Katy Perry’s Siren Song to Conspiracy Theorists

Is Katy Perry really so outrageous that she’s united conservative Christians and Muslims? 

Representatives of both faiths have taken to YouTube and Change.org to decry hidden messages in her new single “Dark Horse.” For decades, American pop stars have had an almost symbiotic relationship with religious conservatives, deliberately goading them in exchange for media attention. Madonna’s 1989 video for “Like a Prayer,” Sinead O’Connor’s 1992 performance on SNL in which she shredded a photo of Pope John Paul II, and Lady Gaga’s 2011 video for “Judas,” all employed the deliberate and provocative use of religious imagery and garnered further celebrity for the artists. 

But now we’re seeing a variation on this game of outrage and celebrity. The most vocal critics of “Dark Horse” aren’t establishment conservatives but millennials armed with social media and Illuminati conspiracy theories. By assigning religious significance to the symbols in Perry’s videos, they seek to appropriate some of her celebrity. Whereas formerly pop stars repurposed religious imagery to create art, now consumers can repurpose artistic imagery to create an apocalyptic cosmology.

Joseph Laycock is an assistant professor of religious studies at Texas State University. His forthcoming books include The Seer of Bayside: Veronica Lueken and the Struggle for Catholic Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic Over Role-Playing Games Says About Religion, Play, and Imagined Worlds (University of California Press, 2015).

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