Katy Perry, Pastors, and Youth Culture. . . .

On Tuesday I get to spend the day with a group of pastors. Evangelical Theological Seminary is holding their annual Fall Forum and I have the privilege of speaking on Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture. It’s always my hope that God will use our ministry at CPYU to challenge pastors to engage the kids in the pew. The potential they have to pull that off is huge. When that potential is realized, it’s an even bigger thing. I’ve seen it happen, and it’s exciting to watch!

One of the strategies I use to engage pastors in thinking more deeply about youth culture is to show them an “artifact” from the youth culture. . . something contemporary that’s gotten some traction with kids. On Tuesday, I’m going to show them the catchy video from Katy Perry, “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.). In the video, Perry plays the role of a nerdy little 13-year-old girl who goes through an overnight transformation. . . which is a whole lot like real-life adolescence. Talk about traction. . . the version of the video I’ve embedded below has over 125 million views. In addition, Perry has built a little cottage industry with a host of little video clips featuring her 13-year-old character talking about her life. Those videos have accumulated tens of millions more views.

After showing the video I’ll ask some follow-up questions: How many of you have heard the song before? How many of you have seen the video? I won’t expect too many hands to go up. Then I’ll ask two more questions: As pastors, what do we do with that video? After viewing that video, what are the youth culture realities we need to address?

Many of the youth workers I know wish that their senior church leadership and pastors would not only know more about youth culture, but they would love to see them respond to youth culture realities by bringing the light of Gospel to bear on the realities that exist.

Here’s your chance to help me out and to get a message across to the pastors I’ll be with on Tuesday. Give the Katy Perry video a look. Then, fire off a comment with a list of the youth culture realities portrayed in the video that you would like to see the pastors acknowledge and address through their ministries. I’ll let them know what you’ve come up with.

15 thoughts on “Katy Perry, Pastors, and Youth Culture. . . .

  1. The first thing that comes to mind is that students know this is a joke. Adults and “culture experts” freak out because it seems to be endorsing everything bad under the sun. But my students get it, it’s funny. Senior leaders should preach less against culture and instead celebrate when adolescents correctly interpret cultural messages. They look silly when they rail against things everyone knows is just a joke.

  2. Adam – agreed. But is it possible that it jokes about or depicts things that have been normalized in culture? And, based on the age of Perry’s audience, are there any messages that might normalize certain things for those of the most impressionable younger ages? Which raises another question. . . What role does humor play in shaping beliefs and behaviors? Let the discussion begin! . . .

  3. This video is a great example of a regular Friday night of most youth. This video like most music videos glamorizes the fun of party and does not speak of the consequences of actions. Youth compromising who they are in order to be accepted; relationships with no commitment; loving your neighbor does not mean showing up at your neighbor’s Friday night party and making out with random people; Parents showing no consequences for ungodly decisions, parents trying to be best buds instead of parents

    Thanks for all you do Walt.

    In Christ,
    Abe Haley

  4. Katy Perry and those like her have become a serious force in shaping the consciousness of adolescents today. They portray a life that looks fun and free from the mundane, boring life that the teen feels stuck in. This video shows people having a great time and a nerdy, awkward teen suddenly being cool. What teen doesn’t want to be cool and have fun? The problem is that the video, and those like it, are a lie. They glorify sin and neglect the deeply unsatisfying nature of sin. Those who choose to indulge in sin do not find the joyous life that is here portrayed. As a youth worker, I want to bring out this true reality of sin and its consequences. I also want to make it clear that the true way to joy, acceptance and true love is through living God’s way. Christianity is not just about what not to do, it is about a way to experience what is really good. Where the Katy Perrys of the world offer counterfeit joy, we can offer the real thing in the gospel of Christ.

  5. Walt- I love this conversation, let’s stir it up!

    If you were to compare the message of this video, which clearly mocks movies from the brat pack 1980s… what’s changed? (16 Candles, Breakfast Club, Risky Business, Revenge of the Nerds, etc) It’s the same message I received as a kid. Did it have an impact? My peers managed to turn out OK. (Though, I’m still pretty suspect)

    When I see Katy and this video I do see a God message. Katy is, in many ways, a type of prodigal. In this video we see her portraying every nerds dream of becoming cool… even for a night. In teenage dream, we see something our culture– especially our Christian culture– looking down on, finding love and “completeness” as a late teenager.

