by Ellen Gillingham
2011’s Song of the Summer, “Last Friday Night,” as awarded by VH1, is one of pop phenomenon, Katy’s Perry’s hit singles. The song is of the high-energy pop genre with disco and dance influences. The lyrics are about wild partying and drunken fun. With “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)”, reaching number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts and having similar popularity globally, it is important to examine the messages it produces. This chart topping is indicative of the representativeness of a popular social myth.
Many pop songs are made, but not all of them are this popular, and many are clearly rejected by the public. The successful pop songs correspond most exactly to the expectations of the audience, to the meanings that viewer’s demand from popular social myth. Focusing on this pop song gives an exclusive interpretation of what is, in fact, a quite strict and specific structuring of elements, so it is highly appropriate for close analysis. Additionally, this analysis is very important because in this new media age, we are bombarded with representations. You cannot escape images or imagery. The documentary MISS Representation shows that there is a relationship between representation and identity (Newsome). Representations have effects on people’s everyday lives.
Beyond the power of media in popular culture are the fantasies that are created within media and popular culture. Milestone and Meyers talk about the power of representation. They explain how gender is constructed in popular culture and how popular culture produces an understanding of gender (Milestone and Meyer 90). On some levels, Douglas engages in this conversation, but she is most concerned with what our analyses look like when we begin to dig deeper in the visual material of contemporary feminism and infotainment. Douglas articulates the relationship between embedded feminism and enlightened sexism. These terms operate on the assumption that sexism no longer exists.
Embedded feminism represents women in a way that believes sexism no longer exists because there are successful and powerful women that have never experienced sexist problems in their life. Enlighten sexism insists that women have made progress and reached equality because of feminism, so it is no longer problematic to make sexist stereotypes and sexualize and objectify women. However, “When gender is a major component of structured inequality, the devalued genders have less power, prestige, and economic rewards than the valued genders” have (Lorber 34). Identifiable social processes currently produce and maintain gender inequalities. “In the end, embedded feminism and enlightened sexism serve to reinforce each other: they both overstate women’s gains and accomplishments, and they both render feminism obsolete” (Douglas 15). The conversation around these concepts question how it is that we judge what gets to be qualified as transgression or progress. Now that women are in the media, playing more than house cleaner or kitchen roles, society believes we have arrived. Now we can do things like cooking shows, but with the husband present, for example. This is enlightened sexism, but will look like embedded feminism because the woman is not the only one in the kitchen – the husband is there with her.
The song “Last Friday Night” is about Katy Perry’s antics after a crazy night out drinking and dancing and what she does and does not remembered the next day. Perry said she “went streaking in the park” and “skinny dipping in the dark” (Perry). While it is entertaining and catchy, it is striking that people listen to the song under the idea that this is progressive, how it is really happening in young womanhood.
It is a hyper-sexualized song, but on the other side is the discourse of agency. In the media, there is often female objectification, but we do not always see female agency. On some levels, the agency is actually quite fascinating. You actually get to see a young woman not portrayed as weak and submissive. This agency creates a moment where we can think about gender equity. Music videos are the medium that the pop music genre has taken on with uniquely mythical dimensions. Although audio reaches a large audience, it is through music videos that their essence becomes part of cultural. The reality is that as you listen to this song in accompaniment of the music video, you realize that there is playing up to the camera and the females playing up to the males, much more than the males playing up to the females. Many of the gestures are about a sexualization of the females. For example, the young women spend a majority of the video perfecting their appearances with pushup bras and cropped shirts. In a later scene, the female main character is depicted as a damsel in distress, who is saved by a male character. This video serves as a part of the discourse of enlightened sexism. If something is a field of discourse, every example gets to be its own version of enlightened sexism. Mass viewership of music videos means that collectively they become a systemic force. It is through the discourse of enlightened sexism that each moment speaks to the others to create a common sense understanding of feminism as passé.
