Monday 12 June 2017

Katy Perry - Witness

Katy Perry - Witness

For all her girl next door appeal, Katy Perry has always been something of a cartoonish hyper popstar. She's had a string of hits before and after California Gurls, but for a lot of us the quintessential image of her remains blue hair, cake breasts, singing to a jelly baby.

Now, in true clichéd form, Perry wishes to be taken more seriously. With Slave To The Rhythm, the lead single from 'Witness' written in the wake of Trump's presidential victory, she coined the phrase "purposeful pop". "So comfortable we're living in a bubble...we cannot see the trouble," she sings, the fizzy-pop production laced with a more grave political message.

Yet that message cannot be sustained across 'Witness'. Musically it certainly has a darker tone than her past material, but it's an album that's lacking in hit singles. It's too hit and miss in its attempts to entertain - and isn't that the true purpose of pop?

Nineties house music has provided the biggest musical influence. This comes through in the deliciously bubbling disco of Déjà Vu, the driving four-to-the-floor beats of Swish Swish, and the syncopated bass of Roulette. There's a sense of tense anxiety in the electro production too that often matches the self-reflection of the lyrics: the crazed drums and saxophone of Power, the emptiness of Mind Maze, or the dark sensuality of Tsunami. Add to that tinges of trap and hip-hop, as well as features from Nicki Minaj, Migos and Skip Marley, and 'Witness' becomes Perry's most sonically experimental album to date, though the general lack of hooks means it also borders on forgettable.

You could argue there's black cultural appropriation here as she courts a 'cooler' audience, something she's been accused of in the past. If anything, though, the inclusion of the homophobic rap group Migos on Bon Appétit has brought her more politics than she bargained for.

Her own proper attempts at bringing purpose to her music often fall flat. For all its sexual liberation, Bon Appétit is little more than an oral sex metaphor ("got me spread like a buffet"), though that's just the appetiser to Tsunami ("don't be scared to dive in deep and start a tsunami"). Swish Swish is meant to be a dismissal of her haters, but in the context of her career it just comes off as a petty kiss-off to Taylor Swift. Elsewhere, Hey Hey Hey is a power anthem for women full of clichéd similes ("you think that I am fragile like a Fabergé"), Roulette explores the dangers of a sexual encounter, and Bigger Than Me sees her reflecting on her position in the world. These tracks, like most of the album, sound too similar to one another in an overly long tracklist full of filler.

Really the idea of "purposeful pop" seems to be Perry reflecting on her own sense of purpose. It's in her ballads that she becomes most pensive and she delivers them well - something she rarely gets credit for. Miss You More is a yearning, wistful track that sees her longing for a past lover, repeating "I miss you more than I loved you" in the chorus while a guitar later wails for good measure. On Save As Draft she considers a breakup in the digital age, while Into Me You See is a clever play on intimacy. Clearly there's a lot of personal catharsis at play in these tracks - more so than revolutionary politics, it seems this was the real purpose of 'Witness'.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Déjà Vu
* Power
* Tsunami

Listen: 'Witness' is out now.