Just one day after it unseated “Blurred Lines” to become America’s No. 1 song, Katy Perry has released a video for her smash single “Roar.” While the empowerment anthem is a variation on the theme of finding one’s voice and being true to oneself, the video is a squandered opportunity: a pseudo-feminist muddle that’s less “I am woman, hear me roar” than “I am woman, give me a makeover.”
Here’s the gist. At the start of the video, Perry and her Indiana Jones-esque boyfriend have just crashed their plane in the jungle, à la Temple of Doom. However, unlike in that movie, a tiger soon eats her boyfriend, and Perry soon undergoes a transformation from a screaming, Kate Capshaw-like damsel in distress to a self-possessed wonder woman. In the end, she repels the same tiger who ate her boyfriend with her own powerful roar.
All this adheres to the self-empowerment theme of the song—in theory. But the video contains some mixed messages. Being a Katy Perry video, there’s plenty of Technicolor whimsy and cleavage, but even so, there’s quite a bit more focus on outer beauty than one might expect in a video set in the jungle. Perry spends a decent part of the video prettifying herself and reveling in her appearance: She takes an elephant-spray shower, fashions herself a leopard-skin-and-leaf-based outfit (in the tradition of Tarzan’s Jane), applies berry-juice lipstick, and takes selfies with a monkey. Her interactions with the CGI animals who populate the video also consist of making them look better: She brushes a crocodile’s teeth, paints an elephant’s toenails hot pink, and puts a glittery collar on the tiger. (The collar reads “Kitty Purry,” which I admit made me smile.)
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with liking stereotypically feminine things. But given that the song is ostensibly about survival and inner strength, the focus on appearance is baffling. (I mean, she’s alone in the jungle! There’s no one around to look at her.) To be fair, the video does adopt a playful attitude toward Perry’s girliness—at one point, she fashions her stiletto into a spear, which she uses to skewer a banana for her monkey friend. (Whether this constitutes castration symbolism I don’t feel qualified to say, but it is a fairly obvious allusion to the power of femininity.) But she spends the vast majority of the video posing for the camera and looking good.
I’m not saying that wrestling with crocodiles or wielding a bullwhip is the only way to be strong, but showing off the shape of your body—as Perry does to the exclusion of almost everything else in the “Roar” video—is not a form of strength that jibes with the message of the lyrics. We know Perry has physical prowess—the boot-camp-themed video for “Part of Me” proved that, as did her boxing-themed performance of “Roar” at the VMAs—so why not use it in a video for a song that refers to being a “fighter,” a “champion,” and a “hero”? The song’s chorus contains the line, “I got the eye of the tiger,” a phrase that, famously, connotes power. But from watching the video, you might think Perry was boasting about having pretty eyes, not inner strength.