I am not ashamed to be a Katy Perry apologist in a world full of edgier, fresher artists. I’ve always identified with her sort of offbeat, goofy persona that almost dips into self-parody, and her music had all the hooks. Notice I said had.
I’m a sucker for a good hook; I like my pop campy and catchy, but sadly, there’s little of that this time around. If you’ve heard the three singles that preceded Witness‘s release, you’ve already heard the best this album has to offer (with the possible exception of the Mike Will Made It-produced “Tsunami”, which was robbed in not being selected as single #4).
I’m late with the review as the album has been out for nearly a month already, but amid the publicity blitz surrounding it– the obligatory SNL performances, the interviews calling out rival Taylor Swift, the weird live-stream of Katy getting therapy and slathered with a lot of makeup– I stepped back to wait and listen with fresher ears.
I wanted to like this album so much. For one thing, it actually feels like a cohesive album rather than the gleefully random collections of singles her past records have resembled. However, there’s not a lot of fun being had here, and I couldn’t wait for some of the tracks to be over (I’m looking at you, “Save as Draft”). If Katy is trying to be more serious, that’s fine. That said, she’s painted herself into a box: her expansion as an artist versus the expectations of her fans. It’s a similar situation to Miley Cyrus’s Miley and Her Dead Petz album– an anomaly in an otherwise steady stream of bangers. But Miley’s album wasn’t really promoted like this one has been, so expectations weren’t as high, and Miley has recovered nicely (“Malibu”, anyone?), while I’m frankly worried about Katy now. It’s been years since she made a record, and I don’t think she can afford to take that much time on her next if she wants to stay relevant. And this is coming from someone who likes her as an artist.
Anyway, the album isn’t all bad; you’ve just heard most of its best parts already. Lead single “Chained to the Rhythm” probably comes closest to the patented Katy Perry Glossy Earworm of yore, “Bon Appétit” has all the sexy, silly swaggery you’ve come to expect, and “Swish Swish” is a sample-heavy, club-ready diss track featuring a stellar Nicki Minaj rap. Anemic ballad “Save as Draft” has already been slated as the fourth single, and its selection just indicates to me that the album is already running out of steam. There are better tracks here: the spare, 80’s-retro bass figures of “Tsunami”, the slow-burning groove and spastic drum breaks of “Power”, the soulful “Pendulum”. The rest is so much filler, but I have to hand out a special mention to “Into Me You See” for sounding the most like my eighth- grade poetry of any song I’ve heard. (Sorry, long-ago eighth-grade me, but that’s not a compliment!)
Controversial writer-producer Dr. Luke is missing from this project, and with good reason (Google “Free Kesha” if you want background). There are a bevy of producers present here, but they’ve created a finished product that is both cohesive and not. Maybe a single producer could have gelled the album together into a whole– I’d have gone with Shellback or Mike Will Made It. Katy is in fine voice but is occasionally overmixed and isn’t really given a chance to vocally shine, which is a shame.
The SeriouslyFluffy Final Grade: C