Living a Conscious Life – Katy Perry reveals a growing maturity in her Wide Awake music video

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Styled as both narrative and performance, Wide Awake was directed by Tony Datis and released in 2012 as the final chapter for Teenage Dream: the Complete Confection. This text serves a similar purpose with original fairy tales as cautionary narratives containing important moral and ethical messages for growing children. Many students would be familiar with this 4 1/2 minute video, but may not be as familiar with the concepts of adaptation, intertextuality, parody and appropriation effectively utilised in the production of contemporary texts. In the classroom, it would work within a unit incorporating adaptations of traditional tales, such as those discussed in an earlier post: Fracturing Fairy Tales: adaptations of interest

Opening with a self-reflexive gesture, as Perry returns to her dressing room after filming her California Girls video, the audience is asked to sympathise with the difficulties of contemporary celebrity life. Close ups reveal a jaded persepctive

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as the sound of crackling transitions from dialogue to musical intro for Wide Awake. We become aware of growing branches, spreading out

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to link two aspects of Perry’s ego as she begins to sing.

Wide Awake lyrics

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The pink princess styled Perry inhabits the real world, a different setting to the darker, purple haired Perry. The maze structure contains easily recognisable fantasy features or generic cliches, reinforced by the echoing effect of the repeated lyric “I’m wide awake”.

Wide Awake 7These iconic tableaux intertextually reference fairy tales, the Gothic genre, Alice in Wonderland, and the Once Upon a Time television program, whilst a rhetorical question “How did I read the stars so wrong?” continues the link to astrology or ‘fate’ as a means of making life choices. The reliance on esoterical knowledge is seen as irrational or juvenile in some circles of contemporary society.

Wide Awake 9The pre-chorus strengthens the visual links between different worlds: childhood and adolescence, unconscious and conscious thought, fantasy and reality as Perry reflects on the highs and lows of her life to date.

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In a long shot, we see the younger self appear as naive and innocent yet we come to appreciate the resilience of a capable young woman as the narrative unfolds.

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There is a sense of regret with the cut away shots of paparazzi – comically styled al la Freddy Kruger – which suggests the seductive dangers of courting media attention and living within the world of celebrity. Recognition and acceptance of self is shown in the mid shot of both personas making a ‘magical’ connection. As an associated activity, students could write a letter to their future self, or perhaps suggest lessons for other teenagers.

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The personas must take appropriate actions to advance through each portal and enter the next level of ‘life’, mirroring common expectations and rules of gaming. The hall of mirrors reiterates an important theme of deception expressed clearly in the closing lines of verse 1:

And now it’s clear to me

That everything you see

Ain’t always what it seems

We are asked to consider notions of appearance, reflection and authenticity.

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The hospital setting level is guarded by minotaur styled attendants, and interestingly, their power is broken by the stomping younger Perry. Could this ironic saviour give permission to young girls to act as demanding prima donnas by throwing a temper tantrum?

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As both flee this drab grey ‘prison’ of conformity, their escape symbolises traditional teenage rebellion by challenging authority. The next level is set in a lush green maze where an emotional challenge awaits: true love, as the lyrics assert “I’m not blind anymore”.

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The fertile flowering plants and sculptured garden hedges – one referencing a giddy Burtonesque Cheshire Cat – provide opportunities that we may ask who actually witnesses our behaviour? Teenagers might consider whether their actions deliberately set out to shock people or is being egocentric just part of growing up?

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Close ups reveal that Perry’s adult self combines purple hair from her alter ‘fantasy’ ego with costuming which echoes the flowery setting reflecting the integration of both personas, whereas

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the younger self doesn’t change. This implies that success is achieved by staying true to yourself.

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The final chorus is accompanied by building music and we learn that Perry is no longer captivated by an earlier fantasy of ‘true love’ and Prince Charming. Her slow motion punch demonstrates her strength of conviction in making the choice to consciously fall from ‘cloud nine’ or step away from idealised expectations and embrace the consequences of her life choices.

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Together, the child and adult escape into the wide blue yonder – suggesting a cliche of possibilities before

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they share a farewell embrace after their experiences.

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The younger Katheryn returns to her world and the audience may contemplate whether she was strengthened by this encounter. Or did she offer the grown Katy another perspective and reason to make sensible choices?

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The closing sequence has Perry back to her ‘reality’ of fantasy performances through different personas and costumes. Her surprised recognition of the blue butterfly echoes an appropriation of the bluebird of happiness: both iconic symbols of hope.

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Katy takes the stage, emerging from the basement – or world of unconscious choices – to the stage as the butterfly metaphorically spreads optimism.


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