The pop veteran returned two weeks ago with a propulsive single that tells a sticky love story in the simplest terms: "Thought it was done, but I guess it's never really over." As Zedd's production tick-tocks along, she belts an explosion of a chorus, then tries to sort out her feelings with a tongue-twisting confession that proves healing is easier said than done. That's illustrated in the therapy-themed music video, in which Perry attempts a clean slate at a utopian retreat where hearts are gardened like flowers and meadows double as dance floors.
"I wanted to take it in a very different direction than everyone else would be expecting of her," director Philippa Price told MTV News. "I thought, how can I show what you go through in heartbreak in a very visual way?"
Price has helmed videos for artists like St. Vincent and BANKS, and is also a key creative collaborator for Rihanna's SAVAGExFENTY lingerie line. She says she "always wanted to work with Katy," and "Never Really Over" presented an opportunity for the director to bring her signature surrealist style to her most mainstream project yet.
"Even though it's a super pop song, it's about something that I think everyone can relate to: that feeling post-breakup when you think you're over someone and then you see them or you hear their name and you crumble again," Price said of the video's concept. "I wanted to create this world that is its own world, but [also] a fantasy everyone could see themselves going to."
They shot the video in just two days at the sprawling King Gillette Ranch in Malibu, California, which was the retirement home of the razor kingpin himself. There was, Price says, a cult that lived there in the '70s, which made it an apt backdrop for "Never Really Over" — in it, Perry explores new-age treatments to cure her broken heart that aren't entirely un-cult-like. Below, Price breaks down some of the video's key elements and most memorable scenes, including that cryptic final shot.
Katy made her love permanent
Early on in the vid, we see a tattoo on the inside of Perry's hand: one-half of a heart with the word "you" in the middle. The other half is inked on the singer's fictional ex, who we see first in a brief flashback, and then in the video's last scene (more on that later).
"[Perry] really wanted this boyfriend disconnection moment to happen, but I was like, we can't, because no one's going to know it's your boyfriend unless we've shown this narrative of him being your boyfriend," Price explained. Their solution? "My ex-boyfriend and I have these broken heart tattoos on our hands that we used for the video so that you could recognize that it was her ex." The only difference is that Price and her ex's tattoos have the words "fuck" and "you," but "that wasn't right for the video," she laughed.
(Bonus fun fact: On the night of the video's premiere, KP did get a real tattoo inspired by the one in the video!)
That weird silver tube was a Home Depot find fashioned into a "reconnection" tool
In a couple blink-and-you'll-miss-it shots, we see two people whose heads are concealed by a flexible aluminum duct connecting them. Price explained, "That comes from one of my favorite places for inspiration called The Home Depot. Originally, I was just going to have it on their arms connecting them, and then I put it on their heads and it looked really awesome."
She continued, "I created all of these apparatuses and styling pieces where it connected to people, and they were doing different aerobics-y exercises and repetitive movements, as if these were camp activities where you're just learning to connect, or you're learning to re-connect, as you go through this heartbreak reform."
Katy drank her new heart right up
Another one of those "camp activities" that Perry takes part in is the nurturing and gardening of her heart. Price explained, "The camp is a program, and there's all these daily activities, but what is the long-term goal that you reach? I thought that you regrow your heart, and you water your heart with your tears.
"There's this place in France where they grow pears on trees and they put the glass bottles over the pears while they're tiny so that the pears grow inside the bottles," the director continued. "Then they ferment the pear and it turns into this alcohol with this giant pear in the middle. I was like, we could maybe do something like that with a heart, and at the end, you drink your new heart at this kind of ayahuasca ceremony."
Those acupuncture needles were 100 percent real
Yes, those are real needles piercing Perry's skin. "That was actually Katy's idea the night before we shot," Price revealed. "She was getting acupuncture and she sent me a video at, like, 3 a.m. with needles in her face, being like, 'What if we do this for the video?'"
To "make them pretty," Price and her team stuck tiny rhinestones on the end of the needles, and Perry's real acupuncturist came to the set and even suggested doing another scene with "cupping," a type of therapy that involves placing cups (in this case, heart-shaped ones) on the skin to create suction and facilitate blood flow. "I don't think anyone has ever done cupping or acupuncture in a video," Price laughed. "Everyone was leaving, the crew was wrapped, and it was one of those magical add-on, last-minute shots that kind of made the video."
They kept things quirky and improv-friendly
"A lot" of Perry's movements were improvised, and were conceived out of conversations Price had with the singer about conveying her feelings through gesture and movement, "rather than a literal narrative, which she usually has in her videos." That approach resulted in some of the vid's most memorable moments, like Perry squishing her mouth against a glass door and sliding down; it was a scene that capitalized on her "weirdness and quirkiness," Price said.
"We did all of these things where I was like, you know, when you're a little kid and you're so excited that all your muscles tense? OK, let's do a performance like that," the director explained. "She got really into it, and that slide down the window was improvised as we were doing it. I definitely wanted this to have a more emotional tone, but keep this funny, quirky humor throughout."
Gender-fluid fashion is everywhere
Fashion and style are crucial elements of much of Price's work, and "Never Really Over" was no exception. Though they used fashion from the '70s as loose inspiration, she wanted the aesthetic to be "not at all like the '70s you would expect." She clarified, "I wanted this world to really exist in its own reality. We came up with a color palette, and there were themes throughout — hearts was one, and being connected to someone else is another."
They also aimed for "complete gender fluidity" with the style; you see women wearing pants, men wearing dresses, and everything in between. "We wanted it to feel culty — like some element of uniformity — but also [have] everyone be their own individual," Price said.
The visual speaks to Katy's own personal growth
The ascendant single is presumably the first taste of Perry's upcoming fifth album, and while she hasn't fully unpacked the song's inspiration, Price suggested that it's a more personal offering from the pop star.
"I can't speak to the meaning behind the song for her, but I do know that this video was quite personal," she said. "I think she loved the concept behind the video because she seems to be really be working on healing, and she definitely put a lot of personal experience into this world, like with the acupuncture. I think that she really got into it because there's a lot of things that she's working on personally that she was able to channel into this world."
About that ending...
In the final scene, Perry walks away from the camp, her bag in hand and her heart presumably mended. But when she spots her ex in a van driving toward the camp — we know it's him because of the aforementioned tattoo — it seems all that therapy may have been for nothing.
"She's leaving the camp, she's free, she's completed the final ceremony, and we've had this amazing moment in the field where it feels like she's healed of her heartbreak," Price said of her interpretation of the shot. "She sees her ex is one of the passengers in the van, so she runs to him but we don't know what happens. It's basically the message of, 'it's never really over!'"