Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” vs. Feminism

“Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” is a number one single on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 by Katy Perry on her third studio album Teenage Dream (Calfield, 2011)[1]. Since its release on June 6, 2011, the song has been a domestic and international success as it sold 3 million digital copies in the US and over 5 million worldwide (Grein, 2012)[2]. The music video is also a production success as it has over 230,000,000 views as of October 13th (Perry, Katy Perry – Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)) [dayum girl][3].

The music video tells a story about a “nerdy girl” who gets disturbed when she is trying to read on a presumably Friday night. The story continues as Kathy Beth Terry, the main character played by Perry, goes to complain about the noise from the party. At this point, the character is dressed in a pink long-sleeved turtleneck with a jean jumper. She is also wearing headgear wired braces, big glasses, and sneakers. She gets introduced to the party, and right when enters, the desirable football captain ignores her presence and says hi to a fashionable blonde girl. Seeing Kathy upset, Rebecca Black, played by herself, volunteers to help transform Kathy. Black leads Kathy upstairs in order to change her appearance: she gives her a short neon skirt, she helps Kathy shave her mustache, and she removes Kathy’s headgear. After the transformation, Kathy walks downstairs in heels, a neon green tight skirt and a neon pink crop top with her midriff showing. She also has a noticeable amount of makeup on, stylized hair, and no more headgear. The crowd, especially by the football captain, instantly notices her transformation. All of a sudden, she becomes the center of attention: everyone watches her play video games and watches her dance.


This is how Kathy Beth Terry (portrayed by Katy Perry) is presented to the audience at the very beginning of the music video. She looks geeky, nerdy, and socially awkward. God, I mean, look at that facial expression.



This is how Kathy Beth Terry is presented after the “transformation.” I mean, hey, girl looks good.

Source: http://www.thecampuscompanion.com/svelte/files/2013/02/katy_perry_last_friday_night_video_young_party_dance_company_joy_54442_1680x1050.jpg

Some may see this story as female empowerment where women are able to manipulate the male gaze with their outfits. This is not the case. The ultimate goal here is to gain the male attention, and as Rosalind Gill states in her article Supersexualized Me! – Advertising and the “Midriffs,” “young women are presented not as passive sex objects, but as active, desiring sexual subjects.[4]” The media and in this case, Katy Perry’s music video, is sending messages to young girls that they need to dress in tight clothing, wear heels, and show off their “midriff,” the part of the body that is between the top of the pubis bone and the bottom of the rib cage[5], in order to gain attention from the opposite sex. The midriff fashion can be traced back to Madonna in the 1980s, and because it became widely popular, advertisers and marketers soon employed it as apart of their strategies[6].

A woman’s body is perceived as her best asset, and her choice of clothing should compliment her body in order to be noticed and pursued by men. This mentality changes a woman’s social role from a passive sexual object to an active one. By embedding an empowerment message within the midriff advertising, women perceive possessing and showing an attractive body as feminism. However, this attractiveness remains purely physical, as no psychological tributes are valued in these messages. As Gill says in her article, the every definition has shifted and “it is now defined as a bodily property rather than a social or psychological one.[7]” In Perry’s music video, her studious identity is never valued nor appreciated. It is even discouraged because the story shows that she is alone in her room, studying, while all of her other classmates are at the party. Once Kathy Beth Terry, portrayed by Perry, changes into “sexy” clothes, not only does the crowd notice and compliment her, she also becomes more confident in herself. This gives the public two messages: one, society has an expectation of who can enjoy the party and who cannot. Kathy has to go through her transformation in order to fit into the crowd to party, play games, drink, and dance with them. And the crowd accepts her very easily, too, after she puts on a tight neon skirt, of course. Two, the woman is supposed to enjoy this transformation. The video explicitly shows Kathy’s content face expressions as she enjoys her time with her newfound friends.

The lesson of the music video is: if you want to have a good time and enjoy your party, you have to wear tight clothing and show off your body. Through different media channels (i.e. Katy Perry’s music video), this message can be packaged in a pro-feminism way where women are shown in authority, independence, and high social class positions, the core message is still that women, especially young, heterosexual women, need to dress and act a certain way in order to be noticed by men. If we unfold the packaging of these messages, we realize that media are still telling our daughters, younger sisters, and friends how to dress and how to act. This is a step back in feminism, and we should not and cannot pretend the media are sending correct messages.

[1] Calfield, K. (2011). Eminem & royce da 5’9″ debut at no. 1 on billboard 200 with bad meets evil ep. Retrieved from http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/470157/eminem-royce-da-59-debut-at-no-1-on-billboard-200-with-bad-meets-evil-ep

[2] Grein, P. (2012). Week ending feb. 12, 2012. songs: Luv for madonna. Retrieved from http://music.yahoo.com/blogs/chart-watch/week-ending-feb-12-2012-songs-luv-madonna-012009756.html

[3] Perry, K. (Artist). (2011, June 12). Katy Perry – Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) [Web Video]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlyXNRrsk4A

[4] Gill, R. (2009). Supersexualized Me! Advertising and the “Midfriffs.” In Dines, G., & Humez , J. M. (2011). Gender, race, and class in media. (3rd ed.). New York: SAGE Publication, Inc.

[5] Gill, R. (2009) p.256

[6] Quart, A. (2003). Branded: The buying and selling of teenagers. London, Arrow Books.

[7] Gill, R. (2009) p.257