    In many ways, Katy (toss in Ms. Gaga as well) are prophets to an otherwise prophetless generation.

    I think that what’s worth unpacking is why Katy Perry is reaching millions more than her dad who is a pastor? She’s partnered with pop culture, even defining it, in ways that most church leaders have no concept of. What is it about her message that moves people in ways the true Gospel isn’t?

  6. Personally, I think the song and lyrics are a bit more problematic for youth today than the video. The song without the context of the video has a completely different message. In fact, as a youth worker, I SHOWED this video to our teenagers just so they would get it was a “joke” as Adam said. That had never seen it before then, and now, if we hear the song, they make jokes about the video rather than glorifying or dreaming about Katy Perry’s awesome Friday night.

    No doubt, teenagers are intrigued by the stuff in these types of songs. They ask questions like, “Did you ever have a Friday night like that?” I don’t think there is a whole lot we can do to make it go away from what they are seeing, but rather know what is out there and make an opportunity out of it.

    Again, I agree with Adam that not everything today is new. Some of it is completely over the top, but a lot of things people get up in arms about are things that as a youth, watching brat pack movies and the such, tackled the same issues. I think we just need to focus on teaching them how to make good decisions and understanding the purpose of movies and music and how it’s not usually real life, rather than completely sheltering them from pop culture.

  7. Adamle. . . I really wrestle with the humor issue. The problem is that there are those who don’t get it. . . younger “those” is who I’m referring to. Another issue is related to what we get socialized into laughing at and how they shapes our attitudes on things. For example, I’ve had numerous conversations with teenagers and college students who throw around racial and sexual slurs (the N-word, “gay”, etc.) in a variety of ways and contexts. “I’m only joking” is the response I usually hear. But is that a problem in and of itself. . . that we joke about those things. Let’s go back to my teenage years. . . George Carlin and Cheech and Chong. . . they were incredibly funny and I laughed at them over and over again. The provided some effective social commentary. The “effective” part comes in terms of what they effected. I’ve always beleived that laughter serves as a powerful propaganda tool if you want to break down someone’s defenses. Thank goodness Hitler didn’t add laughter to his arsenal! As an adult, I’ve had to wrestle with things that I thought were funny when I should have been thinking they were wrong. Make sense?

  8. Hey Walt. Two things; first, it does continue to lower the bar for our youth. I know they get it and they know this is not reality, but are they able to differentiate this from what is reality completely? I don’t think so. The lines are way to blurred, and becoming more so. Second, the phrase she kept repeating “oh well,” CLEARLY communicates a (the?) mantra of this generation. “Oh well” is a dangerous position to have.

    Peace! Joel

  9. I’m a new youth pastor and I’m new to following your blog. I hope you post your responses to these pastors and/or an audio clip of Tuesday on your blog.

    I do see similarities from the video and my youth group, especially the part about what she’s wearing making her cool and changing everyone’s view of her. I could also see the fact that many of the parents of my kids would just do the same as the ones in the video. They would go have their own “Friday night.” Also they would probably just tell their kids to sleep off their hangover instead of punishing them. Please keep in mind that most of my kids come due to a bus ministry. Their parents don’t come to church. That’s a whole nother conversation! Thanks, God Bless, and keep up the great work!

  10. There are multiple messages that could spawn from this video.

    One question that we could ask is are our churches, youth groups, etc. places where students feel valued and invited. Perry’s character obviously experiences one night where people don’t hear here speech impediment, don’t care about her head gear, clothes, etc. She experiences one night where she feels like she is surrounded by a community that cares about her. What if she felt valued every time she came to your church?

    One, as there are many, negative aspect is that while this mocks the 80’s movies, Kenny G, Rebecca Black (Friday, Friday, Friday, Friday) and parents it still has some dangerous truths. Parties this large exist (see the CBS story about the party at CSU http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/08/31/earlyshow/living/parenting/main20099698.shtml).

