Katy Perry: Prism

katy perryKaty Perry
(Capitol Records)

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Katy Perry’s sophomore album, Teenage Dream, has become one of the most successful pop records of all time. It is tied with Michael Jackson’s Bad for spawning the most #1 singles (five), and had Katy in the top 10 for 69 consecutive weeks (beating Ace of Base’s 48-week stretch). So how do you follow that up? After accomplishing essentially all you can dream of with a pop album and after a very public divorce, I was hoping we’d find Perry switching gears. I was hoping we’d get a darker, less ‘Pop!’ Perry, pulling on more of her rock roots that still showed on her debut, One of the Boys. And Prism does get a bit darker, but it in no way eschews the ‘Pop!’. In a year with so much stylistic experimentation and risk-taking in pop music, Prism comes off as underwhelming and out-of-touch. It’s not that the songs are bad. With Dr. Luke and Max Martin at the helm of most tracks, the quality of the songwriting is at the level it always has been (though it never reaches the same peak as “Teenage Dream” or “Firework”), but it all feels a bit played, a bit uninspired. She pulls out the disco for “Birthday” and the trap for “Dark Horse,” but only halfheartedly. Most of the album stays squarely in the middle of the road.

Where Prism succeeds the most, not surprisingly, are the ‘divorce’ songs. Lead single “Roar,” the quieter “Ghost,” or the spiritual ballad, “By The Grace of God,” present a passionate, focused Katy. Even the new-love songs, like “Unconditionally” or “Double Rainbow,” find Perry’s strongest voice. But on many of the obligatory party-pop songs, Katy’s voice is something we’ve never heard from her before: plain and boring. It seems too extreme to be unintentional, though. Her enthusiasm level on “This is How We Do” is so remarkably low, it’s essentially parody. But amidst the stronger material in the mid-tempo ballads, it comes off as forced and unnecessary.

Following up an album as flawless as Teenage Dream would not be easy for anyone to do, and instead of switching gears, Katy Perry at least attempts to make a pop album on the same par. But listening to Prism, you get the sense that she knows how futile the effort is. In Billboard‘s recent cover story on the star, she said that her next album will be more of an acoustic guitar-driven effort, and that she’ll “probably turn into more of a Joni Mitchell.” That’s what I was hoping for with Prism. But I guess we’ll have to wait through a bit more ‘Pop! ‘ Perry before we get there.

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About Scott Interrante

Scott Interrante currently studies Musicology at CUNY Hunter College where he focuses on issues of gender in pop music. He also writes for PopMatters, The Absolute, and Dear Song In My Head. Scott is an avid Taylor Swift fan and is currently re-watching all of Battlestar Galactica on Netflix.
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