Katy Perry is back with a new full-length LP, Witness. After a four year break since PRISM and the wildly successful Prismatic World Tour, Perry finds her sound at a bit of a crossroads on her new project.
Witness is very much an exploration of new styles while still incorporating elements from all of Perry’s past works—unfortunately, the outcome doesn’t live up to the hype. The album is a lengthy one, coming in at fifteen tracks. The opener and title track kick off the album on an upbeat, positive note, introducing the tone for what’s to come – at least for some of the record. “Hey Hey Hey,” the second track, is a standout on the record. Its empowering, feminist message includes the quirky, funny line “Got my own cha-ching, in my chubby little wallet” referring to Perry making her own money and not relying on a man. It’s a memorable song among many that just, well, aren’t.
The record takes a dip in quality after the first two songs, moving into mediocre dance-influenced territory on “Déjà Vu” and “Roulette.” That being said, these will lend well to club settings and remixes, especially “Déjà Vu” which has grown on me quite a bit since the first listen. “Swish Swish” is among this group, and was chosen as a promo single before the record came out. It’s a fierce diss track that was oddly yet perfectly complimented by Perry’s SNL performance of the song that included a stage full of Drag Queens.
Dance tracks aside, Perry shows her powerhouse vocals and pop-rock sense on “Power.” The grainy, raw production on this hard-hitting track showcases Perry’s voice the best on the whole album, and you can hear her unmistakable tone throughout. It partly comes off as a cleaned up demo which makes for a very cool sound. It’s arguably the best song on the whole album, and hard to forget after a few listens. Rock influence and angst suits Perry nicely; let’s hope she runs with this on later projects.
After the bland throwaway track “Mind Maze” comes the stunning “Miss You More.” Perry sounds her most genuine and heartfelt here, singing, “so strange you know all my secrets, please keep them safe, and darling you know that I’ll do the same.” The sound and lyrics on this track are reminiscent of Perry’s 2013 album Prism, with the relatively sad subject matter, and vocals that are warm and meaningful. It’s a gorgeous track that portrays a situation that so many have gone through and will be able to relate to.
The lead single, “Chained to the Rhythm,” is pop gold. It’s the smash hit, get-up-and-dance kind of pop song that could have easily been found on Perry’s 2010 masterpiece Teenage Dream. But it’s more evolved and grown up, with lyrics Perry calls “purposeful pop.” She has a strong message of resistance to the never-ending routine of our daily lives, and how we should speak up and do something rather than sit back. “Are we tone deaf? Keep sweeping it under the mat. Thought we could do better than that, I know we can,” she sings. It’s smart, disco-infused pop that creeps into your head and doesn’t leave. This is sure to be a spectacle on Perry’s upcoming tour, and hopefully will be a contender for a long overdue Grammy – it’s that good. So good that Perry should have stayed more in the disco pop lane for the entirety of the record, but that unfortunately isn’t the case.
“Bon Appétit” was also released as a single (with an accompanying music video), and while this one is nothing revolutionary for Perry, its sharp, sexy sound makes up for its cringe-worthy lyrics. Even controversial rap group Migos add to it with their verse; they slow it down and provide a nice contrast to the heavily upbeat verses and chorus. The songs “Tsunami” and “Bigger than Me” are the weakest tracks on the record, and could have been left off the project altogether.
Ending the album on a solid note are three songs which somewhat make up for the mediocre filler tracks. “Pendulum” is without a doubt one of the best; it has the same energy and fire behind it as “Chained to the Rhythm,” and is strong in all aspects – vocals, melody, and production. It would fare well as the next radio single for Perry, as it’s powerful both in sound and in message. “Life’s a pendulum, it all comes back around,” she sings. The lyrics aren’t genius, but they are profound enough for a hit pop song.
“Save as Draft” and “Into Me You See” are two really introspective, deeper songs that close out the album nicely. Both have similarities to the sound that was heard on PRISM, showing that Perry is still staying true to a sound she is comfortable with and does well.
Perry should have kept the theme and genre for this album a bit more consistent, because she’s ended up with an album that’s all over the place. The tracks don’t always flow well from one to the next, almost as if the order was thrown together last minute with little thought. But there is a possibility this album is reflecting her life at the moment – a little inconsistent.
A bit of every previous album Perry has done can be heard throughout this project; the ethereal and reflective nature from PRISM, the chart-topping bubblegum dance pop from Teenage Dream, and the quirky, playful sound of One of the Boys. The problem is, mixing all of these eras isn’t the answer for a cohesive album. It just shows that sticking to one concept, and having solid, meaningful song writing is the path that Perry needs to head down if she wants to redeem herself from this jumbled mix of songs.
Entering your thirties as one of the biggest pop stars in the world would be challenging, as Perry is probably experiencing a mix of emotions and is most likely at a crossroads of whether to keep or shed the persona that she’s built up until this point. It would be beyond difficult to know that you made one of the biggest, most successful albums of the 2010s (Teenage Dream), and have to constantly live up to the hype and success that was seen by that project. Teenage Dream was a pop phenomenon, and still holds up nearly seven years after its release. It’s an understatement to say that it would be a struggle for Perry to create something as good or better than that album in her lifetime, but that doesn’t excuse making an album that is too long and doesn’t know what it wants to be.
At this point in her career, Perry is in need of a shift in focus and style. As pop stars have done time and time again, a transition needs to take place. Madonna, for example, has reinvented her sound, style, and persona throughout her career, constantly making sure she is evolving yet staying true to who she is in the moment. Perry needs to do the same, because the music she’s making currently is partially evolved, partially stuck behind.
It will be interesting to see the Witness world tour take shape, and the performances that follow this release. Witness isn’t necessarily a bad album – it’s a decent record that will see success for Perry, but there’s more to be discovered from her. If she takes the new disco-infused sound heard on songs like “Chained to the Rhythm,” and the rock influence found on “Power,” she may have something spectacular on her hands in the future.
Grade: B –
“Chained to the Rhythm”
“Hey Hey Hey”
“Miss You More”
(Feature Image: Capitol)