Album Review: Katy Perry’s ‘Witness’

Katy Perry Witness
Courtesy of Capitol Records

“Witness” is the confessional album the world has been waiting for Katy Perry to make. And her admission is this: She’s indomitable and awesome. In “Hey Hey Hey,” one of the leadoff tracks, the singer positions herself like a seasoned PR pro: She’s “a hot little hurricane, ‘cause I’m feminine and soft, but I’m still a boss… Marilyn Monroe in a monster truck… I smell like a rose and I pierce like a thorn…” The message is clear: Perry may get off on playing with the archetype of the fleshy pinup girl, but underneath it all, she wants you to know she has a six-pack hard-body soul.

The braggadocio comes front-loaded as, minutes later, in the single “Swish Swish,” Perry’s indulging in tag-team temerity with guest rapper Nicki Minaj. Though this was rumored to be a mutual Taylor Swift diss track, it’s less about subtext, and more of a general superiority complex at play here: “I’m a courtside killer queen, and you will kiss the ring,” snaps Perry.

Not even three songs into “Witness,” you might be asking, wasn’t this supposed to be Perry’s socially conscious album? “It’s a new era for me … of purposeful pop,” she recently promised, referencing the trauma of the 2016 election, which influenced her new music. And you do get a hint of that awareness or humility, eventually, in “Bigger Than Me.” It’s just slightly ironic that in the album’s first single, “Chained to the Rhythm,” she took some subtle digs at a narcotized population that just wanted to dance through the election, because for most of the rest of this album, she’s pretty chained to the rhythm herself.

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“Witness” is by far Perry’s most electronic album – ready-to-wear cuts for the clubs, minimal remixing required – but for the thump-thump-thump pop radio of 2017, not the ages. Producer Dr. Luke, the previous mainstay of her career, is gone, and with him the slight rock edge he brought to guitar-driven tracks like “Teenage Dream.” The only holdover from her previous hits at all, at least for more than a song, is executive producer Max Martin. He brings his B+ game to the five tracks he takes a primary producer credit on. But it’s not until the penultimate track, when Jeff Bhasker (currently a hero for his Harry Styles sonic makeover) steps in for one lone track, the infectious “Pendulum,” that your ears perk up, because it has some swing to the rhythm and, with a real bass player and choir, sounds like it was actually touched by human hands.

There is fun to be had here. If you don’t chuckle involuntarily over at least some of the over-the-top oral-sex metaphors of “Bon Apetit,” there is a good chance Perry’s dad is your pastor. (The less ludicrous female-sexuality symbolism of “Tsunami” sounds like something Prince would’ve made Vanity cut as a B-side.) The more earnest stuff that comes to dominate the second half is a mixed bag: “Save as Draft” is a fine warning not to email under the influence of obsession. But maybe she should have killed-as-draft the mawkishness of “Into Me You See,” or returned it to its apparent original author, Yoda.

What we don’t have here is the kind of obvious smash to which all of America would plainly say: Baby, you’re a firework. But the album counts at least as a sparkler — the kind you hold in your hand for 45 seconds in the summer, if not the enduring, inset kind Marilyn extolled.

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    1. It's over says:

      Interesting how when Gaga, Cyrus and Perry went political, they cut their hair or gained weight and their creativity tanked.

    2. Terry Folk says:

      Come on Perry. GET down off your narccist life and realize you are not a god. Definitely not a killer queen. Gee.
      When you stuck your head up your ass and became one of the Hollywood losers and a liberal socialist democrat you lost half your audience. We realize us “the population” may seem ignorant to you but you and those you follow have an agenda that kills the United States and what we stand for. LIKE I say, you think we are wrong? Think again. WHY DO YOU THINK THE PEOPLE , OR TO YOU US LOSERS, HAVE CHOSEN Republicans for the house, the Senate, and the presidency. You and hollywood don’t see it but we “the regular people who don’t have millions of dollars”, know Democratic and socialist policies are or have killed the U. S. WE DO NEED TO GET America back for the masses , you know we people who need work and want to contribute to our nation and not be on social programs. YOU ARE OUT OF TOUCH AND GONE. BYE BYE.

      • Faustivious says:

        Terry Folk…
        LOL. The only thing missing from your comment was something about guns and/or gun rights. LOL

    3. King C. says:

      The lyrics are pathetic. “Killer queen” puh-leeeeeze. Haha. It’s just bad.

    4. jrbear21 says:

      Agree with the general opinion..it isn’t ‘bad’; it just isn’t ‘great’ like all her other LP’s have been.
      Nicely produced as always, just no ‘hits’ here…even ‘swish swish’ which will likely get the most airplay is weak. It’s as if Katy said ‘Hey let’s be purposeful pop!’; not realizing that meant BOOOOORRRING!!!!
      Well at least she has lots of past antenms to fall back on until she pulls her head out of her —!

    5. Steve says:

      I’ve always been a big fan of Katy Perry, I thought each album got better then the last, she wasn’t pushing the envelope via Lady Gaga, but she’s not as bland and robotic as Taylor Swift. A modern day Cindy Lauper, though Cindy is still Queen Bee, so im sad to hear that this new Album sucks, even worse that Dr. Luke is out, I get it and I wouldn’t want anyone working in a unsafe working condition but he really did add a certain flair to the songs, hopefully she finds someone who can really fill that void musically that is.

    6. Jim Cofer says:

      Man, I was a *huge* fan of her first two albums (much less so of “Prism”). But this album just straight-up *sucks*. I’m glad I listened to it on Spotify instead of actually paying for this garbage.

    7. Sylvia says:

      Apparently, her concert tour isn’t doing brisk business either & this awful album won’t help. Looks like a lot of empty seats for Miss Perry to stare at this Summer. Witness a career collapse.

      • If you do not remember the year of the Prism, Katy Perry was the most earning person in the world according to Forbes with 134 million dollars. Therefore, you should know that Katy Perry’s shows are much better that other artists’.

    8. RealityCheck says:

      Massive dud by the new has-been diva. Now will she make a come back next year? There isn’t a hit on this album. It should have been titled “Witless”. Katy Perry lays a colorful, sparkled turd.

    9. Geo says:

      Honestly critics take everything to serious. When she said ‘purposeful pop’ she meant the whole liberation weather it was the sexual liberation or the bullying liberation. If you stunned r you would know but critics are called critics for a reason criticizing without knowing

    10. Michael Anthony says:

      This is her low point. Not one single has been a big hit and not one if them stays in your head. A total misfire.

    11. V says:

      > For whatever reason, producer Dr. Luke, the previous mainstay of her career, is gone

      Given all the (highly publicised) controversy around Dr Luke, it’s pretty clear the reason Katy Perry isn’t associated with him any more, and curious why Variety would even include such a statement in their review. Either way, Max Martin is the much more successful producer given his string of hits.

    12. Feh says:

      Is Katy still a thing? *snooze/yawnnn*

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