What’s the weirdest thing about Katy Perry‘s “Swish Swish” video—everything about it, or the fact that it so thoroughly rejects the song itself? Really, it’s the former: the nonsensical grab bag cameos, the ragged plot, the acting that drips with flopsweat. Perry has already more or less renounced the song that is her response to Taylor Swift‘s “Bad Blood,” telling the press in the run-up to her recent album Witness that despite the obvious implication of the single she was ready to end the beef. But with the release of the video—which both briefly prolongs the lifespan of “Swish Swish” and signals that the end is near—it’s still worth ruminating on the whole saga, a bizarre and memorable faceplant by a one-time Teflon pop artist whose career had up to this point been a smooth ascent to the top with an extended ride at cruising altitude.
The concept of the “Swish Swish” video is basically as follows. There is a basketball game between two teams: the Tigers and the Sheep. Nodding at the song’s lyrics, Perry’s team—featuring, among others, one of the boys from Stranger Things and that lanky kid who swings his arms around—is the Tigers, and they are a ragtag group who stand no chance against the Sheep (coached by Terry Crews), who, despite the name, are beefy and muscled-up. As the video goes on, the Tigers stumble their way around the court, until a final, inspirational flurry of points pushes them to victory over the Sheep, punctuated by Perry theatrically flying through the air for some slam dunks.
Despite her long string of No. 1 hits, Perry has always relished playing the underdog (“Firework,” “Roar,” “Dark Horse,” etc.) and has obviously done so successfully. With the “Swish Swish” video she falls back on a well-worn, established character, one of aw-shucks reactions, goofy physical humor, and open winks at the camera. The video isn’t great—well, it’s bad, honestly—but it does at least feel like Katy Perry in all her messy glory. Still, there’s a gulf between Perry’s slapstick character and the fang-toothed, confrontational song that’s impossible to bridge. As such, Perry barely even performs the song during the video. Instead, it’s as if “Swish Swish” is the music playing softly behind a comedy sketch that you’re not really meant to pay attention to.
Writing about Perry’s album, The Ringer’s Lindsay Zoladz made the astute point that Perry’s underdog persona was always at odds with her immense popularity, but that Swift picking on her—lining up a dozen celebrity women against Perry under the guise of feminist power—had credibly positioned Perry as the thing she claimed to be all along. With this video, you can sense her comfort in dropping the put-on villainy and returning to lighthearted affability. Her diss track, receipts and all, is rendered here as a whisper. We’re ready to forget “Swish Swish,” and she is, too.