Katy Perry’s “Swish, Swish”: A Breakdown of the Song’s Many References and Influences (and Taylor Swift Digs)

Katy Perry’s “Swish, Swish,” her likely retort to Taylor Swift, is an insane mashup of other songs and varied cultural references.


Katy Perry‘s latest single “Swish, Swish,” a collaboration with Nicki Minaj, hit the internet like a bomb this morning. The main talking point: it’s Perry’s long awaited retort to Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood,” and a continuation of a long-simmering feud between the two pop stars that neither has confirmed publicly, but is undeniably a thing. Indeed, little parts of the word salad Perry sputtered when Rolling Stone asked her point blank if she thought “Blood” was about her and if she had a reply track waiting are echoed in the song’s lyrics.

Yet, there’s a whole lot more going on with the particular track. Look a bit deeper and the whole thing bursts open like a piñata filled with far flung references both lyrical and musical. The backing track itself (produced by Noah “Mailbox” Passovoy, PJ “Promnite” Sledge and Duke Dumont) is pieced together, in part, from elements of three other songs. The lyrics meanwhile include a hodgepodge of slang and hashtag-happy phrases assembled from sources as varied as Buddha to Whitney Houston to The Godfather.

We realize this all even before Nicki Minaj hops on the track and drags her own headline-making feud — the one with Remy Ma — into the affair. It’s less an organically created song, as it is some sort of lab creation out of an attempted hit factory. There’s so much going on here in fact that we thought it deserved an in depth breakdown.

Basketball – Probably just because Swift’s name sounds like “Swish” (the sound of a basketball going through the hoop without touching the rhyme) the track is forced full of NBA references.

Drag Queens – The single’s artwork includes a receipt for a single “tea,” a reference to spilling the truth (or gossip). Surprisingly, no one on the internet seems to have built a conclusive case into where the phrase originated, but it’s most commonly associated with black drag queens (though, unlike so many drag phrases that seem to be everywhere right now, this one isn’t from Paris is Burning, and likely has more Southern origins). In any case, the phrase seems to have bubbled up into the mainstream thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race and really exploded with those memes involving Kermit the Frog unsuccessfully minding his business.

Eastern Religions – Western culture has a habit of just jacking thing from Eastern Religions and completely forgetting where we got them from. (Yoga, for example.) So it is worth pointing out that the idea of “karma,” referenced in both the lyrics and the single artwork, is indeed a central tenant of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Taoism.

Ferragamo – In case you’re wondering, the pink Ferragamo sliders Nicki references are available for $195. $195.

The Godfather ****- Of course the NBA is full of references to “kissing the rings,” as in championship rings, but the pop cultural origin of the idea of kissing a ring to show respects stems from The Godfather trilogy.

Jay-Z – As it turns out neither Charlie Sheen nor Donald Trump were not the first people obsessed with the idea of “winning.” The phrase “stay winning,” employed her by Perry, has been a part of the hip-hop lexicon for decades. The earliest notable example we can find of the phrase is in Jay-Z’s 1997 track “Who U With II.” While it’s possible that the phrase dates back even longer, we’ll just let Jay-Z stand in as a symbol for all of hip-hop.

Maya Jane Coles – There’s no denying this song has a great bass line. Of course, it’s so great it’s been used before, ironically, on Nicki Minaj’s own song “Truffle Butter.” The real origin of the riff, however, is British DJ and dance music producer Maya Jane Coles’ 2010 underground hit “Who They Say.” Sampling English dance hits from the era in mainstream music seems to be a bit of a trend right now. See Drake’s massive hit “One Dance,” which was little more than Drake rearranging and jumping on Kyla’s 2008 track “Do You Mind.”

Remy Ma – Minaj, of course, once had her own brief dustup with Swift, but they’ve since made up and she seems to keep her lyrics focused on her own more current feud with Remy.

“Roar” – Perry makes at least one self reference by comparing herself to a Tiger (one who doesn’t lose sleep over the opinion of sheep… or shellfish for some reason). The lines curbed from an old adverb that usually employs “lions” as the big cat, but Perry’s video for “Roar” prominently features tigers, so there’s that.

Roland Clark and Dj Le Roi – Back in 2000 Atlanta-based House producer and songwriter Roland Clark released his track “I Get Deep.” While not a major hit in its own right, Clark’s spoken word monologue has been sampled numerous times by other producers, must notable on Fatboy Slim’s “Star 69.” Perry and her producers seems to have discovered it in Swedish producer DJ Le Roi’s 2008 remix of the original “I Get Deeper,” because the track also curbs some musical elements from the version.

Taylor Swift – For more information please see every other entertainment website on the internet today.

Whitney Houston – Both the lyrics and cover art reference the notion of “receipts,” meaning, in slang terms, evidence to back up any accusations. Luckily, we know exactly where that came from: Whitney Houston’s 2002 infamous interview with Diane Sawyer, which is actually sort of a bleak point of reference but one that has taken on its own life on the internet.

Cornucopia of influences aside, this isn’t to say that the song is bad. The bass line alone means we wouldn’t necessarily be mad at hearing it all summer, and at least it means that both Coles and Clark get some hefty receipts (in the literal sense) themselves.

Related: Calvin Harris and Katy Perry Collaborate on New Song

Katy Perry: America’s Biggest Export Goes Glam: