Katy Perry and the substantial team behind her has produced another spectacular spectacular, fueled by her latest album release and a well of past hits that have made her one of the best selling artists of all time. While previous albums have charted significantly higher, there’s enough worthy ear candy from Witness to sprinkle the best of it throughout the top of her catalogue for another monumental piece of theater.
Ms. Perry’s ensemble touched down at Philips Arena in Atlanta this week to the indisputable glee of thousands of her KatyCats. Dedicated fans constructed current and previous album-themed costumes, donned souvenir light-up kitty ears, tour tees, or simply (or not-so-simply) dressed themselves in the fabulousness Katy inspires.
Fan enthusiasm set the mood under a giant eye that watched over us while the stadium awaited the emergence of this accomplished princess of pop. The somehow-not-creepy, bizarrely lovely, always-open eye occasionally scanned the stands while evoking the theme of the album, its cover, its titular song, and this titular tour.
Following an incredible rock-opera space visuals lead-in overture, “Witness” was Katy’s opening of the first act. As we were dropped straight into the climax of this club anthem, it easily carried the significant momentum of the lead-in and magnified the stadium entrance of the superstar (expressed literally here as she emerged on the struts of a grand-scale star).
“Roulette” came next, another butt-off-the-seats new club anthem. Katy Perry’s pink-swathed 80’s-punk-themed band was revealed and her dance team joined the Witness, The Tour performance. If you weren’t clear yet that we were in for a Cirque-du-Soleil-esque visual delight from the fantastical costuming, dynamic staging, choreography and acrobatics, and the larger than life set pieces of “Roulette” and “Dark Horse”, “Chained to the Rhythm” brought twenty-foot puppets in pin-stripe suits which along with the dance troupe sported televisions for heads. And then boom, the press photographers including me left the building (as per normal after the first few songs of a large-venue act).
In this age, there’s always someone who’s posted video of any particular large-scale concert online, so of course I was able to see the rest of it and have my FOMO justified. It’s just not the same [disappointed emoji]. I’m not dancing, my body’s not vibrating with the intense volume of the music and the feet pounding in the stands. I’m not feeding off the energy of fans surging around me, and I can’t let my focus go where I want it to in this sumptuous production.
Watching video, I’m slave to the camera operator, and there’s an emptiness in the space between the venue speakers and the camera’s microphone. And of course here in a multi-family dwelling, I’m not doing any guilty-pleasure lyric scream-singing. Nope, being live at a concert is still a specific kind of experience that so far cannot be replaced by accessible technology, and being a Katy Perry fan, I definitely missed out on an E-ticket Experience.
I checked online to see which of the other new album’s songs made the set list. “Deja Vu”, “Tsunami”, “Bon Appétit”, (my favorite) “Save As Draft”, “Power”, and the tightest of the album –her diss track collaboration with Nicky Minage– “Swish Swish”, made the cut (by the way, that last one is her funniest [read: silliest] vid yet).
Her performance tonight of the electropop deliciousness that is “Bon Appétit”, features a slice of “What Have You Done For Me Lately” by Janet Jackson (also appearing here at Philips Arena this next weekend). It’s an honorific sample that gives props to the one of the incredible acts that set precedent for what Katy Perry does in the pop music space and concert production. Ms. Jackson and Madonna, now long ago, pioneered indulgent, highly technical, and lavish production values, extensive and dynamically creative costume changes, and brazenly gave no ****s about presenting themselves as deeply sexual beings, as artists fully worthy and capable of discussing and interpreting topics of sexuality in fantastic theatrical form.
“Chained to the Rhythm” has been the albums biggest hit, and no wonder, it’s perfect radio pop. Katy’s performing talent has been matched and supported by incredible production talent since her second album One of the Boys, in 2008. That album brought us a song written, performed, and produced so well it even turned the taboo (at the time) topic of sapphic experimentation into a staple of young girls’ music collection. Countless preteens singing out the impossibly-sweet salacious lyrics in their living rooms as innocently (or not) as I’d exuberantly karaoked along with Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s video, “Relax”, when I was a kid.
In this tour, “I Kissed a Girl” comes after a live phone call with Ms. Perry’s mother, regaling the audience with a location-appropriate “dad joke”, while Katy, flanked by plushy-bait, “Left Shark”, feigns speaking through a giant blow-up analog phone. At another point in the show, she takes a moment to bring a child on stage to share what they wish for. So it’s no mystery that Katy Perry’s purposely speaking to and appealing to persons of all ages, and shades and stages of the sexuality rainbow.
From the beginning of her firmly established position in pop culture, Katy’s videos, outfitting, and stage production have been rife with rich and bright colors, intense creativity, and iconography sourced from the joys, curiosities, and mysteries of our childhood. This is what’s been uniquely consistent, and is what has created the peculiar and wonderful brand of intense glamour that is Katy Perry’s style.
Katy’s not doing something new, but she’s doing it incredibly well, and the cultural evolution since before the emergence of rock ‘n roll is evidenced at her concert venues, by scads of families who have brought their young children, and not just teens and preteens. So it can be surmised then that these parents are just fine with Katy Perry’s influence on their kids.
There’s a lot to appreciate. Along with the strength of her singing voice, her confidence as an enterprising headlining female and artistic vision shaper, and masterful attention to detail, is the power that is Katy Perry. Her inimitable ever-changing style, the joyful connection she forms with her audiences, and the signature flirty girliness she flaunts while wielding that power is beautiful to behold.
While being a talented and prolific songwriter, Katy is credited as a co-writer on only one of Witness’ songs (“Witness”, in fact), compared to having co-writing or solo credit on all the songs on Prism, Teenage Dream, One of the Boys, and Katy Hudson. Personally, I’m not holding that against her. This tour is accomplished, and so so fun. Perhaps she was able this album cycle to make some room for whimsy in her own life. It’s deserved, for all the precious moments of whimsy Katy Perry’s brought to ours.
Opening in Atlanta at Phililps Arena for Witness: The Tour, Purity Ring (formerly unknown to me) was a mind-blowingly delightful sumptuous slice of electronica. In fact I immediately downloaded all their albums and have been enjoying the poetry of their lyrics and beats immensely ever since. And now this Canadian duo is my new favorite electronic band since I’d discovered another electronic music duo, Marian Hill.
Megan James’ vocals are so soft-toned, with a young-girl sound while never sounding un-adult, I’m reminded of Janet Jackson. Live, and often still with their recordings, those vocals are lovely and emotive and I do feel each story, but for the most part I can barely or not at all decipher the literal lyrical content. Purity Ring’s music is experiential. I discover more each time I listen and I love that about it.
Kudos to James, and the musicianship of her partner, Corin Roddick, for building albums I enjoy from top to bottom, and would have them on to listen to specifically, or in the background in many contexts.
More kudos, James and Roddick wrote three of Katy Perry’s songs for Witness, “Bigger Than Me,” “Mind Maze,” and my favorite of the album’s songs Katy didn’t end up performing on the tour, brimming with bittersweet longing, “Miss You More.”