Katy Perry Pop
If music were an edible entity , a Katy Perry concert would be like the day after Halloween. So incredibly sweet and full of sugary goodness. And you don’t realize it until you’ve experienced it firsthand just how good it is.
When thinking about good music in any sense of the term, Katy Perry is likely never going to be the first thing that pops to mind. Yet, she’s one of the biggest pop singers in the world right now. She’s on the verge of tying a record held only by Michael Jackson, if and when her single Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) hits #1 on the Hot 100, by having her album Teenage Dream becoming only the second album in history to have five #1 hits following MJ’s Bad.
Depending on your perspective, Katy could be one of the best things in current music or one of the worst. On one hand, the role she plays in the production of her songs, her music videos and her stage show is likely to be fairly limited. Despite having co-writing credit on most of her album’s tracks, they lyrically offer very little value of productivity. So as a music purist, she’s likely your worst nightmare. Essentially just the person leading a brand with so much behind the scenes and strings pulled by producers, writers and promoters. However, as the face of one of the biggest music campaigns in recent history, Katy and her team are doing an incredible job. Looking beyond the hit singles, the videos, and the success achieved since early last summer, the actual audio/visual components are pretty awesome.
The songs themselves are all insanely catchy. When California Gurls came out last year, I personally decided that it deserved a place in history as one of the best summer songs of all time. Taking a Beach Boys-sounding guitar riff, a catchy basic backbeat, a Snoop Dogg appearance, and a theme surrounding California all combined to create summer in song form. Firework rode the wave of self-praise songs with an accompanying video that I personally thought was a shallow grab at heartstrings but clearly it worked. It’s the album’s fifth single that seems to defy conventional pop music promotional standards. Last Friday Night is the big winner when it comes to her videos. Cameos by everyone from Hanson to Kenny G. to cast members of Glee. Without the familiar faces, the video would have likely gotten much less attention but the genius behind that idea is helping to give Katy one of the biggest fifth-singles ever. The online campaign involving Facebook and Twitter surrounding Katy’s alter-persona Kathy Beth Terry regarding anything Friday-related is astounding when considering the song has technically been available for about a year.
Last Friday Night is a track on her Teenage Dream record and is the fifth single from it. Each of the previous four hit #1. California Gurls, Teenage Dream, Firework and E.T. Typically, by the time the fifth single is released from an album that’s been out for a year, the label is about ready to wrap things up and the artist is about ready to start focus on the next project or take a break, so they typically don’t perform as well. At this point in time, Last Friday Night is undergoing an ongoing campaign stemming from the video that projects the song to be #1 in a few weeks. One of the campaigns they had was for attendees of any of her recent tour dates to tweet a photo with the tag #fridaynightin(cityname), in which the photo would appear on the screen when Katy did the song in her show. Of course, such attention would result in those tag lines trending which brings further attention to the single and Katy herself.
How can Camp Katy defy the norm? Her album thus far has yet to reach 1.5 million copies sold in the US. (For comparison purposes, it is on par with Rihanna‘s Loud, Nicki Minaj‘s Pink Friday and Born This Way by Lady GaGa, all of which came out after her and haven’t had the same string of hits) Her five singles, however, have sold a combined total of approximately 18 million digital sales. With album sales so low, a song like Last Friday Night or anything from the record can still be marketed as new since casual fans will buy a single but not an album will hear the song as something “new”. And with the promo it is receiving, it can only do well.
In addition to the creative promotion surrounding Katy, her image is where everything is centred on. And it all started with California Gurls. The video helped give Katy that certain image that works as the mainstay of her entire tour. A sweet, girly, sexy but clean image. During her concert, there are references to sex and drugs but they are as subtle as Alice in Wonderland. Only as innocent as the spectator. During Peacock, Katy motions with her microphone in an expected motion while in between songs, she eats a “special cupcake” and suddenly feels weird.
In the show, Katy lives in a colourless world where she works for a butcher cutting meat. She dreams of a candy world in which she is trying to find her cat Kitty Purry while she runs into obstacles and tricks before finding her cat and the love of her life, the Baker’s Boy, before waking up in her bedroom again. The stage is set with candy canes, lollipops, bubbles and cotton candy scent throughout the arena with an array of guests including a friend named Slot (a slot machine), sneaky mimes who give her the cupcake, peacocks, gingerbread men and her cat Kitty Purry.
While the set is pretty elaborate with its presentation and over-the-top cheesiness, it’s the deviation from it that warrants praise. Katy duplicates her performance from this year’s Grammy Awards for Not Like The Movies on the swing while hovering over the area in a giant cloud during Thinking Of You. She also incorporates a karaoke portion into the set that she calls Katy’s Karaoke where she sings parts of other songs like Rihanna’s Only Girl (In The World), Jay-Z‘s Big Pimpin’, Willow‘s Whip My Hair and of course, Friday by pal Rebecca Black.
In addition to those departures from the story, I was surprised with the amount of interaction she had with the audience despite having such a scripted show. She invited audience members on stage (for a price in the case of one shirtless guy), threw chocolate coins out and at the end, sprayed the entire front section with foam. I was also surprised with her vocals. Katy is known to not have great live vocals however I will admit to being impressed by her overall performance.
It’s interesting that Katy Perry is as big as she is despite her obvious limitations. She doesn’t display much dancing ability, leaving that to her group of backup dancers, nor does she provide much musicianship, other than to play Thinking Of You solo on acoustic guitar. Her real life personality and presentation has hit a few snags over the last year but her stage persona has covered up any bad press she may have gotten. I think this is a case where it is actually the package of the songs themselves and the awesome promo that is giving her the upper hand. For the time being, they’re awesome. Not likely to last a lengthy period of time, of course, but living in the present, I can say now that I’ve been won over.
I think what I continue to learn after this performance is that you get out of whatever music that you look for. Katy Perry is pure fun, not to be taken seriously in any way, shape or form. And I don’t think there’s any trickery involved when it comes to whose responsible. No one has made any elaborate claims that she’s a strong vocalist, an awesome writer, or anything that puts her ahead of the game in any one area. But it’s the whole package that does put her ahead because of how catchy it is, how well it’s promoted, and how universal the melodies are. Will they be remembered in ten years from now? Likely not. But there’ll always be candy and there’ll always be pop music. It’ll always evolve and Katy is helping to raise the bar in hopes that the next era of pop is even more awesome.
Here’s a video I took of Katy doing Friday and Whip My Hair.