Photography by Gretchen Bachrodt
“Relax, it’s just sex.” This is something I typically say to anyone who ever complains about sexual innuendo. (Short story: I cribbed the line from the Ft. Lauderdale’s Hollywood Hustler sex shop over a decade ago. It was emblazoned on a woman’s buttocks. At the time, my then girlfriend thought it was a good sentiment to believe in. After all, Larry Flynt’s right. It is just sex.) But that mantra is easier said as a cynical, bratty teenager/twentysomething. I imagine it’s a much more difficult rationalization for moral parents who still race around with their young children — especially in our digital age.
These were my thoughts last night at Chicago’s United Center, where Katy Perry brought her blockbuster Prismatic World Tour. All throughout the House of Jordan were young girls, jumping up and down alongside their equally excited parents, waving their Katy Perry-branded neon light wands, which reflected against their holographic $55 Prismatic Tour tees. One of the tour’s four (!) sponsors is CoverGirl, and every 10 feet were CoverGirl-sponsored Katy Perry installments to take selfies in front of — so, you could imagine the influx of fans that pranced to and from each station.
I was one of them.
Once inside, my fiancee and I watched how these young kids passed their time while Capital Cities did whatever they do on stage. Six girls, who were at most five years old, sat in front of us, playing games on their cellphones and showing off their Snapchats (!) to one another. While this continued, more and more fans piled in, all varying ages, but mostly young hearts looking to be set free by Katy. One girl walked aimlessly alongside her family in a peacock costume, hopefully aloof to the song’s aggressive sexual undertones. And that’s when I turned to my fiancee in a daze, saying, “I’m not one to preach morality, but this is a little weird, right?”
It is … and it isn’t. Look, Perry’s no different than any pop star before her. She’s an escapist fantasy for girls and boys and for two entirely different reasons. One wants to be her; the other wants to be with her. Some want both. She’s trumped over her peers — ahem, Lady Gaga — namely because she’s played the pop game through and through, keeping the fun past 11 and the silly at an even higher level. Watch any of her videos on YouTube; look past the hypersexuality that litters pretty much everything these days, and you’ll find a hilarious and friendly personality that just doesn’t take life too seriously.
And her tomfoolery is addicting. She’s sort of like an endless Tumblr page of quirky pop culture fluff that just insists upon being read more and more with the idea that there’s always something funny or sexy or crazy around the corner. Her show is just the same. Technically, she only played about 21 songs, not counting the various interludes and asides, but the entire two-hour performance felt like triple that, if not more. A lot of that has to do with her uncanny ability to outperform even herself. That might not make much sense on paper, but then you go and see her walk and sing within an inflatable cadillac and, voila, clarity.
Directed by Baz Halpin — and I only know this because I spent $30 on a shiny program; yes, I did that — the whole gala includes: a real working prism (duh), a CGI lion, neon jump roping, War Horse puppetry, one digital Juicy J, spidery dancers, big booty mummies, one digital Kanye West, flying guitars (complete with sparks), trapeze artists, a tap dancing cat, life-size cat trees, a Madonna interlude, a rainbow-glittered Christian wardrobe, Giordano’s deep dish pizza (at least in Chicago), mutated sunflowers, a dance cam, Dayglo dance teams, one Yin and Yang-embroidered dress straight out of Alice in Wonderland, high-flying wire work, inflatable balloons including Katy’s Taco (proof), a giant rotating birthday cake, four corners confetti, gaudy California artwork, CoverGirl Prismatic glasses, and, of course, fireworks.
I’m sure I missed about 300 other things on there, but you get the point. It’s a spectacle alright, and there’s always something more, something bigger, and something out of control coming up next. But that’s Perry’s world and she has plenty of neighbors keeping her company, or KatyCats as she later defined. The tour itself simply represents a wide-open enrollment — whether she’s handing out pizza to a young fan in the audience or serenading a birthday girl by giving her the ultimate birthday party on the planet. They’re all genuine moments with genuine fans whom she’s quick to assist in capturing with screaming, personalized selfies.
What’s annoying is Perry’s insistence on reminding everyone how far she’s come. “My first tour was the Warped Tour,” she exclaimed during her acoustic mid-section, verbally high fiving someone who referenced her early House of Blues days. This anecdotal riffing felt less like Craig Finn and more like Sally Field. (We like you, we like you. Jeez.) Though, it didn’t help that she was also wearing a Mary Magdalene outfit –hood and all — which was far too on-the-nose for the following track, “By the Grace of God”. Slight misfires aside, this section shed light on her true power — those crystal pipes — and when she topped off the acoustics with a mellow rendition of “Unconditionally”, the entire arena lit up with smartphone flashlights that illuminated the butterfly puppets and larger-than-life sunflowers on stage. It was minimal, touching, and just downright perfect.
Moments like that explain why Perry’s a bigger icon in the eyes of children everywhere. She’s their hero. Who wouldn’t want to look up to her? She parties on stage with her friends, swings around in the air, magically pops up around the arena, wears a quarter-million costumes in an incredibly short amount of time, dances with precision in heels, sings 110% while being twirled from a rope, and gets to ride a human-powered horse. “Would you rather be doing anything else on Thursday night?” she asked earlier in the night. The answer is a definitive no, Katy. There isn’t anyone in the world that can throw a party like you do, and what’s more, there isn’t anyone we’d rather party with — Thursday, Friday, next week, a year from now.
Relax, it’s just pop.
— “Are you ready to spend the next two hours with me?” If only she was just talking to me, and this was some retro ’70s roller rink, and we had the whole world on mute.
— The Ultimate “Oh No She Didn’t Moment”: When “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” was relegated to just its chorus, stripped of its original melody, and wedged into “This Is How We Do”. My heart shattered for all the wrong reasons.
— Madonna would be jealous of this entire tour. Sure. But she’d probably forget it all after the “Vogue” interlude involving dancers in cat costumes.
— Speaking of which, the dancer wearing the Grumpy Cat shirt was easily the best person on stage.
— “Wanna know what I grow in my garden?” Oh come on, Katy. You knew what everyone would scream. “That’s not legal here, is it? Of course, I don’t grow that if it’s illegal.”
— I’d be floored if I was able to take a large deep dish pizza from Katy Perry at the age of eight. I’d be devastated and would totally take it the wrong way if I heard her tell me, “Your body changes. Get back to me in 20 years,” thinking: Did she just call me fat? I was also a moron as a kid.
— Stay Classy, Chicago: Upon hearing said eight-year-old pizza recipient was from Wisconsin, many booed as proud fans of the Bears. Good thing Katy covered the confused girl’s ears. Christ.
— “Shout to all the moms and dads who are a lil’ bit tipsy.”
— Thank god I picked up a pair of those Prismatic glasses in the lobby. “Firework” was everything that Laser Floyd show promised back in college. Even better, no hallucinogens necessary. Not being sarcastic.
— At the end of the day, we can all be thankful it hasn’t come to this for Katy.
Part of Me
This Moment / Love Me
I Kissed a Girl
Hot N Cold
International Smile (feat. Madonna’s “Vogue”)
By the Grace of God
The One That Got Away / Thinking of You
Megamix Dance Party (Dancers Only)
Walking on Air
It Takes Two
This Is How We Do / Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)