Like most waning pop stars, the primary challenge Katy Perry faces is her own past. For Perry, this is twofold; first, that her de facto debut One Of The Boys is utterly cringe-worthy a decade out, and second, that she created the best pop album this side of the year 2000 with its follow-up, Teenage Dream. Like any massive success, Teenage Dream brought massive expectations for a follow up.
Before we go any farther, one fact must be established: Teenage Dream is a masterpiece. It’s so powerful that the title track might have been what made me finally consider premarital sex, something I previously didn’t think would be in the cards for me. The record is sexy and sugary, inspiring and danceable, funny and smart, and endearing — it’s a perfect pop album. Teenage Dream deserves its own essay, and I’ll probably write one for it in August, but for now, we’re puzzling through last week’s release of Witness — which will inspire no such sexual revelations or revolutions — and easily had the most botched, bizarre and short-sighted release of 2017.
Though 2013’s Prism fell short of Teenage Dream, sadly, with Witness, Katy has now dropped the ball twice — usually a sign that a pop star doesn’t have a good grasp on their own identity. For the album, Perry repeatedly borrows everything she sees, but even with the adopted material Perry can’t cobble together a vision of her own, let alone the necessary, larger-than-life pop star hologram. You’d think a weekend-long livestream could establish that, but she couldn’t even come off convincing on her own terms, further proof that her self-awareness is at an all time low.
But let’s start at the beginning, and one of the brighter moments of the Witness cycle, “Chained To The Rhythm,” and its corresponding dystopian theme park video. There’s a Pleasantville peacefulness here, perfection shot through with greater unease, which is also the song’s theme: The world is bullsh*t (word to Fiona Apple), and we’re all distracting ourselves with songs, liquor, and dancing. A newly post-Trump America allowed this rather obvious insight to count as political discourse, which? Fine.