Album Grade: C-
Witness is a Katy Perry album about not wanting to be Katy Perry. Instead of a deeply thought through, melodically inclined work, Witness is more like a disjointed therapy session that resulted in a transitional album. A true bummer from a singer who has consistently brought the fun, but now finds herself in an emotional turning point, unaware of how or where to go.
Perry was a very public, and outspoken, supporter of the losing 2016 Presidential candidate. Throw in some very public celebrity hook-ups, break-ups and feuds to now arrive at a place of re-assessment. Kind of like a celebrity mid-life crisis. Publicly she has stated a desire to be loved and respected as Katheryn Hudson, instead of the brasher, fun-filled pop persona she has created in Perry. Nothing wrong with that. That is a great realization and significant first step.
The problem with this is that Witness sounds like an album that Hudson/Perry doesn’t seem all that invested in. There is an incomplete, unfinished quality to the music. With nearly four years since the release of Prism, record company pressure for new “Katy Perry product” during the pivotal 3rd quarter likely had more to do with the creation of this album than the natural fun that has accompanied her releases in the past.
The marketing of the album is incredibly strange and at odds with the new “real me” focus she claimed to want. Beginning with the weekend of the album release, Perry kept a continuous public live stream of her life. There was video of her eating, talking with her therapist, sleeping and eventually being woken by a choir singing a song voted on Twitter by fans. A very intimate “Katy Perry-like” course of action, but seemingly at odds with the Katheryn she now strives to be.
The album opens with the title track and sets a dour tone from the onset. Questioning what life would be like if she lost everything, it is a cry for connection. A connection to another person, a connection to someone who understands and identifies with her and “speaks her language.” Instead of the independent woman who challenged the world with her “Roar,” Perry is now just seeking for “a witness to get me through this.” For a singer with such a strong, independent streak, the very notion of this song is a surprise.
Perry dumps more fuel to the fire of her ongoing feud with Taylor Swift on the electro-dub “Swish Swish.” A response to Swift’s “Bad Blood” this song comes across as both petty and unnecessary. Nicki Minaj re-kindles her past squabbles with Swift as well when she jumps into the fray delivering another classic sounding, but ultimately insulting dis to the rival queen of teen pop. Your move, Taylor…
Maybe it’s because Perry begun her public image with “I Kissed a Girl,” that no one should be all that shocked by the double-entandre laden “Bon Appetit.” An incredibly suggestive song about, ah, um…well, “eating out,” the track bounces, bobs and weaves with pure “Katy Power Energy” that is missing on the rest of the album. In some ways, it is return to her previous sound, but is forced compared to past hits like “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” from Teenage Dream or “Waking up in Vegas” off One of the Boys.
There is a decidedly harder edge to Witness. For the first time, it is surprisingly Perry’s language that has earned the album a Parental Advisory label instead of the coy, sexually suggestive nature of the lyrics. There is just an underlying anger that runs throughout the album that is more uncomfortable than serving as a resolution and release.
In the past, Perry would release defiantly strong uplifting songs like “Fireworks” and “Roar” that asserted feminist power, strength and self-reliance when forces align against her. These were songs about overcoming obstacles. Here she offers “Power.” Instead of self-confident strength, it is tentative and uncertain. From such a strong person, this is disconcerting.
“Miss You More” is one of the few standout tracks. Rumoured to be about former partner John Mayer, the lyrics are heartbreaking with a grand sweeping melody that highlights Perry’s strength as a pop vocalist. She soars with emotional power in lyrics that reflect a more grown up seriousness on a rumination of romantic regret. These are complex, contradictory emotions that she displays with thoughtful emotions.
“Chained To The Rhythm” teams Perry up with Skip Marley and is another strong highlight. The track’s rhythm pulsates with a natural, defiant edginess that is missing from the rest of Witness. While the music provides power, the lyric questions her audience by suggesting that while we are all “so comfortable, living in a bubble” that there is true difficulty in the world but we all just “put our rose-colored glasses on. And party on.” Marley offers the challenge in the song’s Bridge. The desire is “to break down the walls to connect” and further suggest “they woke up the lions.” This song is a directly a “resistance pop song” as you will find in our day and age.
In many ways, Witness is runs parallel to Kesha’s Rainbow album. On these recent releases, both singers have used their art as therapy to begin moving to the next phase of their career. Where Kesha comes across as defiantly fierce with humor and attitude gaining in power, Perry reflects a more reserved, quietly compromised point of view. Based on these two albums, Kesha has stolen Perry’s “Roar.” Here is hoping she gets it back.
In the end, it would have been better had she released this album under her given name instead of the Katy Perry moniker. Examined personal growth is certainly admirable, and should be encouraged, but under the guise of a “Katy Perry album,” Witness comes across as forced and ultimately, not a whole lot of fun.
Bottom Line: Katy Perry attempts to grow up in what is ultimately a very transitional mis-step of an album for one of Pop Music’s leading icons.
This article was edited by Rachel Wohrlin
Daniel G. Moir is a freelance writer, musician, part-time DJ and baseball enthusiast. Mostly, though, he is among the most passionate music fans and aficionados of our times. He can be contacted at @DMoir5150.
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