There was a time when Katy Perry was considered a commercial disappointment, believe it or not.
Although Katy Perry’s last album, Teenage Dream, came out all the way back in 2010, it sure doesn’t feel that way, what with her media omnipresence being felt on the radio (which still plays her five chart-toppers from that disc) to film to even being a tabloid queen with her courtship and eventual breakup from comedian Russell Brand. Yet even with two #1’s already to her belt prior to the album’s release (those songs of course being “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls”), the fact that Perry’s album debuted with sales of “only” 200,000 made people think that perhaps Perry wasn’t the big-seller everyone thought she could be. Of course, her consistency is what made her last—not everyone can release an onslaught of broadly-appealing pop like that on such a regular basis, ditching the meta-qualities of Lady Gaga in favor of things much more simple and direct—and it’s that very reason why she was even able to make a film, perfume line, have fans who call themselves “KatyCats”, etc.
While promos for her new album Prism show Perry doing things like burning her iconic blue wig to showcase an artistic rebirth (echoes of George Michael, anyone?), the long-anticipated premiere of her new song “Roar” shows that, despite having just come off what may be her single finest songwriting achievement, her new track, while not an outright failure, is a surprisingly flat entry into her discography, doubly so for something that is supposed to usher in her new blockbuster album.
Of course all the elements are in place: producer Dr. Luke—a man who had a way with a pop melody that’s alternately fascinating and frustrating—is on board, as well as uber-pop producer Max Martin, so everything seems like it’d be a slam dunk. Not the case, as it turns out.
While the early pre-release buzz (see: press releases and statements from collaborators) is that this is a “darker” album than her previous two (or three, if you count her pre-pop CCM one-off as Katy Hudson), but the elements of “Roar” are, actually, overly familiar: a lingering bass synth-line, trash-can drumming, a lot of anthemic lyrics about not being quiet anymore, standing up for yourself, etc. It all very much plays in Perry’s wheelhouse—so where’s the emotion? Where’s the impact?
It all stems back to Katy Perry’s biggest problem as a performer: she’s just not that believable of a performer. While she may very well be sincere in her lyrics and intentions, her glottal-shock singing always holds the air of a would-be Broadway performer, keyed up but never connecting.
Admittedly, the fact that she has lyrics describing how she went “from zero / To my own hero” aren’t helping causes much, as the whole song is drenched in generic platitudes, nothing as weird or interesting as, say, “E.T.” Also, how strange is it that the pre-chorus and overall song structure feels like it was Xeroxed right from Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire”?
For such a hyped up event as Katy Perry has recently become known for, it’s amazing just how much of this “roar” is a boring, plain whimper. While she has yet to unleash all of Prism‘s wonders upon us, it’s fair to say that if this is any indication as to what we’re about to see, her Queen of Pop tiara is in danger of slipping.