05/09/2011 07:03 am ET Updated Jul 08, 2011

Katy Perry's 'Firework' -- What Do 177 Million Views on YouTube Mean?

176,758,000 views on YouTube.

That's the population of Pakistan, the sixth largest country in the world.

That massive number makes "Firework," by Katy Perry, the tenth most popular video in the history of YouTube. [Number One: Justin Bieber, at 507 million. Number Two: Lady Gaga, at 364 million.]

And although the song was released in October of 2010, its numbers keep growing --- despite the insistence of our nine-year-old that "'Firework' is sooo four months ago."

What is it with this video?

I don't think it's the music, though it's a catchy tune and Perry, whose vocal range is not vast, is a tireless, personable performer. And I don't think it's her rabid fan base, which showed up around the release of "I Kissed a Girl" and made the first two singles from this album, "Teenage Dream," into number one hits. [To buy the download of "Firework" for 69 cents, click here. For the CD of "Teenage Dream," click here.]

I think it's something bigger.

On one side: horrifying unemployment numbers, the media's near-total lack of interest in unemployment and bankruptcies and foreclosures.

On the other: an inspirational message from someone with cred.

The result of that collision isn't that 175 million people went to YouTube the way others would go to church. We're not talking about 175 million people here --- more likely, we're looking at a much smaller number, with each viewer punching up "Firework" many times. And why? It's not that these viewers can't afford the hardware --- stripped-down iPods are cheap --- it's that they don't want just to hear the song.

They want to see the video.

And so they go to YouTube and seek "Firework" out, again and again and again.

Some of these viewers are little kids. But more, I'd bet, are older teens, the age group mostly likely to feel hopeless --- especially if what's happening around them reinforces their despair.

Before I pull up some stats to support this thesis, let's consider the song and the video.

The song is --- no ambiguity about it --- addressed to losers. It starts like this:

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting through the wind
Wanting to start again

Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
Like a house of cards
One blow from caving in

Do you ever feel already buried deep
Six feet under scream
But no one seems to hear a thing

Well, Katy Perry's having none of that negativity. Here's what follows:

Do you know that there's still a chance for you
Cause there's a spark in you

You just gotta ignite the light
And let it shine
Just own the night
Like the Fourth of July

Cause baby you're a firework
Come on show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh!"
As you shoot across the sky

Now consider the visuals.

Recorded in Budapest --- where 38,000 people responded to a casting call --- the central image of the video is the sparkling, fireworks-like light that streams from Katy's chest. Those "fireworks" go viral, and fast, as others come to terms with the light released by their now-courageous souls:

--- At a pool party, a chubby girl summons the courage to strip down to her bathing suit and jumps into the pool.

--- A bald leukemia patient wanders the hallway of a hospital. She sees a pregnant woman, about to give birth, sparkling from her stomach. Inspired, she walks --- confidently --- onto the street.

--- A young magician, confronted by a gang of thugs who were trying to rob him, produces a flock of white pigeons and escapes.

--- Fighting parents are nothing new to their son, but they traumatize his little sister. This time the boy jumps up and pushes his parents apart.

--- A shy young man has a crush. He gets over his shyness, goes over to him and gives him a kiss.

--- And then what seems like all of Budapest dances, their love and self-regard lighting up the night, and as these scenes flash before us, Katy Perry sings:

Maybe the reason why all the doors are closed
So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road
Like a lightning bolt, your heart will blow
And when it's time, you'll know

"Firework" was, on the MuchMusic list, the most popular video of 2010 --- not shabby for a video that wasn't released until October 28. For the week ending January 8, 2011, American downloads of "Firework" hit 509,000 --- the second highest ever. But it was the YouTube numbers that exploded in the months since January, and here, I'd suggest, is why:


In 25 states, the average teen unemployment rates are above 25 percent (January, 2011 figures). As for the national unemployment rate: it rose slightly in April to 9.0%. About 13.7 million workers are currently unemployed. If we count those who are long-term unemployed or no longer look for work, we could be talking about an unemployment rate of 15% --- the same rate as 1931, in the early stages of the Great Depression.

Mortgage lenders repossessed one million homes in 2010. This year, more than 5 million Americans are at least two months behind on their mortgage payments, putting us on pace for a record high foreclosure rate --- 1.2 million foreclosures.

Credit card debt hit $800.5 billion on December 31, an increase of $2.3 billion in a month. This marked the first increase since August 2008, just before Wall Street melted down.

Bleak. And bleaker for the young, who are generationly inclined to believe they're unseen, marginalized non-entities. Which they are --- if you've had the pleasure of listening to the inane policy debate in Washington and on the talk shows, you know that the only "important" issues are the national debt, Social Security and medical costs. In other words: how to cut more services from those who need them most. The young? The poor? The hungry? The unemployed? Maybe when they hire lobbyists, we'll remember they exist.

Can a song make you hold on when everything around you sucks? Think back. It happened for you, all those years ago --- that song you played again and again. And now it happens for another generation. So, yeah, if I were suffering and I had the strength not to seek out booze or drugs to dull the pain, I'd crank up my hand-me-down Dell and watch "Firework." And I'd do it more than once, because from January until now, not a damn thing has changed.

Wait a month or two, then look. By then, "Firework" will probably top 200 million YouTube viewings. When it does, some smart cause should give an award to Katy Perry for offering up an genuine anthem for the lost in a time when all the smart money could care less.

[Cross-posted from]