Let me just start with this: “Roar” has got to be the catchiest single that Katy Perry has ever released—this, from a proven hitmaker. Suffice it to say that the bar was raised several notches by that single, meaning her latest effort PRISM gets to launch up against a huge wall of expectations.
Remarkably, those expectations are met…with a roar. (Sorry, couldn’t help it.)
As a rule of thumb, I’m not a huge fan of dance-pop in general—mainly due to the shallowness of content and lack of originality that pervades it. However, I am a fan of pop in general—particularly, well-constructed songs, solid lyricism, honest emotion and stellar production. And from that standpoint, dance-pop or no, Katy Perry has made a damn good pop record.
Perry first made her mark in the mainstream by presenting us with the persona of a frivolous popstar who kisses girls (and likes it), marries known unrepentant sex addicts, shoots whipped cream out of her bra, and honestly, couldn’t sing all that well without a bit of digital assistance. Since then, even as she’s dealt with more than a little drama in her personal life, she seems to be on a quest to personalize herself to the public, from her documentary film Part of Me to penning more introspective tunes like “Wide Awake.” With PRISM (an apt title), that trend comes nearly full circle as Perry draws largely upon personal experience and emotion for her material, revealing facets of herself that were previously kept behind the façade.
Sure, there are the obligatory record-selling party-pop anthems, like the seductive, well-trodden double-entendre “Birthday,” and the let-the-chips-fall anthem “This Is How We Do” (which vaguely echoes the meaninglessness of “Last Friday Night”). But alongside these we find numerous moments where Perry is much more authentic, even vulnerable. She openly allows her current relationship with John Mayer to inform her lyrics, standing up for him in songs like “Unconditionally” (which she admits was written with him in mind), and “Double Rainbow,” in which she declares, “One man’s trash is another girl’s treasure / So if it’s up to me, I’m gonna keep you forever.” Closing track “By the Grace Of God” is probably the most “real” Perry has ever been with her audience, as she reflects upon the pain behind her divorce from Russell Brand: “Looked in the mirror and decided to stay / Wasn’t gonna let love take me out that way.” On the deluxe edition, the three bonus tracks “Spiritual,” “It Takes Two” and “Choose Your Battles” continue Perry’s self-reflective tendencies, reflecting on her current romance, followed by regret and anger over the past.
The album isn’t without missteps. Excepting the closing tracks, the second half of Prism really flows like a B-side populated with the record’s more forgettable tunes. Likewise, even as “Dark Horse” serves as a contagious trap anthem, in his guest rap Juicy J throws us an utterly tasteless zinger of a lyric that threatens to sour the whole thing: “She eat your heart out / Like Jeffrey Dahmer.” (Too soon? It will always be too soon.) Thankfully, the rest of the album is strong enough to overcome these few weaker and ill-advised moments.
Given her megastar status, it’s remarkable that this is only Katy Perry’s third album (if you don’t count her early-days contemporary Christian release under her given name Katy Hudson). But with PRISM, Perry comes into her own with an honest, mature record that lives up to the hype and demands that Perry be taken seriously as an artist. Yes, it’s dance-pop, but it’s far from shallow. Yes, musically it stays “in-bounds,” but that doesn’t change the fact that this is by far some of the best pop music you’ll find on the market right now. With this record, Katy Perry has not only raised the bar for herself, but she’s also set a standard by which other pop artists and records will be measured.