Katy Perry “Witness” Review

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Katy Perry’s journey into ‘wokeness’ is spectacularly scattershot.

Katy Perry’s transition from Christian folk singer to Warped Tour line-up to superstar pop singer with hits like “Ur So Gay” happened in a very short amount of time, so it makes sense that she was eyeing a career rebirth of sorts. As great as the song “Roar” may be, its airplay remains extremely high four years later, and it all but solidified the death of the increasingly stale style of straightforward pop that was big then. Problem is – not everyone seems to have gotten the memo.

The album’s first single was “Chained to the Rhythm,” but she seems quite the opposite here – the album’s scattershot and seemingly random music ideas and paths start to sound dissonant when placed side-by-side. Really, she’s chained to the producers. Perry spends much of the album sounding like she’s mustering confidence, even if she’s been left in the dark about what her own music is going to sound like. Various producers leave their marks all over this album without any conversation between each other. The first three tracks – all co-written and produced by Max Martin and Ali Payami – sound like traditional Katy Perry tracks. The title track is pleasing on a sonic level, but Perry gets buried under the music and the boring lyrics. “Hey Hey Hey” (which also credits Sia as a writer) is again plagued with corny lyrics. “Roulette” is at least a decent, stable song that would fit in well in her previous wheelhouse. But after those comes “Swish Swish,” a big musical extravaganza that takes a hard left turn due to – you guessed it – a different producer.

The album continues on with discontinuity. Purity Ring contribute production on three songs and, while they’re all decent, two of them sound pretty much like Purity Ring songs. DJ Mustard drops in on a ballad, for some reason (the pop music equivalent of saying you love Metallica and only playing “Nothing Else Matters”). Mike WiLL Made-It steps in for a song, as do Hot Chip. And it seems like producers went hog wild on deciding where they wanted Perry to go; she seems content to strap in for the ride.

Perry really has nothing to fall back on for this album. Her voice has always been her power, and indeed on some songs it remains that way. “Chained to the Rhythm,” the other Sia co-pen, is one of her better vocal tracks, as is “Deja Vu.” But at other points, she falls under the music. She gets overpowered by both the music and a guest Nicki Minaj verse on “Swish Swish,” a song that’s supposed to be a Taylor Swift diss track. On “Tsunami,” her pronunciation of the word “tsunami” sounds more like “soup Nazi” in an accidental 90’s throwback mess.

We’ve never really faulted Perry for the inconsistent quality of her lyrics, they’re usually either goofy, or not the focus. But on “Witness,” she is adopting a new, ‘woke’ persona, that demands a more nuanced look. And there really isn’t much to analyze. She attempted to present herself as a more progressive singer, cutting her hair and bringing out a string of drag queens, LGBTQ dancers and that odd backpack kid on her “SNL” performance. But a quick audit of her history shows multiple instances of cultural appropriation and, when mixed with the utter lack of actual progressivism on the album, seems more like a pleading to forgive and forget.

The album’s peak lyrics exist in “Save As Draft,” a ballad that intentionally overinflates the moment where you stop yourself before sending a risky text, and “Bon Appetit,” where she compares her vagina to food. Those are the album’s best lyrics. The latter song isn’t very effective, either, sounding equally corny and creepy (and features Migos, not people you want to involve if you’re trying to look progressive and accepting). Among the album’s worst lyrics are in “Pendulum,” where she sings “life is a pendulum, it all comes back around” many, many, many times in a way that is either ironic but not amusing, or wildly tone-deaf. “Swish Swish” barely counts as English at points. “Swish swish bish” would’ve been an embarrassing thing for a white person to say in like, 2012. But the line that really sums up the album, and all of its failed ideas, exists in the track “Bigger Than Me,” where she sings “I’m just another robot, taking up oxygen.” Robots don’t do that. Not only do Perry’s ideas sound robotic throughout, but they also sound misinformed, basic and personal, none of which are what were advertised. The album cover even features a literal third eye. Whatever liberal transformation Perry was looking to go through, it hasn’t happened yet.

Perry fans will still find chunks to bite off on this album. There’s multiple songs that are pleasurably innocent. I didn’t even touch on “Power,” the album’s most well-rounded song. Fans of Perry’s older music might enjoy the album’s first three tracks, and much of the back half. But anyone who is a casual fan, or looking for a reinvention, is left out to dry. The album’s jarring transitions and limp lyrics kill any forward momentum Perry was attempting to build up. “Witness” feels like a missed opportunity on a grand scale, one that unintentionally and unfortunately lives up to its title.

Grade: C-

-By Andrew McNally

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