This inspirational dance jam is the third single from American singer-songwriter Katy Perry's third studio album, Teenage Dream. Perry calls the song her "epitaph." She told Entertainment Weekly in 2013: "Its message has been really profound. I still love singing the song because it's not cheesy but it does its job. I feel like that song has legs."
Perry told Billboard magazine that the inspiration for the song came from an unlikely source. "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. "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."
Like several other tracks on Teenage Dream, this was inspired by Perry's love for her English fiancée, the comedian Russell Brand. The couple married in 2010 but divorced a little over a year later.
Perry told MTV News that this is her favorite song on Teenage Dream. "People are coming back and almost adopting it as their own anthem, and it's hard, I think, to write an anthem that's not cheesy," she explained. "And I hope that this could be something in that category. I hope this could be one of those things where it's like, 'Yeah, I want to put my fist up and feel proud and feel strong.'
But I also don't want to be cheesy," she added. "It's a fine line, and I think 'Firework' ... would be like the opus or my one song — if I had to pick a song to play — 'cause it has a great beat. But it also has a fantastic message."
The song's music video was filmed in Budapest, Hungary and finds Perry at the center of a merry outdoor dance party among fans. The clip's theme is personal acceptance and the singer dedicated it via Twitter to the It Gets Better campaign, which rallies against harassment in the LGBT community, "because everyone has the spark to be a FIREWORK."
This was director Dave Meyers first collaboration with Perry and he told MTV News that planning his treatment for the video was easy as he connected with the song. "I felt 'Firework' was very personal, and I was very drawn to that. We wanted to articulate the meaning of that song: what it means to be an underdog and have the courage, if you're on the outskirts of society, to be your own person."
Meyers added that both he and Perry wanted the clip to be real. "We were both very into the idea of getting away from Hollywood and featuring real people in the video," said the director. "So we featured real people; they weren't actors. Finding two gay guys in Budapest was a challenge, because it's not as accepted there as it is in West Hollywood. I found an actual, real couple.
The girl in the video isn't actually a sick girl, but we got her to shave her head, and, if you're an 11-year-old, that's a massive commitment. The people's commitment to it was really beautiful," he continued. "And then in the last scene, that wasn't 250 extras, that was 250 hardcore Katy Perry fans. Those people were jumping because they were loving life."
Meyers admitted that one aspect of the video isn't so real. The eye-catching shower of sparks that emits from the bodies of Perry and various characters throughout the clip are mostly special effects. "I tried to figure out a way to actually rig real fireworks to real people," he said, laughing, "but it ended up being a hazard. Nobody wanted me to get close to Katy with them."
When this blasted to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 dated December 16, 2010, Perry became the first female artist in 11 years to take three straight radio singles from an album to the top of the charts. Her previous two singles taken from Teenage Dream
that reached the summit were "California Gurls
" and the title track
. Monica was the previous female to reach the Hot 100 peak position with three consecutive radio cuts from one album, when title track "The Boy Is Mine
," featuring Brandy, "The First Night" and "Angel of Mine" all hit #1 between June 1998 and February 1999.
On the week that this song sizzled its way to #1, the Billboard Hot 100 included two other songs with explosive titles - Bruno Mars' "Grenade
," (#5) and Taio Cruz's "Dynamite
The song was written by Perry with Ester Dean, the Norwegian production team Stargate, and co-producer Sandy Vee. Dean, who is the songwriting talent behind hits by Rihanna ("Rude Boy
"), ("What's My Name?
,") and Usher ("Hot Tottie
"), told PopEater that she's always wanted to team up with the Californian star. "I've been wanting to collaborate with her since I heard 'I Kissed a Girl
.'" she said. "And I found out later that Katy wanted to work with me! So we did 'Firework' and 'Peacock
' and wrote the lyrics together on both songs."
Ester Dean told Billboard magazine how she collaborated with Perry on the writing of this track. "That was me and Katy [Perry] bouncing ideas back and forth," she said. "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. She knew what she wanted, so I was like, 'I'll follow you.'"
The visual won the video of the year award at the 2011 MTV VMAs. It also received a prize for its special effects.
Perry sang this on the Comedy Central Night of Too Many Stars special, which raised money for autism programs. Performing the song with her was an 11-year-old autistic girl named Jodi DiPiazza, who sang so well that the YouTube video quickly got millions of views. Perry tweeted: "Jodi is my firework."
During a discussion at the 2013 ASCAP "I Create Music" Expo in Los Angeles in April 2013, Perry described this as the most important song she'd written. The singer added that performing it with Jodi accompanying her on piano was "the most important performance of my career so far."
Perry ended her performance at the 2015 Super Bowl halftime show with this song, which she sang while airborne, gliding around the stadium on a platform designed to look like a shooting star. Of course, fireworks went off all around as the show came to a close.
Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel Storleer Eriksen, the pair behind Stargate, thought Perry's previous hits failed to showcase her vocal talent. Hermansen told Entertainment Weekly: "We also knew that she was a better singer than a lot of people thought at the time, and we wanted to highlight that. 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."
Most of the vocals were taken from the demo Perry recorded shortly after the song was written.
Sia Furler learned a lesson in songwriting from this one: stick with one theme, and write about being empowered. Sia's discography is filled with very personal and nuanced songs which are her means of expression, but aren't suitable for other artists looking for hits. She followed the "Firework" template on the David Guetta track "Titanium
," which became her first big hit for another artist (Sia's vocals were used on the track, but that wasn't her intention). Writing these kind of hits proved very easy for her - she could usually crank out lyrics and vocal melody in under an hour.