Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’: A VMA Cheat Sheet

Leading nominee got serious in the clip about staying true to yourself.

We all know that [artist id="3274550"]Katy Perry[/artist]‘s videos are a blast in a glass. But the most-nominated artist at the 2011 VMAs got serious for four minutes this year, and it helped cap a record-breaking run and made for one of the most visually arresting and inspirational clips of the year.

Perry is rolling into Sunday’s show with nine nominations, including Video of the Year for “Firework,” which is also nominated in the new Best Video With a Message category.

The California Gurl knew she wanted to make a very special clip for her favorite track from the smash Teenage Dream album , so she hooked up with veteran video director Dave Meyers (Pink, Kelly Clarkson, T.I.) on the project. And luckily for her, they were totally on the same page.

Meyers was looking to “play with [her] image a bit … sort of demystify the candy-colored pop icon that she’s become.” He said he had to switch gears a bit, though, when the more toned-down “Teenage Dream” video came out. But with a bit of tweaking, he dug deep into the very personal song’s message and came up with a new vision that Katy was totally onboard with. “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,” he said.

Packing off to Budapest, Meyers stationed Perry on the top of a building downtown and cast unknown, real teens in the clip — which has been viewed more than 226 million times on YouTube — to tell a variety of stories, from a boy in a physically abusive home to a girl who feels like a stranger in her own skin, a same-sex couple sharing a kiss and a teen suffering from cancer. All the while, Perry urges them to see the beauty inside, as her love, literally, explodes from her chest in a hail of sparks.

In the days leading up to the “Firework” premiere, Perry dedicated the video to the “It Gets Better” campaign, and she was thrilled that in the weeks following its release, the clip took on a life of its own, as a beacon of hope for everyone who’s battled bullies or struggled to find themselves.

“I think that’s why I wrote it, is because I really believe in people and I believe that people have a spark to be a firework,” she told MTV News. “It’s just up to them, and a lot of times it’s only us that’s standing in the way of reaching our goals, fulfilling our destinies, being the best version of who we possibly can be, so that’s why I wrote it.”

With fireworks bursting from her chest, Katy’s call to power inspires the teens to burst with their own multicolored explosions of self-confidence and empowerment, providing a stunning, candy-colored finale in which more than 250 kids light up the sky thanks to their liberation from bad feelings.

The 28th annual MTV Video Music Awards will air live Sunday from Los Angeles at 9 p.m. ET/PT, following the Selena Gomez-hosted pre-show at 8. See the list of nominees, revisit last year’s highlights and vote for Best New Artist by visiting VMA.MTV.com.

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