Katy picks a fine time to grow up gracefully: New album Witness sees the pop princess come of age, writes ADRIAN THRILLS
Katy Perry: Witness
When Katy Perry released her fourth album Prism in 2013, she talked of her desire to be taken seriously — but her growing pains were all too obvious.
The American singer, famous for her peppermint swirl dresses and bubblegum hits like Teenage Dream, dabbled with darker musical moods, but it was largely business as usual.
Four years on, she now calls her music ‘purposeful pop’, and this new album sees the 32-year-old making a better fist of the transition to adulthood. Witness keeps abreast of current trends, but the songs are generally slower and more introspective than before, with fewer high-octane dance numbers.
Katy Perry performs on stage during the One Love Manchester Benefit Concert at Old Trafford
It’s a logical step. With teenage pop fans now looking to younger stars such as Ariana Grande and Zara Larsson, the need for Perry, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift to grow up gracefully is obvious.
Katy enlists plenty of outside help. Alongside her stalwart associates Max Martin and Sia Furler, the Californian has turned to some new British collaborators — including London DJ Duke Dumont, singer Jack Garratt and electronic group Hot Chip — on an album that clocks in at just two minutes under an hour.
The title track opens with a moody piano motif and sets the atmospheric tone for a string of lush electronic numbers and ballads tinged with the space-age trimmings of modern R&B.
‘I’m looking for a witness to help me get through this,’ implores Perry, and the low-key mood stands in stark contrast to her brash pop past. The singer, whose 2010 marriage to comedian Russell Brand lasted just 14 months, bites back at a former lover on Power, co-written by last year’s Brits Critics’ Choice winner Garratt and dominated by shuddering synths.
‘You took control of a vulnerable soul,’ she sings, before asserting: ‘I’m a goddess, and you know it.’
She goes on to admit mixed feelings about an ‘unrealistic’ old flame on the soul-baring ballad Miss You More. ‘I miss you more than I loved you,’ she concedes.
She also takes aim at a rival, possibly Taylor Swift, on the mean-spirited Swish Swish. Taylor reportedly wrote the song Bad Blood about Perry three years ago and now Katy, supported by rapper Nicki Minaj and a lyrical hook sampled from Roland Clark’s New York house anthem I Get Deep, pulls few punches in telling an adversary: ‘Your game is tired, you should retire.’
Katy Perry headlines and performs on stage on Day 1 of BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend 2017 at Burton Constable Hall
Score-settling aside, the dominant theme is a familiar one of female empowerment, with Katy asserting her unwillingness to break on Hey Hey Hey, co-written with Australian singer Sia, but lapsing into triteness on Pendulum, which notes ‘life’s a pendulum, it all comes back’.
With its big chorus and gospel backing, however, the latter does provide a bridge back to Perry’s Day-Glo past and her longer-standing roots in church music (her 2001 debut, under her real name Katy Hudson, was a Christian rock album).
There is fun to be had elsewhere, too. Chained To The Rhythm is a throwaway dance-pop romp and the excellent Roulette a celebration of good times built around a synth hook that could belong to Yazoo or The Human League.
Fans expecting an album dominated by high-octane singles in the vein of I Kissed A Girl should approach with caution. Perry is no longer the shiny prima donna, but an artist edging away from old styles to try something different.
Just as the original queen of pop Madonna did with Ray Of Light in 1998, she has picked a good moment to move on.
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