In the aftermath of the US presidential election of 2016, many a pop star took it upon themselves to speak out against the election of Donald Trump. Some lead protests outside his building, some trolled him on Twitter, and Katy Perry, a global pop star and stalwart Hilary Clinton supporter (to the point where she made an election video that featured her nude for semi-comedic emphasis), decided to channel her frustrations into new album Witness, the first since her 2013 record Prism.
Perry touted Witness as ‘purposeful pop’, tunes designed to engage the mind as well as the dancefloor, and she commenced this with lead single ‘Chained to the Rhythm’, a Max Martin-helmed disco-pop banger that manages to combine Perry’s standard ‘dance dance dance’ platitudes with a sense of true foreboding about the state of the world and about losing one’s self in hedonism while the world burns. It’s easily one of the best songs on the record and manages to be fun and deep at the same time.
It’s a genuine shame then that the rest of Witness doesn’t live up to the sugary highs of pop perfection that fans and critics have come to expect from Ms Perry; even to their chagrin, her most vocal critics have always commended her ability to craft a nifty hook or a chorus so catchy it stays global for six months at a time.
This time, though, the songs are more subdued, reflective, and, unfortunately, ultimately more boring as a result. The album spends a lot of time in midtempo mode, with hit and miss results — ‘Tsunami’, ‘Mind Maze’ and ‘Save As Draft’ all fail to make a real impact, while buzz single ‘Bon Appetit’ is a real disappointment.
It’s a real shame in a way as Perry’s vocals sound as good as they’ve ever been – in album closer ‘Into Me You See’, Perry sounds incredible but she’s unfortunately mired in a sonic misfire of a track. Other tracks fall prey to this unfortunate phenomena — the title track opener carries a great chorus in an otherwise unremarkable track, while ‘Roulette’ has the opposite issue, building up with interesting production only to fizzle out with a non-starter of a chorus.
A few of the songs manage to stand out in their own sonic flavours – ‘Pendulum’ manages to get away with a leaden metaphor of a chorus with the song’s gospel sound and more uplifting vibe, while dramatic ballad ‘Miss You More’ actually succeeds as a downbeat, cathartic song in Perry’s roster.
There’s even a couple of bangers here too – ‘Swish Swish’ is the clear standout here; a house-pop track helmed by Duke Dumont on production duty, Perry sets aim at a female rival (ostensibly Taylor Swift) and manages to make a bubbling, bouncy dance track that’s quite fun in its own way, particularly when Nicki Minaj pops in for a solid guest verse. Even ‘Bigger Than Me’, though a touch generic, manages to be rousing and a glimmer of levity in an otherwise dour record.
For an album that touts itself as being ‘purposeful pop’, it’s a genuine shame that in the course of making Witness, Perry forgot to actually include either of those things in large quantity. Fortunately, however, she’s likely to begin working on the next record in the next year or so, as is rote amongst major pop artists these days. Here’s hoping she remembers to include some actual pop tunes in next time around.