Sep 1, 2011

Which offers the better diagnosis of alcoholism — Katy Perry's 'Last Friday Night' or Rihanna's 'Cheers (Drink to That)'?

With Rihanna's single 'Cheers (Drink to That)' following so closely on the heels of Katy Perry's 'Last Friday Night' pop fans are doubled blessed: which rousing pop anthem to compulsive binge drinking do they like best? Or, more clinically: which is the better diagnosis of alcoholism? The two pop queens are friends and drinking buddies; both songs celebrate getting royally toasted at weekends, and both feature middle-8s with in-bar sound effects and crowd chants. In many ways the two songs might be considered bookends to the same wild weekend — two rounds of drinks from competing barflies. Perry's is the more colorful end of the saloon, no question. 'Last Friday Night' came first and, in a fashion we have come to expect of this budding lyricist, paints an acrylically vivid picture of a young woman trapped in a gruelling blur of booze, bars and bodies, the first verse opening with a scene of ashen devastation that would bring a blush to the cheek of Clare Quilty:—
There's a stranger in my bed,
There's a pounding my head
Glitter all over the room
Pink flamingos in the pool
I smell like a minibar
DJ's passed out in the yard
Barbie's on the barbeque
Perry's heroine performs a quick body check, finds a "hickie or a bruise" then - to her horror - finds pictures of last nights revels posted online. She herself can remember nothing: "Its a blacked out blur / But I'm pretty sure it ruled." What she is describing is a blackout, as defined by E. M. Jellinek, and as addressed by question 17 in the "The Twenty Questions that helped me Decide That I Was Alcoholic" leaflet, published by Alcoholics Anonymous. (17. Have you ever had a complete loss of memory as a result of drinking?). Other questions that would draw an affirmative answer from Perry's hungover heroine thus far would include 4) Is your drinking affecting your reputation? (that online picture) and 7). Do you turn to lower companions and an inferior environment when drinking? (she doesn't sound too happy about those DJs crashed in her yard). And that's just by the end of the first verse.

Gradually, more details of the night in question come back to her, in a series of nightmarish flash-lit tableaux comprising the song's chorus:—
Last Friday night
Yeah we danced on tabletops
And we took too many shots
Think we kissed but I forgot

Last Friday night
Yeah we maxed our credit cards
And got kicked out of the bar
So we hit the boulevard

Last Friday night
We went streaking in the park
Skinny dipping in the dark
Then had a menage a trois
Last Friday night
Yeah I think we broke the law
Always say we're gonna stop-op
By now our concerned addiction counsellor is scribbling wildly. We've got trouble with the law; unplanned promiscuity; the hint of financial problems; the determination to stop drinking capped with the commitment to repeat the whole exercise ("This Friday night / Do it all again"). By the end of the second verse we have problems at work ("
Don't know what to tell my boss"), more unmanageability ("think the city towed my car") and legal problems ("warrants out for my arrest") prompting another acknowledgement of remorse ("that was such an epic fail"), drowned out by another grim-faced avowal to repeat the whole cycle.

In terms of our counsellor's quiz, that's affirmative answers to question 5 (Have you ever felt remorse after drinking), 6 (Have you ever got into financial difficulties as a result of drinking?), 10 (Do you crave a drink at a definite time?), 13 (Has your efficiency decreased since drinking?) and 15 (Do you drink to escape from worries or trouble?). The publishers of the '20 questions' leaflet advise that if you can answer two of the questions in the affirmative, you are probably an alcoholic. Perry's luckless heroine can answer nine. The depthless irony with which she addresses both her determination to stop ("Always say we're going to stop") and her hopeless inability to stay stopped ("Do it all again") make the song not just a vivid picture of the demoralising cycle of addiction, but very close to a cry for help. Her denial stretched paper-thin, Perry's heroine is just a few drinks from her first meeting.
Rihanna presents a more battle-hardened Samurai mask to the world, as befits her faithless, cross-me-and-I'll-cut-ya persona and sullen alto. The heroine of her lyric for 'Cheers (Drink To That)', anticipating a weekend binge after a hard week, issues comradely advice to others similarly oppressed ("Don't let the bastards grind you down"), and a bellicose toast to "the freaking weekend" before leading us into the chant that makes up the chorus:-
There’s a party at the bar everybody put your glasses up and
I drink to that, I drink to that, I drink to that
(Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah)
Her girl is far more stewed in her resentments than Perry's, more belligerent in her stand-off against both the universe and her accusers ("People gonna talk whether you doing bad or good, yeah"), more openly dismissive of her money worries ("put it all on my card tonight, yeah / Might be mad in the morning but you know we goin hard tonight") with a regret count of zero. Her denial is outright, her hedonism less that of the hapless barbie-drunk who can't source her hickies, and more that of a battle-hardened warrior-lush, zeroing in on her objectives like a Terminator assessing kill ratios:-
Got a drink on my mind and my mind on my money, yeah
Looking so bomb, gonna find me a honey
Got my Ray-Bans on and I’m feeling hella cool tonight, yeah
Everybody’s vibing so don’t nobody start a fight, yeah-ah-ah-ah
The more enjoyable drinking companion, no question. Of the 20 questions quiz, Rihanna scores only three —
6 (Have you ever got into financial difficulties as a result of drinking?) 10 (Do you crave a drink at a definite time?), and 15 (Do you drink to escape from worries or trouble?) — compared to Perry's nine. A mid-stage drunk, rather than a late-stage alcoholic. Take Perry's heroine out and you'd end the evening holding a pair of broken Blahniks and handing out Kleenex. Rihanna's gal would still be at it as you tip-toed off to bed. Our addiction counsellor would be in for a long wait.


  1. As the mother of an 8-year-old girl who thinks the sun shines directly out of Katie Perry's cute little backside, this essay causes me some anxiety.

  2. Don't worry. There's not a thing a parent can do, or not do, or do wrong, or do right, in this area. Your daughter could listen to a Katy Perry record every minute of every day — she could seek to emulate her drinking habits, or those of the women in her lyrics, until the cows came home — but it still wouldn't turn her into an alkie if she is not neurologically hardwired to be one. And if she is so hardwired, there's not a record out there — not Donovan, not the Bee Gees, not the collected hits of Julie Andrews — that is going to stop it from happening.

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  4. That Katy Perry song is vile in every way, a tuneless celebration of mindless drunkenness. Actually mindless drunkenness is more fun than that dull, formulaic number. And your analysis is far more entertaining

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