I’m no Katy Perry fan, but it’s not like I haven’t tried. I loved Teenage Dream and I watched Part of Me 3D at the theatre, but banal crap like “Roar” paired with Katy’s perpetual try-hardness always took me right back to Haterville. I thought I was done with her forever, but I was recently drawn back in as I watched her era of “purposeful pop” start to unravel. From Bionic to Blackout, I love a messy pop era, and I was convinced that Witness was going to be the next Artpop.
I was already over the notion of becoming a Katy Kat after hearing the cringe-worthy “Swish Swish” and seeing those abysmal SNL performances (I’m fickle, I know). But it was the Witness World Wide streaming event that truly solidified why I’ll never like Katy Perry.
The navel-gazing ordeal saw Katy living in a house for four days, Big Brother style, with the whole thing streamed live on YouTube. Clearly concocted to sell Katy as some woke-pop diva, viewers were subjected to hours of the “Peacock” chanteuse enjoying slumber parties with LGBTQHTCetc+ celebrities, pondering her privilege, playing lame games with James Corden, and apologizing for a string of supposed offenses to a Black Lives Matter activist. She even listened to some slam poetry about how bad America is. Instead of Witness, Katy’s album should be called White Guilt.
Some moments were laughably out of touch, like a politically-charged dinner with eight left-wing media types Vs. lone Republican Caitlyn Jenner. Katy, always terrified to offend or polarize for fear of a flop single, strategically kept quiet until a comment Caitlyn made about being in favour of smaller government somehow became a one-sided discussion about racism and same-sex marriage. Once it was safe to do so, Katy informed Caitlyn that they couldn’t possibly understand where the other guests were coming from because they’re white and have too much privilege, and that they just “had to listen” to those at the table with less privilege. I’m no Trump or Caitlyn fan, but it was clear that Caitlyn had just been wheeled out as a conservative caricature to be dogpiled on and in effect make Katy look smart and progressive.
Of course, trend-chasing Katy is late to the party as usual. Beyonce figured out years ago that riding identity politics to the top of the charts was good for business, and Miley Cyrus is already back to being a long-haired flower child after shaving her head and having an existential crisis at 20. Katy’s 32 and only just doing both now.
Throughout the entire four-day experiment, Katy barely questioned anything in a meaningful way or offered anything interesting back in return. Like her music, which is mostly just greeting card platitudes set to Max Martin beats, her political talk amounted to nothing more than generic social justice headlines ripped straight from HuffPo or Everyday Feminism. During discussions, she often regressed to a childlike state, speaking and behaving like an impressionable little girl instead of the smart and empowered woman she’s been marketing herself as. Watching her, I found myself bouncing between being infuriated by her vapidness to being charmed by her sweet personality to just plain pitying her very existence.
It’s not that thirsting for knowledge is a bad thing. It’s a wonderful quality that more people should possess, and Katy’s heart is clearly in the right place. But she’s the kind of person that will believe anything because she stands for nothing. She’s a gaping goldfish, a human blob who can be molded into absolutely anything.
Every album cycle, Katy bandwagons some mainstream trend or ideology in the most superficial way possible. She kissed a girl and she liked it, she rode the anti-bullying wave and told everyone they were special little fireworks and bounced around half-naked to empty self-empowerment slush. Now she’s predictably political in a post-Trump era where politics has become pop culture – not that you can tell by listening to Witness. The lyrics are confused and contradictory, vaguely advocating cliched wokeness but never really committing to anything specific. Then there’s the obligatory pop diva sex songs, like “Bon Appetit” and “Tsunami,” which Perry is actually calling “sexual liberation” music with a straight face. Madonna, she is definitely not.
The conundrum of Katy Perry is the clearest during a live therapy session in which she cries about cutting her hair and being caught between her pop persona and her authentic Kathryn Hudson self. We’re supposed to relate to her vulnerability, but she just comes off as somebody who’s suffering a prolonged identity crisis because she has no idea who she is outside of being a shape-shifting sponge. She probably thought fame and fortune would bring her happiness, it didn’t, so she latches onto whatever’s happening in the mainstream in a sad attempt to bring some meaning to her life. It’s no wonder that she constantly ends up with narcissistic womanisers like Russell Brand and John Mayer.
Seeing Katy confused and crying just made me think that she needs to run back to her parents’ church and embrace Jesus again. I’m not a Christian and there is zero religion in my life, but I recognize the benefits of faith for some people and Katy is someone who so desperately needs something to believe in. My vision of a happy, content Katy Perry is this: she joins some progressive rainbow church where everybody is welcome, marries a nice guy, has kids, spends time with her family, does lots of charity work, and releases whatever crappy faux-rock music she wants without caring about the charts. Miley Cyrus is pretty close to living that life right now, and seems pretty damn happy. Some people are supposed to be tortured artists on the fringes of society, and some people are supposed to be basic bitches behind a white picket fence. Katy is the latter.