Katy Perry is Talentless and Not Evolving in her Music?
Katy Perry's early image and sound had an alt rock feel
Katy Perry seemed like she had the potential to be a respected singer-songwriter when she started out. Her first album One of the Boys was pop rock with a tinge of punk. It was a decent album that showed some promise for the future. Perry also went on the Warped Tour when her first single I Kissed a Girl was released. The Warped Tour was initially for punk bands but later expanded to other indie and alternative genres. It was surprising to have a popstar along but her image at that time was very alt rock.
While I didn't think One of the Boys was a great album I loved some of the songs like I'm Still Breathing, Lost, Fingerprints, Self Inflicted and Waking Up in Vegas. I also loved some of her unreleased songs like The Box and Playing House, and the song Brick by Brick that appeared on her MTV Unplugged album. I thought she had the potential to make an amazing second album. Then Teenage Dream happened.
Why Critics Don't Respect Katy Perry
I wasn't the only one disappointed by Teenage Dream. Some early fans of Perry's were turned off by the overly commercial sound and the shallow, often prurient lyrics. To make things worse, she adopted a cartoonish image. Most of the producers on her debut were interesting like Greg Wells who has produced songs for Adele, P!nk, Crash Test Dummies, and Elton John. The title track and fan favorite Thinking of You were produced by Butch Walker who has produced for several alternative artists and is a successful musician in his own right. A few tracks were produced by Glen Ballard who produced Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill. Even Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics co-wrote and produced a track. Major pop producer Dr. Luke was brought on board solely because her label thought One of the Boys lacked any guaranteed hits.
For Teenage Dream, she mostly used big pop producers. Dr. Luke had produced her first two hits I Kissed a Girl and Hot n' Cold from One of the Boys. He produced five songs for her second album. Other songs were produced by Stargate and Tricky Stewart. Greg Wells was the only One of the Boys producer who worked on her sophomore album.
Teenage Dream was a massive success because almost every song was designed to be hit material. Perry tied Michael Jackson's record for 5 #1 singles from one album.
Perhaps it would have been fine for Perry to play it safe for her sophomore effort to remain in the game. However she promised a more grown-up and darker third album. Prism didn't deliver. The lead single Roar was criticized for being a bunch of cliches thrown into a blender and turned into a song. The follow-up was a take-me-seriously ballad called Unconditionally that was vastly inferior to some of her earlier ballads. The song flopped (by her standards). Dark Horse was a made-for-radio smash. Birthday was also a flop (again by her standards). The lyrics on many Prism songs were embarrassingly juvenile. Katy had regressed musically becoming worse with each album.
The main problem I had with One of the Boys was in some of the lyrics. Even back then she had a tendency to resort to cliches and cheesy metaphors. But at least the songs sounded like someone's real thoughts and feeling. The lyrics were often sarcastic, humorous or heartrending. Now her lyrics sound like words thrown together to form hits and get an album finished.
Do you think Katy Perry should have stuck with her more personal early pop rock sound?
"I don't want to be the indie darling, because sometimes the indie darling means that nobody has heard of you" - Katy Perry to CBS Sunday Morning
Katy Perry is promising musical evolution again for her next album despite reneging on her dark album. She told Rolling Stone,
"I think I have a lot of different personalities inside of me concerning music, and I love a lot of different things, and I like to try things, and I'm inspired by a lot of different things, and I feel like I don't ever want to be just one genre, you know? I want to maybe break the ideas of what boundaries pop stars should be in, you know? I want to do an acoustic record and do a tour that's all theaters and just have my acoustic guitar and my Telecaster and people would be like, 'What the ****?' I'm waiting to play that ace in a couple of years and it will be so exciting. Because I know I've had that up my sleeve for so long. Like, I don't want to have to play something I'm not to get that Number One or whatever. That's not music. That's math. And I don't want to be that."
She's a safe overly commercial popstar claiming she has more depth she plans to reveal at some later date. Katy may not be aware of it but many popstars experiment with other genres or make acoustic music. It's hardly pushing boundaries if everyone is doing it. And she doesn't need to push boundaries. She just needs better lyrics, melodies and instrumentals.
After playing it safe over her last two albums Perry may be gunning for artistic respect. So far she's been a critical failure. Her closest contemporaries Lady Gaga and Kesha have Metacritic career scores of 65 and 66 respectively versus just 53 for Katy. She's also likely aware of criticisms her music is basic, safe, generic and aimed at kids. She may say her music is not about math but hiring Dr. Luke to produce almost half her record contradicts that. Singers go to Luke for hits, not deep experimental music.
Playing House is evidence Katy Perry could make music that's far superior to what she's chosen to do so far
The thing that bothers me about Katy is I don't think she's talentless. Yes she's an inferior vocalist compared to Beyonce, an inferior performer compared to P!nk, and an inferior musician compared to Lady Gaga. She lacks Kesha's level of creativity and songwriting skills (Kesha's also better vocally). Katy doesn't stand out as being great at anything when compared to her female pop contemporaries. But with the right mentoring, good co-writers and creative producers she could have been so much better. She could have actually grown artistically instead of regressing. She's squandering whatever talent she has on basic, cliched lyrics and beats designed to get her to the top of the charts. She reminds me of Miley Cyrus who's squandering her talent in an attempt to get rid of her innocent childstar image with quality music taking a backseat in the process.
The question is will Perry be willing to put #1 hits and sold out tours at risk to experiment musically on her fourth album? And if she doesn't do it by her next album will anyone ever take her seriously?