Furthermore, the music video adds the synopsis of Kathy Beth Terry, played by Katy Perry, as a nerdy teenager. She has the stereotypical braces, headgear, and glasses. The setting is of a suburban house party the morning after, with extended flashbacks to the party and pre-party. Kathy frantically tries to recall the night after being congratulated on having the best party. She finds wild pictures of her drunken self online. The video reveals through flashbacks that Kathy was pulled into her neighbor Rebecca’s party. Rebecca then helps Kathy transform into a captivating party girl in tight-fitting clothes. With her new sexy appearance, Kathy attracts a stereotypical jock character, plays “Just Dance”, and drinks. The party moves to Kathy’s house. The flashback concludes with a photomontage of the pictures online as Kathy views with the next morning. Then Kathy’s parents question her about the party’s mess. Kathy goes to sleep as end credits roll next to additional scenes from the party.
“In recent months … a host of artists — from Beyoncé and M.I.A. to Drake — have decided to not only break through the time-constraint barrier, but tell full-blown stories with their music videos” (Montgomery). The music video for this song is more than just a complement to the song, but it introduces the song in a completely new way. Without the video, Perry’s song is less specific. The lyrics could be interpreted to be about a group of friends, who love to go out and have fun no matter their gender, race, sexuality, or class. In this sense, the song without the music video benefits from globalization. As discussed in the article “Girls with a Passion for Fashion” being “ambiguous in ethnicity [gives the product] global advantages” (McAllister 248). The song is less so marketed to a particular race. However, the video focuses on an upper-middle class, predominately white, suburban neighborhood. It shows heteronormative relationships and desires between male and female characters in a high school age environment. Messages from this video seem to be targeted to the single represented demographic.
This form of popular culture teaches young women and men about what it means to have fun. The characters playing a Wii game, “Just Dance” at the house party shows product placement. It seems to fit seamlessly into the clip because it was not a crass cut away focus on the product, but appropriate with the theme of the video. This placement gives the audience the message that fun comes with purchasing and owning expensive electronics. The makers of “Just Dance” Ubisoft sponsored Katy Perry’s North American California Dreams tour and the character, Kathy Beth Terry was featured in a trailer that announced Just Dance 3 (IGN Staff). The consumer culture evident in the music video indicates that higher classes with excess money have more fun.
“Last Friday Night” also communicates that fun comes with physical appearance. Kathy is not content at the part until she receives a makeover and in turn attracts the jock character’s gaze. After her physical appearance is more normative and she fits into the style of the party, Kathy is shown hanging with all of the cool kids. This message promotes a commercialized sexuality as liberating. She is also shown drinking, dancing, vomiting and falling over drunk, while the song’s lyrics talk about regretting the Friday-night actions that are inevitably documented and spread online. This song not only communicates the message that young women and men can experiment with alcohol and partying to have fun, but also not taking themselves so seriously all the time can be fun and cool too.
Evidently, “Party Girl Pop” has become a trend of much attention—sometimes referred to as a way for young women to have fun and to celebrate each other. Katy Perry is not the only star with entertaining wild anthems about mayhem. Some may frame Lady Gaga as a producer of “funky forms of anarchy… and wild performance” (Halberstam 139). However, Lady Gaga exceeds the mold of “party girl pop” to the extent that she goes “beyond the pop songs and becomes art” (Halberstam 139). Gaga advocates for emancipation in a new age that other performers, such as Perry, do not reach.
Analyzing “Last Friday Night” shows us what is and is not present in this media representation. Neither the video nor lyrics show young women and men how to have healthy fun, but they communicate a false sense of empowerment that speaks precisely to Douglas’s understanding of enlightened sexism. Most of the songs in the “Party Girl Pop” genre’s credits reflect several male writers (Fabello). The people who approve of and produce the songs are usually men. Men as an institution are selling us the idea that this limiting genre is what we want to see.
Work Cited from Outside Sources
IGN Staff. “Ubisoft’s Just Dance 2 Featured in Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night Music Video.” IGN 16 June 2011. Web.
Montgomery, James. “Drake, Lady Gaga, M.I.A.: ‘Storyline’ Videos Return!” MTV News 11 May 2010. Web.
Party Girl Pop: Empowerment or Sexism? Dir. Melissa A. Fabello. Perf. Melissa A. Fabello. 2012. Web.