By DIEGO CAGARA
Katy Perry has long seemed to be on an endless ascending roller coaster, yanking a plethora of awards, lodging eight number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100, providing rambunctious music videos and wearing increasingly outlandish outfits. But could her latest album, “Witness,” released on June 9, be her coda?
Its pre-release had been teased with awkward appetizers since its first three singles all fail to really make an impact on popular culture, something that Perry’s past singles typically excel at. Lead single “Chained to the Rhythm” felt like it was met with a lower-than-expected turnout despite its political and eye-opening message, only peaking at number four on the Hot 100, the first time a lead single of hers failed to hit the top spot. After announcing in February that “Witness” would be a “purposeful pop” album, this confident-sounding disclaimer is seemingly abandoned when the next two singles, “Bon Appétit”—this collaboration with hip hop group Migos being obsessed with literally cheesy and sexualized food metaphors—and “Swish Swish”—a more promising partnership with rapper Nicki Minaj about shady insults—both have merely charted outside the Top 40.
Beginning with the album’s title song, a mellow rattling permeates this entry, compact with a catchy chorus and a haunting bridge, being one of the many songs that prominent producer Max Martin helped contribute for the album. Without truly getting too upbeat, it was a satisfying introduction for the album, ending with whistles, leading the listener straight into “Hey Hey Hey.” This sounds slightly harsher and bolder, Perry singing about perception as she speaks out against people who view her as “fragile like a Fabergé” or “a little baby.” Despite its empowering message, the song can’t help but feel repetitive and glacial in pace, possibly making one wish there was a fast-forward button.
“Roulette” begins with a 1980s-esque instrumental, conjuring up ideas for a potential music video where Perry is driving down a highway in the night, with the windows down and at full speed. It is reminiscent of English synth-pop act La Roux’s songs, “Bulletproof” and the Grammy-nominated “In For the Kill.” Its lyrics deal with wanting to let go of one’s uptight lifestyle and taking risks with a lover instead. The album’s third single and fourth track is “Swish Swish,” a collaboration with Nicki Minaj which oozes insults and slams towards an unknown hater. Viewed as a diss track, it alludes to the public feud between Perry and fellow pop singer Taylor Swift. Perry ironically is inferior here as Minaj dominates with her infectious verses like “Swish swish, aww, my haters is obsessed” and “All that fake love you showin’ couldn’t even disguise you.”
“Déjà Vu” sounds like a mid-tempo disco number, concerning how her lover is insensitive, boring and lacking any passion. But like its message, this song overstays its welcome, perfectly summed up with the lyric, “I think we’re running on a loop.” It also is an example of one of Perry’s signature patterns where Perry uses seemingly random and peculiar similes in her lyrics, epitomized by “Your words are like Chinese water torture.” The next entry, “Power” is yet another empowering letter to the listener, Perry singing about how important it is to put oneself first and practice self-confidence. Adorned with a gorgeous electronic production by British musician Jack Garratt, one can feel charged up from its lyrics like “You can’t clip my wings, can’t wilt my flowers / Stole my time but I make up the hours.”
“Mind Maze” is a disenchanting experience as it is filled with AutoTune and processed vocals, sounding unoriginal and glacial simultaneously. Its universal lyrics, concerning self-doubt, partially make up for it though. “Miss You More” switches gears, being a soaring ballad about a past relationship or crush which Perry believes would not have worked out anyways, and yet she still misses him: “We were a match, but not a fit / We were a dream, unrealistic / We didn’t lose, we didn’t win.” This heartfelt song showcases how Perry is willing to expose her more vulnerable side, making it a present worth cherishing.
The familiar “Chained to the Rhythm” which features Jamaican singer Skip Marley, grandson of Bob Marley, then floods one’s ears. Its lyrics are like a speech about how the public needs to wake up and be aware of the looming dangers around them—corrupt politicians, complacency, the unfortunately genuine threat of war. One of the album’s highlights is “Tsunami” in which Perry beckons her lover to be bold and take risks with her to amp up the passion. If one listens closely, one can faintly hear the distant crashing of waves and seagulls. After “Bon Appétit,” “Bigger Than Me” dazzles the listener with light pulsating production like a generic pop number, Perry singing about finding one’s purpose in life and self-improvement. “Save as Draft” and “Into Me You See” are each about the opposite ends of romance, the former about losing it and the latter about embracing a lover whom Perry feels comfortable and protected with.
Perhaps the greatest treasure this album offers is “Pendulum,” an uplifting anthem about self-confidence and good karma, bejeweled with a crescendoing piano-led background and a gospel choir, harking back to Perry’s own Christian upbringing. Its bridge particularly deserves recognition as the sounds of a synthesizer, actual applause and lyrics like “And there is no need to worry, the pages keep on turning / And it goes on and on, comes all the way around” altogether are sufficient for a quick pick me up. The powerhouse song culminates with a climactic chorus, populated by appreciative ad-libs and the choir racing to the finish line with Perry for an explosive conclusion.
Overall, “Witness” does a satisfactory job in entertaining the listener with lyrics of self-growth and romance but mainly lacks Perry’s original “purposeful pop” message. Whether it could dramatically impact American pop culture remains to be seen but it certainly is a reward for her patient fans who had to wait since 2013’s “Prism.”