Pop music’s leading ladies have enjoyed quite the showdown in 2013.
While sledgehammer-loving Miley Cyrus has shock value down to an art form, Lady Gaga’s antics don’t make nearly the spectacle they used to. It’s also possible that Ke$ha is currently lost and wandering around the wilderness looking for her Jesus necklace.
And unless Britney Spears’ upcoming album Britney Jean features a re-release of “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” the competition for the top spot finds Rihanna up against the arguably most “normal” female pop singer in the running: Katy Perry.
In a time when performance antics dominate our Twitter feeds, Perry’s recently released PRISM heads in a different direction than her fellow female pop artists.
Perry does not go for shock value on her third full-length album. Instead, PRISM digresses from her previous work and demonstrates the singer’s maturity and evolution as an artist.
PRISM does not have the star power of Perry’s Teenage Dream, which stands in exclusive company with Michael Jackson’s Bad as the only album to generate five number one singles to date. PRISM does, however, showcase more depth than Perry’s previous albums.
Perry threw us for a loop while generating hype for “Roar,” the album’s first single, namely a short promotional video showed Perry’s dimly-lit face as she somberly flicked a lighter in a dark room.
In a move that sent “California Gurls” and Snoop Dogg into a panicked frenzy, Perry proceeded to burn the iconic blue wig she donned during her Teenage Dream days. The mysterious video alluded to her warnings to the media on the darkness and anger her impending album featured.
But then, Perry released “Roar,” a far cry from the darkness and lament Perry spoke of and one of the most positive songs in Perry’s long list of uplifting ballads.
While the message behind “Roar” might not melt your popsicle as fast as Perry’s other fun-in-the-sun singles, it certainly isn’t the chilling and icy detachment we were promised in the wake of her highly publicized divorce from comedian Russell Brand.
Instead, Perry crafted the aptly-named PRISM, an album that’s full of light and positivity. In a necessary departure from her sugary-sweet sophomore smash Teenage Dream, Perry still manages to lace PRISM with some fluff, sans cotton candy.
Upon the release of “Roar,” radio audiences happily helped the catchy, inspirational tune become Perry’s eighth single to hold the top spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. “Roar” enjoyed a short reign at the top until Miley Cyrus swooped in with “Wrecking Ball.”
Nonetheless, the release of “Roar” broke a few airplay records, and we’re continually nearing the point where we wouldn’t mind if radio’s roaring obsession with “Roar” turned into a less frequent yelp.
Put simply, it will be surprising if we see any video montages this year about overcoming obstacles that exclude Perry’s anthem. Just as everyone is attempting — to no avail — to get “Roar” out of their heads (again), Perry thankfully supplies other tracks for easy listening.
Promotional single “Walking On Air” ventures into house music territory. Perry’s airy vocals are delightfully layered over the technotronic-esque beat alongside background vocals reminiscent of C+C Music Factory. Had Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch delivered some good vibrations on the track, “Walking On Air” could have easily been a 90’s dance classic.
The lyrically witty track “This Is How We Do” attempts to be Prism’s version of Teenage Dream’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.).” While not surpassing the likability of “(T.G.I.F.),” Perry’s one-liners, like “Sucking real bad at Mariah Carey-oke,” are too clever to ignore.
However, PRISM contains a few tracks, like the Bollywood-esque “Legendary Lovers,” that don’t quite hit the mark. The single “Dark Horse,” featuring rapper Juicy J, is a song that listeners will either love or hate. If you find yourself, as I do, cringing every time you hear Juicy J’s horrible attempts at slant rhymes, “Dark Horse” will translate as a failed follow-up to Perry’s Teenage Dream collaboration with Kanye West on the number one single “E.T.”
It’s easy to see why Perry designated the standout track “Unconditionally” as her personal favorite on the album. “Unconditionally” conveys Perry’s desire for total love and emotional transparency. The power ballad manages to avoid the overly-sappy “let’s be vulnerable” love song label, and instead resonates as Perry’s most genuine moment among Prism’s highlights.
The obvious parallels between “Unconditionally” and Teenage Dream’s title track demonstrate Perry’s maturity as a person and an artist, marking an important distinction between Perry’s previous albums and PRISM.
Ironically, Teenage Dream was released when Perry was 25. Now, at 29 years old, Perry has sonically and lyrically digressed from her past. Unlike her fellow female artists, Perry no longer needs the shock value she used to break through with 2008’s “I Kissed A Girl,” nor does she need the blue wig and CandyLand visuals of 2010’s “California Gurls.”
PRISM showcases Perry’s evolving focus on the actual music itself. While that decision may not garner five number one singles, the artist’s newfound depth is a welcome evolution for one of pop music’s strongest contenders.