    Another message is obvious,that that every student struggles with their identity. We all did in that 11-20 year range. How are you helping students realize their call?

    I think a big lesson youth workers can learn from was in the parents. What parent in there right mind would smile, close the door, and say “we invented parties”. The sad truth is that we shouldn’t be so naive to believe they don’t exist. Some parents buy the alcohol or drugs for the parties and say “I’d rather them do it here”. How does youth ministry respond to that? I think that we have make sure that we are ministering to students AND parents while providing a healthy place for both groups to grow closer to God and each other.

  11. This is awesome! I’m taking 3 of my volunteers and my senior pastor to this Fall Forum tomorrow! What a treat to get a sneak peak at things! From my own perspective, I think yes some kids to get it. Most of my kids can’t stand this song, they boo and turn the channel if it comes on the radio in the van. But I’m sure there are those who would be impressed by it and turn to the party life. I’ve seen them come through our ministry and keep right on going out the other side. We try to help them see the downside of that lifestyle but sometimes the allure of fun with the cool kids is too strong.

    I think we need to be aware of what is out there in the culture, especially in terms of media, and be ready to use it to show our kids the truth vs. the hype.

  12. Adam. . . more food for thought. . . as a result of my continued thinking about and increasing uneasiness with your analysis. I would love – more than anything else – to believe what you’re saying to be true. Really. But it’s so much more complex than that – developmentally, theologically, artistically, etc. This morning I wrote one of our 3D reviews of the song and in the process of researching the background came across this quote from Katy Perry about the song’s origin: It’s “a song about debauchery because I had one of those nights in Santa Barbara. We went out to this place called Wildcat and got crazy. . . We had a couple of beers and danced until we died, then brought the party back to the hotel room. . . Most of that song is actual truth, apart fromt he magage a trois. . . unfortunately!” Seems there was even some streaking in the park.

    A funny presentation? Yes, if we use a common measure for humor. Creative? Absolutely. But again, I wonder what role humor plays in the formation of belief and behavior developmentally.

  13. I want to think a minute about how the “nerds” of our culture would interpret this video. For those who are on the outside of the in-crowd, I believe that the joke’s on them. They have such desperate desires to be accepted that they will let the “cool” kids lure them into doing awful things. The hammer comes down when they return to school and the cool moment is now just a dream. They get cut down even more for the foolish thing they did and the cycle is perpetuated with more control in the hands of the socially upward mobile. The reality is that the rich get richer…and the weak socially get weaker.

    It is meant to be funny, but that humor is tragic, especially for those who lack discernment. A dose of Proverbs 1:10, 15, 33; 2:1-22 is beneficial wisdom for our youth.

  14. One thought comes to mind: “Fools make a mock at sin.” It is foolish and mocks God by mocking his moral nature. It is a joke. But I don’t think God is laughing. The context of the above Scripture is how to think about people and how they influence you.
    Foolish people influence us to act foolishly by making light of what God sees as serious.

  15. I’m a freshmen in college and came across this link on my youth pastor’s page and i have a comment i would also like to add. Yes a joke is a joke, however, accrording to Ephesians 5:4 coarse jokes are not good. My my younger brother used to get on my case everyday in high school and it really hurt and all he had to say was he was “joking”. Joke or not some things still hurt and are still not appropriate. Also like mentioned before that it’s a joke. I can completely confirm that it is not a joke at all to kids in 4th to 7th grade. They really think they should be acting like that and that is what being a teenager is all about. I’ve had to talk with my younger sister whom in 11 loads of times about how none of these things lead to good outcomes yet she is still pretty convinced that this is how things should be. So with that said…it’s important to get youth to see that ill minded decisions really really hurt in the long run. I grew up with parents that were really leanient and there were many nights that i wish i would’ve followed God and not my parents orders. They let me do what i pleased sometimes and i suffered the consequences in highschool. So i feel that it is really important to cover topics such as sex, alcohol, and drugs and self confidence. These are normally taboo subjects but guess what? If the church isn’t informing the youth about it the media and music industry will and in a very harmful distorted way.

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