The Interview: Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Irony
By: Yosef Rosenfield
In Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s 2014 film The Interview, irony plays a big role in the plot of the movie. The action comedy features Katy Perry’s 2010 single “Firework,” which appears in key situations throughout the film. This song and its association with the main characters are uniquely involved in the movie’s prominent theme of irony. By comparing and analyzing the scenes in which “Firework” is used, the song’s purpose and significance can expectantly become more pronounced within the context of the film.
Before discerning how “Firework” fits into the ‘irony narrative’ of The Interview, it is necessary to understand the nature of the irony showcased in the film. Primary examples include Dave Skylark befriending Kim Jong-un when Dave is there to assassinate him, and blowing up Kim Jong-un with Kim’s own tank. These instances would fall under the category of situational irony, which is defined in an article written by Richard Nordquist as an “event or occasion in which the outcome is significantly different from what was expected or considered appropriate” (“Definition and Examples of Situational Irony,” ThoughtCo.). This accurately depicts the progression of scenes in the film, since the two aforementioned examples of irony as well as many others manifest the exact opposite result of what the viewer supposes will happen leading up to each scenario.
However, the movie’s situational irony has a specific aspect that distinguishes it from similar types of situational irony in other films. In The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Discourse, situational irony is discussed with a bit of a twist and an added layer of meaning: “…irony also occurs serendipitously through unintended and unexpected circumstances or through the evolution of situations. Situational irony focuses on the surprising and inevitable fragility of the human condition” (David Grant, Cynthia Hardy, et al.; SAGE) This description is even more precise and more applicable than Nordquist’s definition, as it pinpoints the central feature of the irony used in The Interview. Dave’s fragile and easily persuaded character is constantly being manipulated into different situations – getting “honeypotted” into helping the CIA assassinate Kim Jong-un, immediately believing Sook-yin Park’s outlandish remarks about Kim, and allowing his personal relationship with Kim override what he already knew intellectually about Kim’s vindictively violent history – thereby causing “evolution of situations.” It is this character flaw that makes Dave’s ultimate assassination of Kim Jong-un that much more triumphant, when he listens to “Firework” on the tank’s sound system – the same way their friendship began – before blasting Kim into a ball of flames.
Dave Skylark’s appeal to emotion, especially within the context of his friendship with Kim, is actually a theme supported by “Firework.” The song was likely chosen to function as Dave and Kim’s pseudo-leitmotif because of its distinctive melodic and lyrical attributes. The two characters bond over this pop tune, singing to each other the words they both relate to and enjoying it as though it were a guilty pleasure. There is something about the ascending melody and encouraging lyrics of the pre-chorus that bring out the emotion in Dave and that reveal the sensitive and vulnerable side of the “fierce, unbreakable leader” Kim Jong-un. In fact, music profiler Friedemann Findeisen says something quite thought-provoking about the aesthetics of music that can be applied to this song. In a video where he breaks down Taylor Swift’s songwriting, he mentions that “the interval [of] the root note is one of neutrality; it’s not emotional like the third or cold like the fifth….we’ve moved past the highly emotional sound of the ‘70s and ‘80s, which were full of thirds and sixes.” Findeisen adds: “If you look at modern movies like The Girl on the Train, Birdman, Fifty Shades of Grey, or The Social Network, they feel much more grounded and less over-emotional than movies like Ghost, Dirty Dancing, Steve King’s It, or The Terminator.” Findeisen brings up a really interesting point that is even more fascinating with regard to “Firework” as it appears in The Interview…
Firstly, the song noticeably features the third note, or scale degree, of the key (C in A flat Major). The very first note of the melody is a C, and the first two lines of each verse begin and end on C, with the fourth line of the verses also starting on the same note and moving straight into the pre-chorus (“Firework,” www.musicnotes.com, Musicnotes). Furthermore, the refrain “baby, you’re a firework” and the following line “come on, show ‘em what you’re worth” / “come on, let your colors burst” both end on the third scale degree, and the chorus melody seems to basically move around that reference point. It becomes even more prevalent in the last chorus, where the melody is tweaked to again return back up to C a few times – bringing the passionate energy of the song to its climax – before finally resolving down to the tonic. Secondly, considering Findeisen’s latter remark regarding the music of recent films versus that of ‘70s and ‘80s movies, this expressive song’s usage in The Interview should be more noteworthy. Having such an emotionally charged pop anthem play a prominent role in an obviously very lighthearted film – with plenty of slapstick humor, sexual jokes, and Lord of the Rings references – calls more attention to it and allows the viewer to get more from each appearance of the song. (Katy Perry, “Katy Perry – Firework (Official),” YouTube)
Keeping in mind that the situational irony in The Interview is usually something not only unexpected but the very opposite of what is expected, it is quite satisfying to notice that the four appearances of “Firework” support the same theme. The first two of these appearances occur the day Kim and Dave just meet. After having spent hours hanging out with each other, Kim takes Dave outside to show him his tank. While admiring all the cool features inside the tank, Dave absentmindedly turns on the sound system which starts playing “Firework.” Seeing that Kim is embarrassed by the song, Dave starts singing along and exclaims: “I love Katy Perry!” Realizing Dave’s fanhood is genuine, Kim starts quoting the song from the beginning, and they exchange lines from the first verse before joining each other in the chorus and sharing a moment together. This scene is drawn out in a way that clearly indicates it is a turning point in the film where Dave and Kim’s friendship is solidified. The movie then cuts to “Firework” playing nondiegetically over the two of them riding gleefully in the tank, with Kim referencing the song’s bridge as he shouts “boom, boom, boom!” and playfully fires the cannon. By the time Dave has returned to his hotel room, he has no intention of moving forward with the plan to kill Kim.
