Katy Perry Finds Herself on 'Witness'

Katy Perry Finds Herself on 'Witness'

Like it or not, the pop star's fourth album is her most authentic yet.

Like it or not, the pop star's fourth album is her most authentic yet.

Text: Jake Viswanath

Katy Perry and the public have not been getting along as of late. The sugary pop star has faced an array of criticism over her recent singles, her newfound “wokeness,” and a sudden shifts in gear between “purposeful pop” and “Bon Appétit” with its ill-advised Migos feature, and accusations of cultural appropriation. These critiques have informed the reviews of her new album Witness, which accordingly, has not been so well-received thus far. But the problem is that, artistically speaking, Witness may actually be her strongest album yet.

The key to enjoying Witness is setting aside any expectations or preconceived notions you may have. It doesn’t necessarily play out as the socially aware critique of the world that you may have expected after lead single “Chained to the Rhythm,” nor is it the Taylor Swift diss album you were hoping for (the lyrics of “Swish Swish” aren’t an effective diss to begin with). But what Katy does deliver is her most sonically cohesive album to date, and possibly, her most personal.

The album’s title track opens the LP and appropriately sets the tone as she begs for support from someone, anyone, over a stunning backdrop of pensive piano and swirling synths. Right off the bat, she’s more open than we’ve ever heard her before, and with one of her most melodically irresistible choruses to date. It may even be the best track of her career.

From there, Witness swells into a dedicated and at times quirky album that explores all aspects of synth-pop and tackles the emotionally varying stages of a break-up: letting go, finding new paths, and empowerment in some forms. She takes a gamble to distract herself on “Roulette,” which plays like a shiny techno-glam track, and gets frustrated at the endless emotional cycle of a break-up on the house-disco “Deja Vú.” She tries to reclaim her voice and establish that she cannot be labeled as one thing throughout the album, but she succeeds most on “Power,” a rollicking electro-rock track with electrifying drum breaks and pounding synth pianos. “I’m a goddess and you know it,” she sneers, and you just automatically accept it as fact.

Fittingly, the album’s ballads manage to stand on their own as vulnerable highlights. “Miss You More” is the first to pull your heartstrings, with simple but emotionally volatile lines like “So strange you know all my secrets, please keep them safe / And darling, you know I'll do the same.” “Save As Draft” should not work on any level as a pensive ballad, but it’s so ridiculously kitsch and dramatic that it succeeds immensely, becoming the modern-day version to Britney’s “E-Mail My Heart.” Only the closer “Into Me You See” veers into snooze territory, but it’s still essential to the narrative of the album, as Katy finds hope with the support she sought on “Witness.”

Knowing the themes of the album now, the three singles really don’t fit its predominant narrative, yet they’ve all rightfully earned their spot when heard within the context of the full album. “Chained” is still a clever and catchy, yet not perfect, commentary on the state of Middle America, “Bon Appétit” remains a slinky and cheeky delight (just listen to the solo version), and despite being failed shade, “Swish Swish” simply knocks. And for those looking for something a bit more purposeful, look to the stunning psychedelic new wave track “Tsunami” and the vibrant “Bigger Than Me,” where she takes risks emotionally and sonically, and examines her place in the world. None of these songs necessarily add to the story, but they do better at looking at the overall picture, something essential in dealing with a breakup. And in the case of “Bon Appétit,” well, don’t we all need escapism during personal tragedy?

As Perry constantly admits, she isn’t perfect, and neither is this album. But what Witness shows is that she can create a strong sonic identity and consistent narrative rather, and sound good doing it. Hearing Perry this vulnerable yet self-assured is refreshing and shows the potential that she could fulfill in the future. Like it or not, while her previous albums can be seen as more performance than personal, consistently playing it safe, this is her first body of work that seems to truly speak to where she is at the present moment. It's not so uncommon to see this type of shift at this point in a pop star's career—Lady Gaga's Artpop was also her fourth album, which set the stage for her deeply personal JoanneKaty Perry's hits may be considered the gold standard, but maybe that standard is best left behind her. Perhaps what we're really witnessing is Perry becoming an artist and not just a performer.

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