The Hillary and Katy power alliance: Their savvy blend of pop and politics could be a game-changer for both

Clinton gets to woo Perry's cheery fan base, and Katy gets to show off her grown-up political consciousness

Published October 28, 2015 11:00PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Scott Morgan)
(Reuters/Scott Morgan)

On October 18, Katy Perry wrapped up her nearly 18-month Prismatic world tour with a show in Costa Rica. Less than a week later, she was spotted performing at a Hillary Clinton rally in Iowa, where she was introduced by Bill Clinton and made her presidential candidate preferences quite clear. "I stand and I march with Hillary,” Perry said. “I believe in her future, her vision. I believe in her policies. I believe in equal rights for men, women, pay...Thank you for having me, she's my firework." At the rally, Hillary Clinton, in turn, expressed her admiration for the singer: "I have to give a special shout-out to somebody really special, somebody whose birthday is tomorrow, someone who reminds us that sometimes you just have to let them hear you roar. Katy Perry, thank you for being here."

The mutual affection didn’t end there, however. The day of the Iowa appearance, Perry took over Clinton’s Instagram, posting snaps of her Hillary-in-2016 decorated nails, her custom-made Hillary-themed dresses, her niece coloring a photo of Hillary and (naturally!) a selfie of them together. The pop star also gave the candidate (a “fellow Scorpio”) an Etsy-worthy gold necklace featuring the acronym POTUS. If that wasn’t enough, Perry celebrated her birthday with a lengthy, heartfelt Instagram note about meeting with Hillary and educating herself about for what she stands. The conversation was apparently convincing: “Next year's election is one of the most important ones in decades, and the choices we make will have a profound effect on women for years to come,” Perry wrote. “So, I stand with her for my daughters and their daughters, and beyond what time gives me. Get informed, get involved and become empowered!”

That Perry is swinging Democratic is no surprise: She was a staunch Obama supporter, both vocally and sartorially. And she’s not the only prominent entertainer who’s come out in support of Hillary: So have Lena Dunham, Kate McKinnon, Jennifer Lopez, America Ferrera, Ariana Grande and Ellie Goulding, to name a few. However, the specificity and confidence of Perry’s political support—her Instagram note specifically mentioned issues such as gun control, birth control, health care and equal pay—is impressive. Fans aren’t always thrilled when musicians get political, even in the abstract. For Perry to drill down and take a stance on pivotal, crucial issues is even braver, because it puts her squarely on the hook for resistance and criticism.

However, that she’s using her platform and vast social media reach to promote women’s rights, and highlight the areas where equality is lacking or threatened, is significant. For some of her fans, it might be their first exposure to things their friends, older siblings or parents deal with on a daily basis. For others, it might spark their interest in seeking out more information about Clinton, or even politics in general. Either way, Perry is telling her fans that knowledge is powerful and empowering. As Perry herself wrote on Instagram, “I never want to be a puppet, and always want to feel my own purpose and ownership in everything I do.” That’s a mighty message to convey, especially because her assertion that politics are accessible is backed up by high-profile action.

In a sense, Perry’s activism is a throwback to the ’90s musical climate, when musicians leveraged their popularity to boost awareness of social issues or injustices, and were almost expected to have a cause to support. High-profile benefit compilations such as “Born To Choose”—which benefitted NARAL (the National Abortion Rights Action League) and WHAM! (Women's Health Action and Mobilization)—and the Red Hot-associated “No Alternative” raised money while educating music fans. Another double album, “Home Alive: Art of Self Defense,” was released to benefit the organization Home Alive. The Seattle-based collective formed after the murder of the Gits’ Mia Zapata, and provided self-defense classes while speaking out and condemning violence. Festivals such as Lollapalooza and Lilith Fair, meanwhile, both had social consciousness baked into their framework.

But Perry’s social media-driven support is a very modern kind of political stumping and protest. She’s starting a dialogue in places where her fans congregate, utilizing the communication methods and platforms they use; she’s not doing a glossy television sit-down or a benefit concert to discuss her love for Hillary or her political convictions. Her method is more one-to-one and direct, which makes it feel more personal. The Clinton campaign has adopted a similarly open voice for Hillary’s social media accounts: Her Instagram account features everything from vintage photos to Halloween costume ideas, while her Twitter account is a seamless mix of casual slang and more pointed political notes. Of course, the Obama campaign used social media to great effect in both successful 2008 and 2012 elections, and so it’s logical that Clinton would adopt some of the same tactics. However, it’s a savvy, candid approach that makes the advocacy and campaigning feel more organic and sincere.

Of course, there’s no doubt that the Perry-Clinton friendship is mutually beneficial. The Perry association helps Clinton appear more appealing to young female voters, which is an important and increasingly influential demographic: A 2014 U.S. Census analysis of young adult presidential election voting habits found that since 1996, women ages 18 to 29 have voted at higher rates than men. Plus, Perry posting support on her personal Twitter account (or playfully commandeering Clinton’s Instagram account) feels far more casual and genuine than if Hillary herself was trying to court the youth vote on her own. And for Perry, her Clinton friendship draws attention away from the ongoing (and increasingly contentious) fight over her buying a convent in Los Angeles, and keeps her positively in the public eye even though her touring cycle is over. (Which helps, especially because she has a new live DVD looming, not to mention an app on the way.)

However, it’s terribly cynical to view Perry’s support as a mere PR move or some token endorsement. She’s become more and more comfortable in her skin as her career’s progressed, effortlessly combining varied (and diverse) facets of her personality in ways that are both playful and serious. Sure, Perry’s musical brand is predicated on bravery, self-empowerment and speaking up—loudly. However, it’s clear that these characteristics aren’t just a posture for the pop star realm, but a belief system by which she’s choosing to live.

By Annie Zaleski

Annie Zaleski is a Cleveland-based journalist who writes regularly for The A.V. Club, and has also been published by Rolling Stone, Vulture, RBMA, Thrillist and Spin.

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2016 Presidential Election Hillary Clinton Katy Perry Music Politics