There are some songs that are instantly lovable. Tracks that, less than ten seconds in, you know are something special, destined to be game changers, instant classics that will go down in the annuls of pop. ‘Umbrella’, ‘Crazy In Love’, anything by ABBA are all good examples of this. On the flip side, there are songs that are instant disasters. Tracks that are flops before the beat even kicks in, cringey try-hard songs by wannabes that will be laughed straight out of the top 40 within a week. Take pretty much anything by Iggy Azalea as an example.
But some songs are somehow, against all rules of nature, both of these things at once. They are songs that pull you in, captivate you, make you hit the replay button again and again while remaining trashy, problematic, polarising and downright embarrassing. Katy Perry’s ‘Swish Swish’ is one such song.
There is much to dissect on ‘Swish Swish’. There’s the killer dance beat courtesy of UK house DJ Duke Dumont, a dark, stylish arrangement that drives the track forward, almost macabre in its sound and easily the best thing about ‘Swish Swish’. This sinister undertone is exaggerated by the Fatboy Slim sample – that rather scary voice – that punctuates the track and Perry’s icy vocals on the chorus as she sings of “another one in the casket” like some sort of pop vampire.
On one hand, this feels almost too edgy for Perry, an artist who cut her teeth on bubblegum pop and a musician who is so anti-cool that any attempt at anything other than straight forward radio hits feels like she’s stepping way out of her lane. If you can look past the fact that this is Katy Perry however – a woman who thinks a haircut will make us forget she once released a song called ‘Ur So Gay’ – then there’s really no denying how much of a jam this is.
As far as diss tracks go, ‘Swish Swish’ is pretty savage. Perry takes no prisoners here, making fairly obvious references to her 100 year beef with Taylor Swift, probably in retaliation to the latter’s single ‘Bad Blood’. “Funny my name keeps coming out your mouth,” Perry spits, before enlisting the help of diss track queen Nicki Minaj.
“Silly rap beefs just get me more checks,” Minaj raps, making it clear from the off that she is only here for one thing – a hefty wad of cash for yet another guest verse. Still, Minaj is on fiery form, especially as she proclaims “I already despise you”, doing away with the innuendos and getting straight to the point. Still, you have to wonder how much money K-Pez had to slip Minaj to convince her to rap the line “I only rock with Queens, so I’m makin’ hits with Katy.” Because let’s be honest, this isn’t a song that screams ‘hit’.
But Perry isn’t taking this whole thing that seriously either. Which is a relief, really. Watching her live debut of the track on SNL, we see her perform in typically flamboyant style alongside a catwalk of drag queens – which some have read as a reference to the garish squad Taylor brings out during her live shows. Katy’s piss-taking is pretty brutal here, not to mention quite visually stunning, and shows that even minus Minaj’s verse, this is still a track that stands up on its own, Perry’s pissed off, self-righteous anger propelling the track forward.
The issue with ‘Swish Swish’ is that it’s a Katy Perry song. It’s difficult to hear her rhyme ‘swish’ with ‘bish’ and not die a little bit inside. But props to Perry for clambering out of her comfort zone and dipping her toe into something new. ‘Swish Swish’ may be a trashy, messy and downright tacky track but, with its Dumont house beat and no-fucks-given shade, it might just be the best, and most interesting, song Katy Perry has ever made.