In 2010, Katy Perry released her album Teenage Dream which contained tracks involving drunkenness leading to Friday night three-ways, having sex like teenagers, and begging a dude to show off his penis. In the midst of all the sexually suggestive lyrics comes “Who Am I Living For,” a very introspective song where Perry actually makes three Biblical references. With that in mind, I plan to look at how these references play out from a Biblical perspective. Here are the lyrics.
Perry begins the song singing, “I can feel a phoenix inside of me / As I march alone to a different beat / Slowly swallowing down my fear, yeah yeah / I am ready for the road less traveled / Suiting up for my crowning battle / This test is my own cross to bare / But I will get there.” She is preparing herself to be different than the world, preparing to be alone in a potential road ahead. She is prepared and makes her first Biblical reference calling this her “cross to bare.” This is her burden, this difference she has from the world. The Bible calls the Christian to be different than the world around us (Romans 12:2, 1 Peter 1:13-16). In fact the entirety of 1 Peter was written to Christians living in a culture which was hostile toward them (1 Peter 1:1). We need to be different as Christians, otherwise what about our faith will make others look back and go – “I want to know more about that.” That said, Katy Perry isn’t a Christian. She has rejected Christ and so, what is her cross to bear, what is her burden making her different than the world? Let’s continue.
Perry says, “It’s never easy to be chosen, never easy to be called / Standing on the frontline when the bombs start to fall / I can see the heavens but I still hear the flames / Calling out my name.” She’s been chosen. For what, it’s not entirely clear. The assumption is she’s saying she was chosen for her current station in life – her fame, fortune. In a way, she’s right. The Lord controls the world, He decides who is rich and who is poor (1 Samuel 2:7, Job 1:21). Now – what exactly are these front lines she’s standing on? Why are there heavens and flames calling her name? It’s unclear from her life as she’s an entertainer. She’s not a world leader, thought leader, politician, or anyone making that type of an impact on the world. She’s using her music to display her views on things, for sure, but is it world changing? Are the generally campy and sex obsessed lyrics of Katy Perry really going to help bring about major Biblical style change as she seems to imply by the lyrics? The answer is no, but I’m going to jump ahead for a moment and entirely change the view of this song. What if it’s not about her? What if it’s about someone else? Could it in fact be about Esther?
Later in the song, Perry references Esther in the second verse saying, “I pray for a favour like Esther / I need your strength to handle the pressure / I know there will be sacrifice / But that’s the price.” Esther leaned on the Lord’s strength to save the Jewish people exiled in Persia at the time. There was sacrifice, her willingly going before the King when he could kill her on a whim. She needed the Lord’s “…strength to handle the pressure.” Now with the perspective of Esther as the main person in the song, the first verse begins to make more sense. She’s been chosen by the Lord for a time such as this (Esther 4:14). She is marching alone in the house of the King. She needs to swallow her fear. She needs to take a difficult road. She has the burden of her entire race on her shoulders. She’s standing on the frontlines and her people are calling to her for help, calling out her name. Could this self-avowed non-Christian have created a song which is an allegorical piece on Esther? Maybe.
The Lord uses non-believers to accomplish His goals. He used various groups to punish the Israelites in the Old Testament. He used the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable. He used Balaam to bless the Israelites. He used Judas to ensure Christ died for our sins. He used Pharaoh to eventually free the Hebrews. He can use Katy Perry to give us an interesting, introspective song about Esther.
But, when we get to the chorus – it asks the question which is the title of the song. Perry sings, “I can see the writing on the wall / I can’t ignore this war / At the eh-end of it all / Who am I living for?” Esther has to ask this question of herself. There’s war brought to her doorsteps as Haman is readying his people to murder all the Jews in Persia. She can’t ignore it anymore. Now, at the end of it all – Esther has to decide, who is she living for? Herself or the Lord? Is she living for her own sake or her people’s sake? Will she make the decision to save her hide and lie about who she is OR will she boldly declare before the King that she is a Jew and beg him to spare her people? She chooses the latter and in so doing she answered Perry’s question. She’s not living for herself, but for God and for others.
Now, as a Christian, we have to ask ourselves the same question. Who are we living for? Are we living for ourselves and our own gain? Or are we living for Jesus? The former leads to praise in this world, but damnation. The latter leads to scorn in this world, but eternal joy with Christ. Which will you choose? Who are you living for?