Katy Perry's new music video is a giant ad for the internet

Let's unpack the references in "Swish Swish" for non-millennials wondering what kind of neon garbage fire the Great American Music Video has become.

Claire Reilly Former Principal Video Producer
Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
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  • Webby Award Winner (Best Video Host, 2021), Webby Nominee (Podcasts, 2021), Gold Telly (Documentary Series, 2021), Silver Telly (Video Writing, 2021), W3 Award (Best Host, 2020), Australian IT Journalism Awards (Best Journalist, Best News Journalist 2017)
Claire Reilly
3 min read

We've come a long way from the early days of music videos -- when The Buggles became the first band ever aired on MTV and "Video Killed the Radio Star" sounded like shots fired against the analogue generation.

Now, the internet has killed everything. And Katy Perry 's new music video is its glorious victory song.

"Swish Swish" is the third music video for Perry's hotly-anticipated album "Witness" (after "Chained to the Rhythm" and "Bon Appetit") and hoo-boy it's certainly something.

"Hold on a minute!" you say. "Watching this video is like mainlining the caffeine-sweat of a room full of ad execs, desperate to add in another product placement or topical reference for cashed-up Kids These Days. It doesn't mean anything!"

That's where you're wrong. You see a confusing palimpsest of cultural meaning. I see pure internet, and that shit is off the chain.

Let's unpack how the internet works, how to get famous on social media, and why it's all about who you know, not what you sing.

#NuggsForCarter: This is a kid who won a lifetime supply of Wendy's nuggets by tweeting at the company, and now he's appearing in the first few seconds of a music video from one of the world's biggest pop stars. Lesson? Complaining IRL gets you nowhere: Tweet it and they will come.

Hafþór Júlíus "Thor" Björnsson: The 6 foot 9 inch-tall Mountain from "Game of Thrones." Katy sings for millennials. Millennials love this show. Baby Boomers just wish they'd pay to watch it.

Terry Crews: This guy pivoted his NFL career into traditional network TV and Hollywood movies, but he's also super swoll (read: muscular) so he carved out a new career in going viral on the internet. Remember Old Spice, the deodorant your grandfather used? Yeah, turns out that got cool again.


The Meme Team: Katy Perry, Dexter Mayfield, Gaten Matarazzo, Christine Sydelko, Jenna Ushkowitz and Russel "Backpack Kid" Horning.

Screenshot by Claire Reilly/CNET

Gaten Matarazzo: aka the adorable Dustin from "Stranger Things," a TV show made for the internet. Now his internet show has made him famous enough on the internet to do other stuff on the internet. That's how this works.

The Girls from "Glow": See above. Netflix has swallowed everything. But we're finally watching good TV again.

Christine Sydelko: A standout from the YouTube generation. It's not all Bieber-esque singers being found by talent scouts, there's a legit career to be made in filming yourself watching videos of stuff. And she's pretty freaking good at it. Bringing on a YouTube star? Step one to making your music video another YouTube hit.

Dexter Mayfield: You don't score a modelling contract by walking the streets of Manhattan. You werk it on Instagram, rack up thousands of followers and score a contract to Live Your Best Life.

Backpack Kid: Watching "Saturday Night Live" on TV is passé. In fact, the "Saturday" part is pretty redundant too. This show is now formatted to live on in YouTube clips, and that's how we found out about Backpack Kid. He appeared with Katy Perry during her SNL performance of "Swish Swish," pulled some kickass moves and now he's an internet sensation. Career tip? Don't get a law degree. Learn to dance.

Joey Chestnut: This man eats hotdogs for a living and has an estimated worth of $800,000. Ha, you're still planning on going to law school? Haven't you learned yet? (See also, "Backpack Kid.")

Doug the Pug: A pug. With 2.8 million Instagram followers. What a time to be alive. Unrelated note, how is your job going, human reader?

Rob Gronkowski and Karl-Anthony Towns: See? You know those guys! Those guys from sports! Fun fact, Gronk Spiking is a meme now. The internet claims everything in the end.

Just Dance 2018: I guess you're going to go buy this video game for the kids now.

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