Armed with cryptic, culinary visuals, a short-back-and-sides à la Miley Cyrus circa-2013, and a sudden penchant for social awareness and intense wokeness, Katy Perry has shifted from a pop star content with scaling charts across the globe to one with depth and consciousness. Her last album Prism barely escaped flop status, salvaged by the success of ‘Roar’, so her latest record Witness offered the chance to improve on her algorithms for pop success or reevaluate her stance and explore the kind of meaningful territory that the likes of Beyonce and Lorde are thriving in.
Coming in at 15 tracks, Perry’s latest album fails to stray far enough from pop to give it the ‘purpose’ she is so desperately striving for. Witness doesn’t work as a pop album either; the hooks don’t land despite the often divine touch of super producer Max Martin. But in defence of the usually reliable Martin, creating a pop album with relevance needs a narrative with weight- an aspect Perry is severely lacking on Witness. Perry’s songs are full of cliches and archaic idioms, making it very difficult for listeners to take her seriously. Besides the cringe-worthy mention of ‘subtweeting’ on ‘Save As Draft’, a track about how technology meddles in our relationships, Perry recycles at least four dead phrases multiple times throughout the song. It muddles the vision, mistaking actual complexity with monotony.
The actual pop music that Perry offers isn’t too bad. Lead single ‘Chained to the Rhythm’ is mildly whiny and generic in its zombified premise, but the disco-lite production is perfectly perfumed. Penultimate track ‘Pendulum’, like ‘Save As Draft’, could do with a couple of submissions to Turnitin, but the dazzling union of laser beam synths and gospel chorus is uplifting enough to allow the narrative to be overlooked. But if Perry is attempting to establish a concept about social awareness, push lyrical flourish and encourage empowerment, ‘Swish Swish’, a predictable play on tropical house tropes and a swipe at her rival Taylor Swift, seems counter-intuitive.
These notions that Perry tries to place at the forefront of her album’s thematic structure need power behind them as well. On Witness, the production is too unassertive to develop that basic emotional response from her listener. On top of that, Perry’s track record does little to convince us that Witness is a legitimate turning point in terms of her perspective- let’s not forget that this is the same Katy Perry who squirted cream from her breasts in the video for ‘California Gurls’. Whether you choose to believe that Perry is genuine in her newfound approach or not is up to you. But even if you are a devout fan of edgy, buzzcut Katy, Witness reveals a pop artist struggling to adapt to changing trends, clinging on to a hastily-constructed concept. It’ll be interesting to see if Perry can recover from this one.