Katy Perry shows off her borrowing skills with Witness but not much else


Yesterday Katy Perry’s newest record Witness dropped on Spotify. Regardless of whether it’s good or bad, one thing’s for sure–Perry’s definitely got a knack for appropriation.

Katy Perry is taking the radio by storm once more. Witness boasts fifteen new tracks from the pop queen, three of which were already hit singles. After all, Perry released Chained To The Rhythm” back in February, creating a fair amount of hype for this record.

Recently she let the world hear “Swish Swish” and “Bon Appetit”, which I think gave a better profile of what was to come. In case you haven’t heard them, it helps show that the album is full of lots of frothy synthetic club bangers, rife with innuendo, hubris and rapper guest verses. Honestly, this isn’t new for Perry.

None of this is new or groundbreaking, and it might not even be her best work. But that might be beside the point.

My main takeaway from this record is this: Katy Perry might be the most postmodern pop star of them all. She borrows tunes, tropes and instrumentals from artists ranging from Steve Winwood to R&B trio King. Does that make it a great record? I’m not sure.

Pablo Picasso once said, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Well if that’s our barometer, I’d say most of this record is heavily borrowed, and some of it is stolen–maybe the wrong parts.

Katy Perry and her ‘woke pop’

She’s recently been under fire for attempting “woke pop” and dragging Migos and others down with her. The woke part of me wants to rebel against this commodification of woke-ness and the way she’s so awkward around black people. However… the album is so darn catchy.

There are some definite highlights. In spite of myself, I like “Bon Appetit”. I’m not even sure “like” is the right word but it worms its way into my brain so aggressively that I can’t stop singing it once I’ve heard it. It’s definitely not a go-to on this record.

Similarly, the anti-Taylor Swift anthem “Swish Swish” is literally unforgettable. I cannot forget the lyrics of that song if my life depended on it. Sorry, Taylor. Another one in the basket I guess.

There are much stronger numbers, like “Roulette”, which fades in with an epic synth melody reminiscent of eighties hair bands like Europe. “Tsunami” has an infectious beat and ambient electronic instrumentals, but I just have to say this: this track sounds like a complete rip-off of King’s “The Greatest”. Just going to leave that there, don’t @ me.

And the beginning of “Pendulum”which might be my most favorite song on this album, opens with a driving rock beat and more synth, which sounds like either a Winwood or a John Cougar Mellencamp single. Perry sounds at home in this kind of song, but again, it sounds like something that’s not necessarily Katy Perry.

What works

One thing that’s still intact on this album, like her past albums, the best songs are her most introspective and inspirational messages. I like “Pendulum” because, like her 2010 single “Firework”, it’s an encouraging message of perseverance to which anyone can listen and relate. There aren’t as many ballads as her previous albums (like Prism), but the ones we have here are very good.

“Save As Draft” is a heart-wrenching and vulnerable. Handling personal subjects is something that Perry has proven to handle deftly in the past, with songs like “Part Of Me”. “Miss You More” is also along these lines, dealing with that oh-so-familiar feeling of being blindsided by the sight of your ex, and all the complicated feelings that go along with it (as the chorus says, “I miss you more than I loved you,” which kind of says a lot).

In this realm, Perry is again not reinventing the proverbial wheel, but this is one facet of her songwriting that really works for her. So if you find yourself listening to Witness on Spotify anytime soon, don’t be surprised if you enjoy it. Also don’t be surprised if it sounds very familiar, maybe too familiar. She might be borrowing, she might be stealing, the whole album resembles something that’s just not her.

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But then again, maybe that extreme chameleon quality is what defines Katy Perry’s style. Perry gives the world nothing really new with Witness. But she certainly borrows all the best qualities of all the best music. Maybe that’s enough for now.