviously, (link).