Lip Sync Herstory: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Katy Perry’s 'Firework'

Katy Perry, "Firework"
Courtesy Photo

Katy Perry, "Firework"

In every presidential election year since its premiere in 2009, RuPaul’s Drag Race has featured some kind of political or debate-themed challenge where the competitors are running to become America’s first drag president. On last week’s episode, the seven remaining queens gathered for “Choices 2020,” a fictitious debate moderated by actors Rachel Bloom and Jeff Goldblum. 

Milwaukee beauty Jaida Essence Hall was declared the challenge winner for her campaign centered around being confused, which the judges found as hilarious as it is pertinent in a time of increased political disengagement. Politically minded queen Jackie Cox and Kansas City queen Widow Von’Du found themselves in the bottom two for their lackluster debate performances, and faced off against each other in a lip sync battle to Katy Perry’s “Firework.” Given the episode’s focus on American political traditions and taking pride in everything about ourselves, the empowering pop anthem was a fitting song choice. 

Read up on a few things you might not have known about “Firework” below -- and when you’re done, make sure you’re registered to vote!  

Katy Perry drew inspiration for the song (and her cremation plans) from a 1950s novel.

In her 2010 Billboard cover story, Katy Perry admitted that the inspiration for the song's themes and lyrics (as well as her plans for after she dies) came from an unlikely source: Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel On the Road.

"Basically I have this very morbid idea... when I pass, I want to be put into a firework and shot across the sky over the Santa Barbara ocean as my last hurrah," she said at the time. "I want to be a firework, both living and dead. My boyfriend showed me a paragraph out of Jack Kerouac's book On the Road, about people that are buzzing and fizzing and full of life and never say a commonplace thing. They shoot across the sky like a firework and make people go, 'Ahhh.' I guess that making people go 'ahhh' is kind of like my motto."

The song’s producers wanted to highlight Perry’s voice in a way no one had ever heard before.

When cutting together Katy’s vocals on the track, Grammy-winning producer duo Stargate made a point to put her powerful voice at center stage. “We also knew that she was a better singer than a lot of people thought at the time, and we wanted to highlight that,” producer Tor Erik Hermansen said. “One of the things we told her was, ‘We’re not going to do any harmonies, we’re not going to do any fancy vocal takes, it’s just going to be you singing it raw.’ I think it’s one of her finest performances, because she wasn’t thinking, she wasn’t trying to be perfect, it was just from the heart.”

The music video featured hundreds of real Katy Perry fans instead of actors -- at Katy’s insistence. 

When she was conceptualizing the music video for “Firework,” both Katy and director Dave Meyers wanted to leave Hollywood to shoot the video, and feature real people finding confidence in themselves as opposed to hired actors. They flew to Budapest, Hungary and received 38,000 applications to their open casting call, with nearly 300 locals being chosen to appear in the inspiring visual. Meyers noted everyone’s commitment to the project: the “sick girl” was perfectly healthy and shaved her head for the role, the gay couple in the video was difficult to find given Hungary’s less-tolerant atmosphere, and the dancing crowds in the video’s grand finale consisted entirely of Katy Perry superfans who were genuinely having fun. 

The writers and producers all credit Katy for taking the lead on bringing the song to life. 

Many times, pop singers will have little input in the writing of their songs, and let their songwriters and producers take the lead on creating it. Not so with “Firework”: both members of Stargate and prolific pop songwriter Ester Dean have discussed Katy’s proactive approach to bringing “Firework” to life, and her underrated songwriting ability. “Katy already had the concept and the name in her head. That was one of the times when you allow yourself to be led by somebody who knows what he or she wants,” Dean told Billboard. “She knew what she wanted, so I was like, ‘I'll follow you.’”

Most of the song’s vocals came from a rough demo recorded late one night.

After staying up late one night writing the song with Ester Dean, Perry was ready to go to bed and record the song the next day; the producers, however, insisted she lay down a rough vocal that night so they had something to work with. “In 10 minutes she sang the song two or three times, and we pieced the vocals together,” Hermansen said of the session. “I would say 95 percent of what you hear on the finished record is from that demo.”