Photography by Vladimir Lorenzo
It’s been a tough year for Katy Perry. Witness, her fifth studio album and followup to 2013’s blockbuster (and also awesome) Prism, was not only disappointing, but downright embarrassing. In fact, if it weren’t for Taylor Swift’s disastrously audacious Reputation, it would have been the most unflattering pop record of 2017. But if we’re splitting hairs, “Chained to the Rhythm”, “Swish Swish”, and “Hey Hey Hey” are moderately more tolerable than “Look What You Made Me Do”, “…Ready For It?”, and “End Game”. Again, moderately. Because, in a year where the artists with the strongest albums did some major soul seeking and kept things honest — see: Lorde, Vince Staples, Ryan Adams, Kendrick Lamar, St. Vincent, et al. — both Perry and Swift couldn’t have been more transparent with their attempts to be culturally relevant.
But, here’s where things get kind of tragic: Perry’s album was a commercial flop, while Swift currently has the best-selling album of 2017. So, we can scoff all we want at those assists by Ed Sheeran and Future, or roll our eyes at her gregarious Lorde impression on “Gorgeous”, but Swift is laughing all the way to her New England bank, and it’s doubtful she’ll need to resort to Groupon to sell her forthcoming tour like Perry did. Ouch, right? Yeah, pretty much. Look, having a crummy album is a shitty position for any pop star. They basically have to play the Gretchen role for at least a year, smiling as we all watch and think, Stop trying to make this happen. In other words, they can’t just run away into the studio and try again; they have contracts and obligations to fulfill, and most, if not all of that, involves touring relentlessly.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing for Perry. Because her catalogue is overstuffed with sugary hits — let’s be real, One of the Boys, Teenage Dream, and Prism are collectively one giant Blockbuster Music of Pop — her stage show is always guaranteed to be a swinging party. It’s a genuine escape for any fan looking to spend a couple of hours with unpretentious pop. That’s been Perry’s forte from the very beginning and that’s still very much her thing with her latest tour behind Witness. Whereas the album is a total slog to get through, the actual show is not, grooving along with a sense of humor that embellishes Perry’s best qualities. That much she proved on Wednesday night at Miami’s American Airlines Arena, where Perry closed the first leg of her tour and happily waved goodbye to a year that’s been inordinately difficult for her.
“I know it’s a Wednesday, but it feels like a Saturday night,” Perry screamed midway through the show, and you know what, you had to believe her. Blame it on the oncoming holidays or the fact that she’s probably looking forward to a much-needed respite from the whole rigamarole of touring behind a thankless album, but Perry was in great spirits. She didn’t look tired, she didn’t look defeated, she looked ecstatic to be there. All throughout the night, she praised Miami, a city “born to move [its] hips,” lavishing the crowd with compliments, which were further exacerbated when she called her mother, who explained that it’s the only major city in America to be founded by a woman. That fun fact brought joy to a room full of women, who are all likely ready to move on from 2017. Then again, who isn’t?
In that respect, Perry was incredibly relevant. She was a beaming light of joy and humor to everyone, a ringleader of escapism for those sorely needing it. You could feel the energy — hell, you could see the energy, what with all the glowing pink KatyCat ears bouncing up and down across the arena — and it was enlivening. It was a reminder that pop stars are often bigger than any album, that their power goes beyond any single track. Granted, that doesn’t make songs like “Bon Appétit”, “Power”, or “Roulette” sound any better, but it does make you realize how irrelevant some criticisms are in the long run. Because all night, not a single soul in that arena could care less about how she stacks up to Swift or whether hiring Migos was a desperate move. They just wanted to sing and dance and smile and be nowhere else.
Again, this is why Perry will have zero problem shrugging off 2017. Like Lady Gaga before her — um, does anyone remember ARTPOP? — she’ll get right back on her gigantic golden lion, climb the Billboard charts, and turn critics’ heads once more. It’s just going to take awhile. In the meantime, she has her millions of fans to entertain, and that she will, whether it’s parading around Pink Floyd-esque flamingo puppets, or strumming an acoustic guitar on a floating Saturn stage, or dropping jaws with interpretive dance routines straight out of Cirque du Soleil. This is where she’ll always shine, and to be honest, that’s all that really counts anymore. After all, she not only has hits for days, but hits that span generations, and if there was anything to witness in Miami, it’s that she’ll certainly be a teenage dream for quite some time.
Chained to the Rhythm
Hot N Cold / Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)
I Kissed a Girl
Thinking of You
Hey Hey Hey
Part of Me