When Katy Perry was asked if her upcoming album Witness will finally address Perry’s long-simmering feud with Taylor Swift, Perry danced around the question with the dexterity of a ballerina at the Bolshoi.
“I think [my new album is] a very empowered record,” she told EW. “There is no one thing that’s calling out any one person. One thing to note is: You can’t mistake kindness for weakness and don’t come for me. Anyone. Anyone. Anyone. Anyone.”
Perry threw in some canned quotes about how the word is a better place when women “decide to unite” but added that “everything has a reaction or a consequence.” As it turns out, Perry was being cryptic on purpose, so as not to spoil the surprise release of her new song “Swish Swish” which is so obviously a Taylor Swift diss track it might as well be called “This is Definitely a Taylor Swift Diss Track.”
And just so there’s no confusion, Perry recruited Nicki Minaj—fresh off her own highly publicized beef—for some blistering bars about “fake love” and getting “more checks.” Even the single’s accompanying art—which features Perry’s hand holding receipts from a place called “Karma Coffee & Tea”—screams payback. Perry’s never been one for subtlety.
When Swift released “Bad Blood”—a song aimed squarely at Perry—three years ago, it felt like a body blow. There was Swift and her squad, dressed as post-apocalyptic warrior queens, walking through flames and wielding very large weapons. Even Kendrick Lamar showed up for what felt like Swift’s coronation. It was a lopsided victory for the former country darling, who suddenly found herself alongside Nas and Tupac in the diss track hall of fame.
So how does Perry’s song fare as a response? Not so well. First of all, it’s been three years since Swift dropped “Bad Blood,” so for Perry to only respond now feels like a moot point. In a rap beef, the scorned party only has a few days to clap back before being labeled soft. Since this is a pop beef, where there really is no precedent, Perry gets some leeway. Still, three years feels like an eternity.
Then there’s the actual lyrical content. On Witness’ second single “Bon Appetit,” Perry used the wonderful world of gastronomy as a sexual metaphor. Here she turns to basketball, singing “I’m a courtside killer queen” over an early ‘90s house-inspired beat. One can’t help but think that she was so set on calling her song “Swish Swish” (because it sounds like Swift Swift, get it?) that she just said, “Fuck it, let’s make it about basketball.” It’s also a reference to an early title for what would become The Life of Pablo. We all know how much affection Swift and Kanye West have for each other.
Where the song fails as a diss track, it succeeds as a marketing ploy. After the tepid response to her last album Prism, Perry’s place in pop music’s upper echelon has been slipping. Dropping a song like “Swish Swish” is a great way to drum up publicity, which will inevitably lead to increased album sales. One of Swift’s acolytes, Ruby Rose, has already called Perry out for her spitefulness, so she must be doing something right.
Listen to Perry and Minaj go for the jugular below.