Cliff-pop-song-professor.png

Welcome!

My name's Clifford Stumme, and I explain the deeper meanings of popular songs. Let's have a conversation about what you think about the songs and go deeper together. Feel free to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "Witness" by Katy Perry mean?

What does "Witness" by Katy Perry mean?

"Witness" Lyrics Meaning

I don't know about you, but I've been excited for Katy Perry's new album for quite a while. I'm not a superfan of many female pop stars (or male pop stars for that matter). I prefer homegrown, sincere lyrics that the artists write themselves and that they truly mean. But something grabbed my attention about this new Witness album. I think it was on Twitter, but Katy Perry claimed that this songwriting era of hers was going to be more politically and socially minded. "Chained to the Rhythm" clearly followed that blueprint, but "Swish Swish" (a swagger track) and "Bon Appetit" (a shallow pop sex track) both seemed to contradict her new motivation. 

So I've been waiting for Witness so I can see whether she actually stays true to what she said and particularly to see if she really goes after Donald Trump (someone she is NOT a fan of). That being said, expect a few more posts like this about key tracks from Witness. I'll let you know what I think, and don't forget to let me know what you think in the comments!

"Can I get a witness?"

"Witness" is about Katy Perry wanting a "human connection" with "someone who speaks her language." I find particularly interesting that "Witness" relies so heavily on a series of cliches and slang terms: "shit hit the fan," "down with me to the mat," "stay in the flow," and the eponymous "can I get a witness" to name a few. Some listeners will confuse this with lazy songwriting, but in fact the density of cliches (especially ironic when you hear the line "karate chopping the cliches" in the next song on the tracklist, "Hey Hey Hey") seems purposeful.

It's as if Katy Perry is setting something up to be fought against in future songs on Witness. Perhaps she's fighting back against stereotypical pop that relies heavily on cliches, or perhaps she's saying that she wants a love or a life more substantial than the one she sings about in "Witness." Of course, she could be embracing the cliches for their own sake and making the point that you can make a love song however you like. Whatever the reason, it's certainly purposeful, and maybe further delving into the lyrics will reveal more to us.

Verse 1

If I lost it all today, would you stay?
Could my love be enough to stimulate?
If shit hit the fan, grenades got thrown
Would you still show, oh?
Could you go down with me to the mat?
Could we get back up and eventually laugh?
Roll eyes at highs, cheers in the lows, and stay in the flow

In the first verse of "Witness," Katy Perry asks her romantic interest if he (or she) "would stay" if Perry "lost it all today." She wants to know if she can trust the person and if she'd be enough for him. If everything goes bad, she wants to know if he'd "still show" up to help her out. Comparing life to a wrestling match, she asks if he'd "go down with me to the mat" and wonders if they'd "get back up and eventually laugh." She wants to know whether hard times will keep them down or whether they'd be able to make it through together and be able to "[r]oll eyes at highs, cheers in the lows, and stay in the flow." 

Pre-Chorus

'Cause I, I only got this life
And I ain't got the time
Not to get it right

The pre-chorus is a simple explanation in which Katy Perry reminds her romantic interest that Perry only has one life "to get it right" and wants to make sure that this person is on board if Perry is going to invest any more time in her.  

Chorus

We're all just looking for connection
Yeah, we all want to be seen
I'm looking for someone who speaks my language
Someone to ride this ride with me
Can I get a witness?
Will you be my witness? 
I'm just looking for a witness in all of this
Looking for a witness to get me through this

In the chorus of "Witness," Katy Perry explains her motivation for wanting to be with someone in the first place. She sings, "We're all just looking for connection / Yeah, we all want to be seen." She's speaking of the universal human desire to feel valued by someone else--the feeling of being important to other people. More specifically, she wants someone who she can communicate with effectively and someone who will "ride this ride with me." 

More interestingly, she asks the question, "Can I get a witness?" Usually a line like this would be used by a person asking a crowd of people to corroborate his or her story or testimony. Katy uses the cliche lightly here and seems to care more about someone who will back her up against--shall we say?--the court of life or something like that. Life can be difficult, and she wants a person who will back her up when others (or life) are out to get her. I think it's interesting that while all of her other cliches seem so precise and well-placed, the cliche most central to the meaning of the song seems hardly to fit. I'm not sure if this means something in particular or if she's just trying to be clever, but it suggests that we should pay special attention to this line. 

She continues the chorus asking her romantic interest, "Will you be my witness?" and continues by explaining that she's "[l]ooking for a witness to get me through this," which we assume, again, means life.

Verse 2

When you tell me everything, and there's no holes
You can scroll through anything, you've got the codes
Nothing to hide
It's all in their eyes
And we just know

In the second verse of "Witness," Katy Perry speaks more to the trust of the relationship between her and this other person. She wants a person who "[w]hen you tell me everything," "there's no holes" and assures him that he "can scroll through anything" because he's "got the codes." She claims that she has "[n]othing to hide" and that any seeming flaw in her honor is in other's "eyes" even if she and her romantic interest are the only ones who "know." 

Bridge

Will you be my witness?
Could you be the one that speaks for me?
Will you be my witness?

The particularly interesting line in the bridge of "Witness" is the unique one that goes "Could you be the one that speaks for me?" and I think it's interesting because it further helps us to define Perry's loose conception of the witness cliche. For her, a witness is someone who speaks for her, not just someone who agrees with her. She asks "can I get a witness?" but perhaps she means something more like "I'm on trial, and I need someone to go to the stand and tell the world I'm innocent of wrongdoing." Again, it's still an odd word to use for what seems like a love song, but perhaps future interviews with Perry will reveal deeper shades of meaning to this song that lyrical analysis alone can't help with.

Deeper Meaning of "Witness": Cliches Galore!

I found several more cliches while I was explaining the lyrics: "nothing to hide," "speaks my language," and "ride this ride." And they still bother me. Not in bad a way, but in a "there's got to be something to this" way. I wonder if Katy Perry and her songwriters were having fun, but then how do you explain the misuse of the witness cliche? Lazy songwriting? Maybe, but the rest of the cliches seem so intentional.

It's very confusing to me, but let me see if I can explain my theory: I think Katy Perry is simultaneously subtly laughing at cliched pop songs while indulging in them herself perhaps as a commentary on how easy it can be to slip into that kind of easy songwriting. But she turns the use of cliches on its head by making using them a requirement for this song. All of a sudden, cliches are required and necessary to this song, making them not lazy, but maybe even difficult. Perhaps this is a mental exercise, perhaps a commentary, or perhaps a satire, but I think there are elements of all three in "Witness."

And if that's the case, I think "Witness" surprises me among most pop songs. To do something so interesting (though it's not like it's not been done before) in a pop song is very unique, and I certainly think that "Witness" stands out for it.

What do you think about "Witness" and it's many cliches? Let me know in the comments?

What does "2U" by David Guetta ft. Justin Bieber mean?

What does "2U" by David Guetta ft. Justin Bieber mean?

What does "Perfect Places" by Lorde mean?

What does "Perfect Places" by Lorde mean?