The first of these two juxtaposed scenes is contrasted by the penultimate appearance of “Firework.” During his interview with Kim, Dave appears to be asking the scripted questions Kim gave him, instead of following orders from the CIA – now with help from Sook-yin – to use the set of difficult questions in an effort to expose Kim’s ruthlessness and insecure personality. It is all a setup, however, and Dave starts hitting Kim with one embarrassing statistic after another – but only to be humiliated by Kim, who responds cynically and sarcastically. This point in the film mirrors when Dave earlier turned his back on the mission to pursue Kim’s friendship, thinking everything would be alright if he played it safe and tried to get on Kim’s good side. Now that he changes his mind back around hoping he will successfully put Kim in his place, that too fails and Dave appears to have let down the entire team and squandered their golden opportunity to assassinate Kim Jong-un. But Dave brilliantly turns his shame into Kim’s, noting that they have the same insecurities; he starts singing “Firework” softly, then gradually increases volume and intensity. He reaches the chorus and vigorously chants, “Kimmy, you’re a firework…” as Kim Jong-un starts sobbing and divulging his self-esteem issues. This moment of vulnerability resembles the earlier example when the two of them were in the tank; Dave’s diegetic rendition of “Firework” reinforced their relationship and led Kim to open up about his personal life. Now, with another powerful a cappella version of Kim’s favorite song, Dave sends a clear and public message that they are no longer friends.
The final instance of irony that uses “Firework” takes place as Dave is escaping in Kim’s tank with his fellow crew members. Showing that Dave is blasting “Firework” on the tank’s sound system is an obvious reference to when Kim and Dave were riding together in the tank and listening to the same song. Given no choice but to defend himself and the others against Kim Jong-un, who is shooting at them from above in a helicopter, Dave echoes Kim’s lyrical reference from before – “boom, boom, boom!” – and fires the cannon. This last ironic development is highlighted by a softer, gentle-sounding version of “Firework,” sung by Jennie Lena. The slower, stripped-down cover – including only acoustic guitar and vocals – is a good fit for this scene for a couple of reasons. Not only does it match the slow-motion take of Dave’s missile penetrating the helicopter and Kim’s face exploding, it creates an ironic moment of its own by having a sweet and peaceful tune play over an insanely climactic explosion assassination – which, in any other action film, would probably be accompanied by intense sound effects and perhaps some bold, dramatic music. The versatility of this Jennie Lena cover makes Kim Jong-un’s assassination such an effective scene and successfully advances the theme of irony in the film. (Jennie Lena, “Firework – Jennie Lena (from the movie ‘The Interview,’” YouTube)
Despite not appearing until halfway through the movie, Kay Perry’s “Firework” undoubtedly makes a significant contribution to The Interview. It only plays a few times throughout the film, but the song’s association with certain parts of the movie are undeniable. Pairing an uplifting melody with equally inspirational lyrics, “Firework” adds a layer of ironic sophistication to an otherwise frivolous comedy. The song acts as a leitmotif for Dave and Kim’s friendship and, more importantly, provides support and closure to the film’s primary theme of irony.
Grant, David and Cynthia Hardy et al. The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Discourse. SAGE Publications Ltd., London. 18 July, 2004. (p. 119)
Holistic Songwriting. “How Taylor Swift Writes Melodies | The Artists Series S1E1.” YouTube.
(4:37-4:44; 4:50-4:54; 5:05-5:21) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=damt9eQ_2Js
Lena, Jennie. “Firework – Jennie Lena (from the movie “The Interview”).” YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ustFrvYRjoM
Musicnotes. “Firework.” https://www.musicnotes.com/sheetmusic/mtd.asp?ppn=MN0088649
Nordquist, Richard. “Definition and Examples of Situational Irony.” ThoughtCo. Updated 27 March, 2018. https://www.thoughtco.com/situational-irony-1692521
Perry, Katy. “Katy Perry – Firework (Official).” YouTube. 28 October, 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGJuMBdaqIw
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