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Laurie Pennny: Katy Perry's unusual breasts in new music video, 'Firework'

Mine don't do that!

Anyone who has seen the rash of cosmetic surgery adverts plastering the hoardings of London this year will be familiar with the notion that boobs, particularly expensively remoulded boobs, are the foundation of any modern woman's confidence. I had no idea that this was meant so literally until I saw Katy Perry's new music video, in which her breasts quite literally shoot jets of fiery self-esteem, prompting various young people in a generic eastern European city to make minor changes in their lives.

In the opening scenes of Firework -- a clinically catchy pop excursion released last week to coincide with the height of the season during which Anglo-Saxons burn rockets, papier-mache terrorists and their principles -- Perry wanders alone in an opulent ballgown on a balcony high above the city. The singer watches forlornly as young people face down a smorgasbord of personal difficulties: a young man is afraid to come out of the closet; a girl who is overweight is too shy to wear a swimsuit in front of her friends; a hipster-looking youth is getting mugged in a back-alley.  

But wait! What's this? Suddenly, CGI sparks begin to fizz and crackle in Perry's chest. The celebrity burns with passion to save the poor lost children with the power of song and special effects; fireworks start to explode in her bosom and begin to burst out of her nipples, trailing huge incendiary arcs across the city. A young cancer patient gazes in emaciated wonder out of her hospital window as Perry's exploding tits light up the sky.

Whoever is touched by Perry's extraterrestrial mammary flames becomes suddenly courageous: the hipster dazzles his assailants with card-tricks, the young girl strips to her knickers and dives into the pool and the boy snogs a stranger in front of his friends as the lyrics remind us that, to overcome any obstacle, all we really need to do is "ignite the light, and let it shine". Whatever that's supposed to mean. It is not entirely clear whether Katy Perry's computer-generated boobtacular light-show can actually cure cancer, but the implication is certainly there. "Katy's got a lot of substance and a lot to say, and hopefully this video represents that," said its director, Dave Meyers.

"Firework", which Meyers insists is a solemn attempt to "articulate... what it means to be an underdog", was rather hastily dedicated to the It Gets Better project, set up this autumn to console gay teenagers considering suicide with the knowledge that their lives will improve. It Gets Better is a worthy and necessary initiative in a world where LGBT youth invariably face savage bullying at school, at home and in their communities.

The problem with this approach is that it entirely evades responsibility to change the situation, accepting homophobic hostility as something young people just have to suffer through until they're old enough to move somewhere with a passable scene. The notion that personal resilience is the only possible response to injustice is burnt into the retinas after a single viewing of "Firework". There is something distinctly counter-revolutionary about the exploding tits hypothesis of personal transformation.

The serious message that "Firework" seems to be sending is that you can't actually fight the social structures that put obstacles such as homophobia, body fascism or street crime in your way. All you can do is find the strength to battle against the odds, possibly with the help of a go-getting attitude and a pair of fantastic jugs -- you're not supposed to question why the odds are stacked against you in the first place. "Show 'em what you're worth".

The orthodoxy of consumer self-fashioning is entirely grounded on this notion of desperate individual striving. Outside music-video land, fighting social injustice often involves more meetings, marches and lobbying and fewer synth beats. It doesn't just happen because some pop star in a party frock sprays magical fire from her nipples.

It is reassuring, then, that by the end of the video all the hundreds of young people blessed with Perry's bosom-burning spurts of CGI self-worth seem to have gone into a sort of gleefully pagan trance of self-immolation, converging on the town square in a bacchanalia of contemporary dance. The incendiary rabble appears to turn on Perry in an orgy of flamey vengeance.

Clearly, come the revolution, the boobs-on-fire brigade will be the first against the wall.  

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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How wine crosses national boundaries

With a glass of wine, and a bit of imagination, wine can take us anywhere.

Wine offers many pleasures, one of which is effortless movement. You can visit places that make the wines you love, but you can also sip yourself to where these grapes once grew, or use a mind-expanding mouthful to conjure somewhere unrelated but more appropriate to your mood. Chablis, say, need not transport you to damp and landlocked Burgundy, even if the vines flourish there, not when those stony white wines suit sun, sea and shellfish so well.

Still, I’d never been to Istria – a triangle of land across the Adriatic from the upper calf of Italy’s boot – either in vino or in veritas, until I tried a selection of wines from Pacta Connect, a Brighton-based, wine-importing couple obsessed with Central and Eastern Europe. 

The tapas restaurant Poco on Broadway Market in east London has fiercely ecological credentials – it uses lots of locally sourced and sustainably grown food and the space is a former bike shop – but this fierceness doesn’t extend to entirely virtuous wine-buying, thank goodness. I’m all for saving the planet: waggle the eco-spear too hard, however, and I’ll be forced to drink nothing but English wine. Trying each other’s wines, like learning each other’s customs, is vital to understanding: there’s no point improving the atmosphere if we all just sit around inhaling our own CO2 at home.

The world is full of wine and it is our duty to drink variously in the name of peace and co-operation – which are not gifts that have frequently been bestowed on Istria. I have sought enlightenment from Anna, the Culinary Anthropologist. A cookery teacher and part-time Istrian, she has a house on the peninsula and a PhD in progress on its gastronomy. So now, I know that Istria is a peninsula, even if its borders are debated – a result of Croatia, Slovenia and Italy all wanting a piece of its fertile red soil and Mediterranean climate.

From ancient Romans to independence-seeking Croatians in the early 1990s, all sorts of people have churned up the vineyards, which hasn’t stopped the Istrians making wine; political troubles may even have added to the impetus. A strawberry-ish, slightly sparkling Slovenian rosé got on splendidly with plump Greek olives and English bean hummus, topped with pickled tarragon and thyme-like za’atar herbs from the Syrian-Lebanese mountains. A perfumed white called Sivi Pinot by the same winemaker, Miha Batič, from Slovenian Istria’s Vipava Valley, was excellent with kale in lemon juice: an unlikely meeting of the Adriatic, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Sivi Pinot is another name for Pinot Grigio, which seems fair enough: as long as we can raise our glasses and agree to differ, names should be no problem.

But sometimes we can’t. The other Slovenian winemaker on the menu, Uroš Klabjan, lives three kilometres from the Italian city of Trieste, where his Malvazija Istarska would be called Malvasia Istriana. Either way, it is fresh and slightly apricot-like, and goes dangerously well with nothing at all: I see why this is Istria’s most popular white grape. His Refošk, an intense red, is also good but there is a complicated argument over when Refošk should be called Teran. Like battles over parts of the Balkans, these wrangles seem incomprehensible to many of us, but it’s sobering to think that wine can reflect the less pleasant aspects of cross-cultural contact. Intolerance and jingoism don’t taste any better than they sound.

We finish with Gerzinić’s Yellow Muskat and rhubarb parfait: Croatian dessert wine from an ancient grape found around the world, with an English plant transformed by a French name. There’s nothing sweeter than international co-operation. Except, perhaps, armchair travel.

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain