Photo Credit: Lester Cohen
Never Really Over?
The Second Coming Of Katy Perry
Nearly a decade on from ‘Teenage Dream’ Katy Perry finally seems to be recapturing that spark that made her a megastar with ‘Never Really Over’ and latest single ‘Small Talk’ Philip Giouras analyses the rise, fall and perhaps rise again of one of Pop’s biggest stars.
Next year marks the tenth anniversary of Katy Perry’s sophomore album ‘Teenage Dream’ (third album if you include her self-titled Christian rock debut ‘Katy Hudson’). It heralded a moment for the pop star in which she truly went international. It sold more than 5.5 million copies worldwide, topping charts globally and in the United States breaking multiple records as well as making Katy Perry the first female ever to have five No.1 singles from the same album. Even now nearly a whole decade later the songs still hold their magic and charm but that’s the problem, every new single is held to the same high standard of ‘Firework’, ‘Teenage Dream’ and ‘California Gurls’. The album should have marked a period of dominance in Pop from Perry but instead, it was her peak, it was the beginning of the end. At first, it looked promising, 'The Complete Confection' repackaging arrived a couple of years later featured strong singles such as divorce empowerment anthem ‘Part Of Me’ and the cosmic ballad ‘Wide Awake’, so what happened?
Well, it was always going to be hard following up not just your most successful album but one of the most commercially successful pop albums of the decade just as streaming started to rear its head. Comeback single ‘Roar’ was massive, whilst arguably cheesier and with less lasting appeal as its predecessors it was a promising start for the album. Unfortunately, the record despite its strong sales was very hit or miss content-wise and despite power ballad ‘Unconditionally’ showing off Perry’s strong vocals it didn’t capture hearts as Teenage Dream had once done. ‘Dark Horse’ embraced that strange, weird zone of Pop that Perry works so well but its legacy has been tarnished with recent lawsuits.
Pop is a constantly moving cycle of trends and stars and it takes something truly special to grow and adapt in such a harsh and unforgiving genre of music but they’re stars that have proven you can take a dip in popularity with both fans and critics, evolve and come out stronger. Lady Gaga has been a perfect recent example whilst Taylor Swift’s current fall in chart numbers and success over the past couple album cycles including her current release show that no giant in the pop landscape is safe at all. This constant motion and Perry’s decision to take a four-year break between ‘PRISM’ and ‘Witness’ also play a major contribution to the fact she was perhaps unprepared to return into a new landscape from what she left. It takes something very special to have a feverish reception for your return something Rihanna has mastered by staying in the spotlight, letting fans know she’s present allowing her to build a strong sense of anticipation around her return.
I admittedly savaged ‘Witness’ in my review a couple of years ago. I stand by those comments and my utter disappointment in that record. ‘Chained To The Rhythm’ remains one of my favourite Katy Perry songs, it’s a perfect slice of pop and its political subject matter was bold and intriguing not to mention the catchy melody and reggae influence. Unfortunately, the rest of the record took a sharp dip in quality with I’d argue only 3 strong tracks out of a 17-track bloated album. ‘Swish Swish’ dipped into that ‘dark pop’ Perry mastered so well with ‘Dark Horse’ and despite its reliance on the absurd, it became a beloved classic on the gay club scene. It was these bold moves the album will be remembered for unfortunately the rest of the record was bland and flavourless/
So with trepidation that brings me to Katy Perry in 2019. Let’s be honest, it didn’t start too well, did it? Hoping to tap into a bit of the chart magic Zedd occasionally crafts up ‘365’ felt another bland ‘Witness’ offshoot, it performed poor and lacked any real motion in the charts or among Pop fans. Whilst this was going on Perry jumped on a remix of Daddy Yankee’s global hit ‘Con Calma’ but it managed only 10% of the originals streams and didn’t become the crossover hit as intended, the next ‘Depascito’ it was not.
