“If I lost it all today, would you stay?” Those are the first words we hear on the title track of Katy Perry‘s latest album Witness. It’s almost as if she’s addressing the fans who haven’t fully bought into this new transformation of hers (one she doesn’t quite believe herself), making like Su Pollard on meth as she roams around throwing bizarre shapes and trying to make ‘bish’ happen.
But this is that expected rebellious phase, isn’t it? Miley had it. Britney had it. TaylorBot 3000 might not have it, but if Perry has posited Swift as Regina George in the past then she’s going to be disappointed to learn that she isn’t Cady Heron. She’s Gretchen Wieners, getting by thanks to the toaster-strudel of previous hits that allows her this muddled detour.
If this is her Bangerz – you know, the musical equivalent of dating a black guy to piss your parents off before the inevitable all-white wedding – we exchange a Wrecking Ball for a less memorable Pendulum. But in Perry’s defence she largely steers clear of appropriation: it works on Bon Appetit, less so on Swish Swish (Swet Shop Boys did it first, yo), and then swaps out for a record that’s more indebted to dance than any other genre.
The biggest problem these songs have is that, despite all the names and supposed drama behind them, they’re inconsequential to modern pop history. There’s not even tepid tea on what feels like an album of B-sides, things that just about passed muster in the studio as people like Max Martin turn up at 60% and not stop to think whether it befits Perry’s stature. Funnily enough it’s a song called Roulette that sums up Perry’s attitude on this record – close your eyes, roll the dice, and hope for the best outcome with all of the credit.
And much like the chorus of that song sounding like a STI lottery, Perry’s reliable showmanship is let down by the clunkiest of lines. Here’s a sample: “Your words are like Chinese water torture/ And there’s no finish line, always one more corner” (Déjà Vu), “The world’s an oyster, and I am the pearl/ Open waters sink into me slowly” (Tsunami, just when you thought the vadge metaphors couldn’t get worse), and the entirety of Power, a Jack Garratt song that sounds like Katy Perry covering a Jack Garratt song. A really, really bad Jack Garratt song.
There’s a bit of Perry heart on Miss You More, which could well be a heartbreaking ode to her marriage. It’s the most honest we see her in a heavy shrug of an album that so damn long and boring that it might unfortunately make her the laughing stock of pop. Tropes are imported but wasted, and even her reliable voice grates a lot quicker than it usually would for a record of this nature.
And even though we like Perry, we need to get our saltiness out all in one go with these track names that are practically begging for it: Déjà Vu (feels like it), Bigger Than Me (yep, everyone else will be after this), Save As Draft (which is how most of this album should have stayed). Never mind a witness, Katy Perry would struggle to get her own fans to show up for jury duty and bail her out of this mess.