Everyone always talks about the career re-inventions of Madonna, Lady Gaga, and Cher. Whether it’s their musical styles, hair colors, outfits or even faces altogether, these women have constantly kept the general public on their toes. However, no one ever really brings up Katy Perry into that mix: a woman who went from a devoted Christian gospel singer, to a pop-rock singer-songwriter, and eventually to an electro power pop pin-up diva, writing some of the most commercially successful songs in music history along the way. A decade of hits and wigs later, Katy Perry was left pondering her next move. What would you do if you were one of the most successful female pop stars in the world amidst a career standpoint?
After months of supporting Hilary Clinton and re-branding herself as a “woke” celebrity, Perry released Chained to the Rhythm, a catchy piece of “purposeful pop,” as she liked to call it, commenting on a vapid, oversaturated music industry to which she’d previously mastered to her benefit, milking millions of cotton candy-coated dollars from American and international pockets. As someone who has been watching Katy Perry’s career closely over the past decade, I can tell you this: there was something really off about the Witness era, right from the very beginning. If there’s anything Katy Perry was good at, it was picking her lead singles. This is a woman who co-pioneered the age of easily consumed digital music for the masses. The essence of her career was built on the success of her singles. So, from the moment I heard Chained to the Rhythm, I knew that something was off. It was like if she had chosen Walking on Air as the lead single off of Prism. Granted, they are both great dance records in their own right, but in no way do they scream ‘lead single material’.
Bon Appétit, the second single off of Witness, saw Perry rehashing old gimmicks that once peddled her ahead of the pop game: lyrics filled with food as sexual metaphors and bright colors galore. It was like cosplay 2010 Katy Perry, but in the worst way ever. 138 million YouTube views later and I still do not see how the music video even made it out of the cutting room. She traded in “woke” Katy Perry for old Katy Perry; the lackluster result reeked of a marketing ploy. Watching her stumble through her words in interviews describing the so-called “message” of the song and video was just painful. Not surprisingly, the song tanked. During every live performance of the song, my friends and I collectively gaped with wide eyes truly asking ourselves “what the hell is she doing?” Something was just not right. She did not look comfortable anymore. She was suddenly begging for our attention, sort of like Miley in 2013, but with drastically less authenticity and no reason — a pop rebel without a cause.
So, how’s the rest of the album? Well, Witness is an ambitious, moody synth-pop record to be taken slowly and in small doses. It’s not bad. It’s not great. The overall vibe is reminiscent of Pearl, Spiritual and Who Am I Living For?, lyric-centric gems from Perry’s catalog, and personal fan favorites. Witness is not an album made of singles. In fact, all of the most commercially friendly songs have already been released. Gone are the fun, radio-centric hooks and choruses, probably due to the absence of singer-songwriter Bonnie McKee, Perry’s long-time collaborator and close friend, responsible for co-penning some of the pop star’s biggest hits. This is the kind of album that you will look down on at first, only to come and appreciate over time. But, unfortunately, that’s not how the general public receives pop music; it’s all about first impressions, and Witness is your shy, misunderstood date sitting across from you at the table hoping you won’t write them off just yet. I hope it does well for Perry’s sake. I really do. Tsunami is a bop, though.