Since the release of her last album Prism in 2013, Katy Perry has been undergoing somewhat of a transformation. After labelling herself ‘woke’ (I cringe every time I hear that word) Perry announced that she was fuelled by ‘purposeful pop’ following the shock US election that saw reality TV star Donald Trump elected President of the United States. Up until that point Perry’s music had been more light-hearted commercial pop so I was interested to see what she was going to come up with.
Lead single Chained to the Rhythm featuring Skip Marley supported Perry’s assertions that her music was going in a different direction. The deceptively perky song is actually commenting on a society that became complacent and resigned to the way the world works rather than using their voice to have a say. So far, so good. Follow-up single Bon Appetit featuring Migos appeared to be a complete u-turn with Perry using her body as the centre of a sexual buffett. Suffice to say the ‘purposeful pop’ element seemed to have been missed.
Witness arrives hot-on-the-heels of Swish Swish featuring Nicki Minaj, a song that is alleged to be an answer back to Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood. According to Perry it’s a song that inspires people to rise up against bullies but again it’s not quite on the spectrum of the theme Perry repeatedly mentioned in media interviews. Having said that though, it’s the best of three songs that arrived prior to the album and it’s more in line with what we’re used to from the popstar.
It’s safe to say that Witness is a record that is conflicted about what it’s trying to do. On the one hand there are some songs on there that go a little deeper but they are mixed with chart-friendly pop that is squarely aimed at commercial success. That’s not an issue per se but Witness isn’t quite the album that Perry sold to her fans and it isn’t as deep as perhaps it thinks it is.
Opening track Witness is one of the more observationally astute moments on the record. Perry reflects on the life she has, the platform she’s given and the impact that she can make. She comments on the human condition and it’s one of the stronger songs among the 15 included here. Second track Hey Hey Hey sounds like Dark Horse part two and is a feminist anthem where Perry insists that she’s her own woman, recording the music she wants and doing things her way.
Perhaps the two moments that do encapsulate Perry’s ‘purposeful pop’ assertion are Bigger Than Me and Save As Draft. Bigger Than Me is a moment of awakening for Perry as she looks outside her own bubble and sees the bigger picture of what’s happening in the world around her. Similarly Save As Draft captures the frustration of being a work in progress that doesn’t always get things right on the first go. Perry is after all, like the rest of us, just a human being at the end of the day.
Elsewhere on the album subtle electro-beats pulsate on the groundhog day scenario depicted in Déjà vu, sparse finger clicks back the breakup ballad Miss You More, and a gospel choir joins in on the life-affirming Pendulum where Perry assures the listener that the world continues to turn regardless of what happens.
Witness may not be the record that fans expected from Perry but there’s plenty to enjoy here. Sonically the album is more mature than Perry’s previous records but the 15 tracks do get bogged down a little too much with the midtempo tracks. Swish Swish is the closest you get to a classic Perry banger but there’s nothing here to compete with her finest songs such as Roar, Firework and Teenage Dream. Still Witness shows some growth for Perry even if it doesn’t quite deliver on its promise.
Track Listing: 1. Witness 2. Hey Hey Hey 3. Roulette 4. Swish Swish (feat. Nicki Minaj) 5. Déjà vu 6. Power 7. Mind Maze 8. Miss You More 9. Chained to the Rhythm 10. Tsunami 11. Bon Appetit (feat Migos) 12. Bigger Than Me 13. Save As Draft 14. Pendulum 15. Into Me You See Record Label: Capitol Records Release Date: 9th June 2017