Surprisingly the answers to Perry’s pop problems were Norwegian singer Dagny whose pop song ‘Love You Like That’ would form the basis of Perry’s most promise single in years ‘Never Really Over’. I can’t praise Perry’s true return to the charts highly enough, it may have only managed #15 in the Billboard top 100 and #12 over here in the UK Top 40 but for the first time in a long time, I felt excited about a new Katy Perry era. It doesn’t feel like a rebrand, instead, it’s a rebirth. Her long flowing locks of hair have returned, as has her fun, kooky side. For once it doesn’t feel like she’s trying too hard. It feels modern, hell I’d say even ahead of its time for Pop rather than dated and bland. Also while yes it takes from an already established pop single, it borrows the best parts i.e. that progressive building melody and the rest is 100% peak prime Perry from those Teenage Dream years.
Perry isn’t oblivious to how crucial her forthcoming new record is for her career. Interestingly back in January 2018, a whole year and a half ago now in an interview with Capitol Records boss Steve Barnett he disclosed how he also believed that the four year gap between Prism and Witness had damaged ‘fan engagement’ and that he had ‘tough conversations’ with both Katy Perry and her management about mistakes made, this is no doubt down to the poor sales of Witness which sold only a tenth of Perry’s usual album sales. "As successful as you've been, you learn. I've learned more from our mistakes than our successes and I believe our artists are in the same category as that." Said Barnett, no subtilty to his opinion on Perry’s recent slump.
It's interesting then to see how Perry has been hesitant to talk down the idea of a new album. In an interview with LA’s Zach Sang Radio Show when he mentioned the idea of Album 5 she quickly interjected with “I haven’t really committed, I haven’t committed to calling anything an album, or making an album, so just FYI”. Continued mentions of just “putting out songs at the moment” as well as “If there are demands for a full body of work we’ll see”. To me it seems Perry is testing the water at the moment, seeing how the singles fair before bursting into full-on album promotion but I find it incredibly hard to believe she doesn’t have a full-on album promotion already planned out and in motion. It seems more on the case of being hesitant rather than spontaneous, she’s being more careful knowing just how high the stakes are on what is a make or break album for her pop career. This is seemingly backed up by photos and reports of Perry taking notable radio presenters to the studio to hear a selection of tracks, trying to give them a renewed confidence in her popstar credibility and ability to put out a hit song.
So what’s next for the KP5 album campaign? With ‘Never Really Over’ considered a success it feels like the wheels have started to move. A month ago, Perry filmed a video for upcoming single ‘Harleys in Hawaii’ so it feels safe to expect a September release following in the footsteps of her brand new single ‘Small Talk’. A short but sweet song which definitely takes a while to grow on you, it lacks the immediate impact of ‘Never Really Over’ but it does have smart modern lyrics and the back 30 seconds hint at what could have been a much more explosive Pop single however I still believe it’s a strong continuation and helps build anticipation for the fifth era of Katy Perry.
‘Small Talk’ continues on the extremely bright and floral themes started in ‘Never Really Over’, this continuity implies these songs are linked to the same project despite Perry’s claims of just putting out singles to see how they land. There is also persistent rumours of a Taylor Swift collaboration following in the footsteps of Perry’s surprise appearance in the ‘You Need To Calm Down’ music video and their renewed friendship. It feels strange that what would have been an enormous pairing in 2012 would now feel quite nostalgic and at a point in which both popstars are entering uncharted territory in their careers as they no longer command the same chart dominance they once had, however, two of pops most recognisable and biggest women on the same track could only be a good thing for the industry and genre as a whole.
Finally, going back to Perry’s rumoured fifth album, it seems quite summery and vibrant so I’d be surprised if it wasn’t to be released by October at the latest, yet Katy Perry is quite the traditonal popstar and usually leans on longer album promotional peroids in similar vein to Taylor Swift. Personally, I’d suggest a surprise album drop to gain excitement alongside another huge single to get people intersted and talking about Katy Perry once again.
Or perhaps… I’ve got it all wrong and it’s a Summer EP preluding a major album next year? Either way, this is the most excited I’ve been for a Katy Perry album in years and whether it’s a soaring success like ‘Teenage Dream’ or a catastrophe like ‘Witness’ it's going to be thrilling to examine and join along for the ride.
For now, all eyes are on Katy Perry and what could be the biggest comeback in the history of millennial Pop.