Album review: Katy Perry - Witness

Album review: Katy Perry - Witness | Random J Pop

During Hilary Clinton's campaign for presidency, Katy was very open about an epiphany that she'd had. She was 'woke'. Hilary caused a spark in Katy to become involved in political and social issues, something that Katy promised would filter into her music and her vernacular as a pop star. The first fruits of this was Witness' lead single "Chained to the rhythm", which was hardly a wake-up call. But still, Katy wasn't baiting being a lesbian or singing about how amazing it is to be a white girl in California. But her follow up single was a complete shift. Katy went from what she called 'woke pop' to dropping her refrigerator pussy song "Bon appétit". This random shift was a sign of things to come from the album, which feels like a 15 track shuffle of demos that Katy had recorded over the past 3 years. Katy is in the midst of an identity crisis, resulting in her recording an album that has no clear focus.

When Katy made the music all about fun and was focused on just giving good pop records, she was on form. But her decision to try and infuse this wokeness into her music has hurt it, because she comes off as disingenuous and farcical. In short, she's just no damn good at it. These songs aren't as deep or as clever as Katy seems to think they are.

Buying into "Chained to the rhythm" is difficult when the song isn't really saying anything and it's coming from somebody who is living the American dream and has basked in white privilege throughout her career. The song is also hypocritical.

Are we tone deaf?
Keep sweeping it under the mat
So comfortable, we live in a bubble, a bubble
So comfortable, we can’t see the trouble, the trouble

Coming from a star who herself is tone deaf and has swept criticisms of her cultural appropriation under the mat and disregarded the feelings of others in regards to it for years? Girl, bye.

Taking "Swish swish" seriously as a diss record to Taylor Swift is hard when none of the punches land, and it features an artist who couldn't even respond to her own beef in a timely manner. Plus, beef with Taylor Swift!? Bitch, please. These girls need to stop.

The same goes for album cuts such as "Hey Hey Hey" and "Roulette". Katy sings from the perspective of a tough girl who resiliently faces life head on and takes a gamble, but when you've witnessed Katy crack in the months leading up to the release of this album and during her Big Brother style stint, the songs carry very little weight.

The only songs on Witness which are sold with conviction and true honesty are the songs in which Katy reflects on past loves and longs for a future where she finds resolve, whether it be with another or within herself. The album title track "Witness" should have been the lead single instead of "Chained to the rhythm". "Witness" feels more more indicative of where Katy is at in her life and is just a great song. "Chained to the rhythm" felt too opportunistic and try hard, where-as "Witness" feels much more honest and sincere. The production on it is also stellar. The same also goes for "Miss you more", which is a nice take on a break-up song.

When Katy is being true and honest in her songs, it works. When she tries to be the Katy that she was before, she falters, because she is no longer the same girl that she was when she released One of the boys and Teenage dream. The biggest obstacle of this album appears to be Katy herself. She is going to need to find a way to be honest with herself and her own feelings if she wants to continue making the sharp, succinct pop records that she has built her career on.

Album review: Katy Perry - Witness | Random J Pop

Katy has never been credited for her vocals, but she genuinely sounds really good on several of the songs here. Unfortunately Katy's vocals on this album are as inconsistent as the quality of the songs. But on the likes of "Witness", "Power", "Mind maze" and "Pendulum" Katy exhibits strength, melody and soul respectively. Lord help her when she has to perform these live. She'll probably do what she always does and shout through them. Katy is never going to be taken seriously as a vocalist, but it was both nice and surprising to hear that there's a decent voice in her when it's applied properly.

The cracks in Katy's pop veneer's were starting to show somewhat with Prism, but they're chasm sized here on Witness. There are too few examples on this album of tracks that wholly work. Witness doesn't have the immediacy that songs from Prism and Teenage dream had. Some songs do warm to you after repeated listens, but even the songs here which are good are riddled with problems. The structure of many of the songs feel incomplete. Katy's lyrics are also a big issue, as most of the time they make very little sense. Katy thinks she's being smarter and more profound than she actually is, and as a result the songs are left with baffling and absurd lyrics.

Katy's decision to make a more introspective album was admirable in theory, but it lacked true conviction and bravery. In terms of 'wokeness', to sing songs of injustice and segregation you need to have experienced this first-hand and have a clear understanding of the privilege which has either benefited you or benefits others. Katy thinks she knows shit, but she does not. She continues to use specific demographics and communities to further her career and her brand, which is the antithesis of what she wanted to address on this album. She is tone deaf.

To produce music which is personally reflective, you need to be willing to lay yourself bare as a person first foremost and relinquish yourself completely to the art of making music and channelling yourself through it. You need to accept your flaws and acknowledge your demons. Producing an album like this is a raw and cathartic act. This is what made Mary J. Blige's Share my world so special. The miseducation of Lauryn Hill so special. Bjork's Vulnicura so special. Hikaru Utada's Fantôme so special. These women had found a level of resolve within themselves which allowed them to be completely open in their music and completely shun trends. Katy in comparison feels too closed off and in many ways far too immature. Katy also seems torn between the Katy that's bold, fun and a but smutty, and the Katy who's chill and likes to just sing about her diary entries. There is no reason why the two cannot co-exist cohesively on one album, but Witness is not that album.

Album review: Katy Perry - Witness | Random J Pop

At its core, Witness is too much of a mess to truly be saved. But the wreckage could have been salvaged somewhat if the songs were re-ordered, the tracklist was cut to a lean 12 and "Pendulum" was made the album closer instead of the dreary as fuck "Into me you see". The only thread which remains somewhat through this album aside from the inconsistencies is that Katy has a thing for 90s pop. But the awful songwriting, lack of killer hooks and the monotony of the songs generally stop the likes of "Roulette", "Déjà vu", "Power", "Chained to the rhythm" and "Tsunami" from reaching their potential - all songs of which could have done with Bonnie McKee working her magic on the hooks and Benny Blanco or Cirkut to polish up the production.

Katy definitely should have been put in the studio with a stronger team of writers and producers. It's clear that this was her gambit for her last 3 albums. Too many of the songs on this album feel like they're missing a punch in the production or an ear-worm of a hook: two things that have been synonymous with a Katy Perry song ever since she broke onto the scene in 2008 with "I kissed a girl".

It's a shame what happened with this album, because it could have been good had there been a clear objective with it. But this is what happens when an A&R isn't on their shit and an artist is left floundering. Katy doesn't seem confident on this album at all. Even the master hitmaker that is Max Martin turns in tepidness; only delivering one sure fire song, and even that isn't an immediate standout. Witness is spread across a larger team of writers and producers than any of Katy's previous albums, but the general feeling here is that the writers either thought that by virtue of simply working with Katy Perry that an insta pop hit would be guaranteed with little effort. Or they're just not that great at songwriting, period. There's no real evidence here of Katy being challenged or pressed for what is truly going on with her to pull the truth out and manifest it into every song - which seems crazy, given that this was supposed to be the objective with this album: earnest wokeness.

Witness' lukewarm critical reception and the drama surrounding its release will overshadow the music, which may be for the best. Katy's tone deafness will more than likely have her disregard all criticisms of this album. But to ensure the follow up doesn't suffer the same fate, she'll need to wake up.

RATING: 4 / 10

Album highlights:
■ Witness ★ J's fave
■ Power
■ Mind maze
■ Pendulum

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