Katy Perry’s Latest Release May Need More Than a Witness
Adam Flores | Senior Writer
Within the realm of pop music, the road can be smooth, yet unpredictable. Pop music’s quantum semantics can change at any moment. When change presents itself, can the artist and audience adapt and overcome?
“Witness,” the latest offering from pop/rock songstress Katy Perry, is a 15-track changeup echoing the current pop diva song formula. Its eponymous lead track, with meandering ‘90s house piano motifs, reflects the present-day, electropop house pulse combined with a hyper-produced, multi-layered vocal ambiance.
Moreover, this exposition sets the tone for a new kind of musical tension and anxiety throughout “Witness,” a bold compositional move for Perry who, after all, is not a complete stranger to or even afraid of spearheading tensions and anxieties in her music and sartorial wonders. Possessing a moody aesthetic with a focus on subtle nuances, the new album is a different direction and sound for the sapphic, “I Kissed a Girl” singer.
While finding her place now within the EDM soundscape, Perry’s daring genre switch emulates the genre switch Taylor Swift made almost three years ago with “1989.” “Witness” strives to be a standout effort but often hints at finding itself blending in with the rest of today’s pop diva sociocultural voice, failing in usurping Perry’s own anthem-roarer throne of the imperious pop universe.
Released on June 9, “Witness,” Perry’s fifth and highly anticipated studio album, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, yet quickly dropped off to No. 13 the following week. With the hit lead single “Chained to the Rhythm (feat. Skip Marley)” and subsequent singles “Bon Appétit (feat. Migos),” “Swish Swish (feat. Nicki Minaj)” and “Save As Draft” all released earlier this year in anticipation of the “Witness” collective, Perry seems to be trying to break the glass ceiling with a new sonic voice, but it is already a common voice today among the latest collective of female pop artists.
EDM and electropop’s attractiveness and popularity is an infectious color within pop music. Perry may feel she is taking a different path leading the way for female pop artists while riding on the coattails of her own rock and pop sensibilities and successes.
However, even with classical songbird Jackie Evancho’s recent 5-track EP pop crossover release entering the pop diva game, and an anticipated Swift release later this year, Perry demonstrates limited, original vision in her new music. “Witness,” overall, should have brought a new hue to the already rich feminist palette of current female pop tension and anxiety.
Perry covers different themes such as the perpetuating, vexing stereotypes of strong women within “Hey Hey Hey” along with the sonically charged “Power,” which explores self-empowerment and a personal fight for control. The track incites with an over-compressed vocal urgency reminiscent of a late ‘80s Jane Child arrangement, complete with various recurring samples and all the luscious, fat analog synth textures ‘80s pop had to offer.
The electro-R&B-induced “Déjà Vu” tells the “Groundhog Day” story of a dead-end relationship and wanting to be free. “Witness” flows seamlessly from track to track with an emotionally charged movement with little surprise in its aural elements and lyrical disposition.
For Perry, change is a trait she embraces, commands and conquers. Born Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson, she first entered the music world as a gospel singer under her birth name with 2001’s “Katy Hudson.” Commercially unsuccessful, she briefly studied Italian opera in her hometown of Santa Barbara, California.
Turning to secular music and further honing her songwriting chops within Nashville with Steve Thomas and Jennifer Knapp, the purgatoric state of refinement in her musical skill set resulted in the 2008 release, “One of the Boys,” much to the chagrin of her born-again Christian parents, Maurice and Mary Hudson, both Pentecostal pastors.
Garnering numerous awards and accolades since along with selling over 100 million records globally, Perry has embraced pop music’s mantra boldly setting forth new directions in the industry with her musical karma. “Witness” opens yet another new chapter in her message presentation. It falls short, however, of being anthemic.
“Witness” pervades with a feminist voice, yet echoes its themes already present in the female pop music spectrum. An album that excels in production and sonic clarity, Katy Perry has traded away her signature catchy pop/rock hooks for lush, synth soundscapes possessing plenty of EDM drive. A fresh set of tracks in her growing discography, current fans expecting her roaring vocal prowess may be caught off-guard. With this in mind, it is sure to gain a new audience while blending into the ever-changing expanse of popular music.