Katy Perry's first three No. 1 hits chronicled the "joys" of girl-meets-girl flirtation ("I Kissed a Girl"), being ogled and having sex on the beach ("California Gurls") and a motel-room hookup ("Teenage Dream"). So it doesn't take a pyrotechnics specialist to identify the commodity Perry has sought to build her secular career upon. And that makes "Firework" something of an exception as it focuses on individuals' worth, dignity and potential.
The first three stanzas reach out to fragile stragglers who can't seem to find much meaning in life and who are on the verge of giving up. "Do you ever feel like a plastic bag/Drifting through the wind?" Perry asks. "Do you ever feel/ … Like a house of cards/One blow from caving in?/Do you ever feel already buried deep/Six feet under/Scream, but no one seems to hear a thing?"
Then … hope: "Do you know that there's still a chance for you?/'Cause there's a spark in you."
The chorus encourages listeners to let the light of their talents shine so all can see the goodness that's been locked inside by insecurity and doubt. "You just gotta ignite the light," Perry suggests, "And let it shine/ … 'Cause baby, you're a firework/Come on show 'em what you're worth/Make 'em go, 'Oh, oh, oh'/As you shoot across the sky."
The following verses reinforce the idea that every individual has value ("You don't have to feel like a waste of space/You're original, cannot be replaced") and encourages people to look at tough circumstances not as roadblocks but as detours providentially routing them toward a better outcome ("If you only knew what the future holds/ … Maybe your reason why all the doors are closed/So you can open up one that leads you to the perfect road."
Perry told MTV, "It's hard, I think, to write an anthem that's not cheesy. And I hope that this could be something in that category. I hope this could be one of those things where it's like, 'Yeah, I want to put my fist up and feel proud and feel strong.' I think 'Firework' … would be like the opus or my one song—if I had to pick a song to play—'cause it has a great beat. But it also has a fantastic message."
The video seeks to illustrate what Perry means when she says we can all stand strong. Intertwined are vignettes of five different young people battling a variety of personal struggles. They include a young chemotherapy patient wandering through a hospital, an overweight wallflower at a pool party who eventually sheds her threads and jumps in wearing only her underwear, a street magician who uses his skills to fend off a gang of thugs apparently bent on mugging him, a boy who breaks up a fight between his parents, and a young man at a party who works up the courage to approach—and kiss—another guy there. As they collectively face their fears, sparkler-like fireworks explode from their chests.
Sometimes videos really do kill the radio stars, it would seem. They certainly can muddy their message.