Like whipped cream spurting from a red-and-white-nozzled bra, Katy Perry’s latest era is a messy, monumental misfire.
Ever since I Kissed a Girl planted its cherry-chapstick lips on top-40 radio in 2008, Perry has skillfully staked her claim atop the pop throne: scoring record numbers of No. 1 singles, Twitter followers and Super Bowl halftime show viewers, all with a cheekily provocative and winningly self-deprecating persona that’s endeared her to KatyCats of all ages.
But as much as there is to admire about Perry, 32 – who brought us to tears with her emotional performance at Sunday’s One Love Manchester concert – there has also been something weirdly off about her months-long rollout for fifth album Witness (out Friday). From bad singles to bizarre interviews, we break down where exactly pop’s candy-coated queen went astray… .
FEB. 9 Perry’s latest phase gets off to a promising enough start, when she announces on Twitter that this is her era of “purposeful pop,” after the release of her reggae-tinged, socially conscious first single Chained to the Rhythm. Paired with a 1984-referencing video and technically marvellous performance at the Grammy Awards (where she donned a “Persist” armband), the outspoken Hillary Clinton supporter appears to be moving in an refreshingly political direction that stands apart from her pop peers.
FEB. 12 It’s unfortunate, then, that she kicks off this newly enlightened phase with an apparent potshot at Britney Spears, telling Ryan Seacrest on the Grammys red carpet that she is doing “fantastic. I haven’t shaved my head yet.” (An act, she also tells Entertainment Tonight host Nancy O’Dell, she is “saving for a public breakdown”). Naturally, many Spears fans take offence, with the Piece of Me star even seeming to throw biblical shade back at Perry in an Instagram post.
FEB 28 Despite the second coming of Perry’s infamous Left Shark dancer – in the form of a toppling house during her viral Brit Awards performance – Chained quickly plummets from the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart after debuting at No. 4.
MARCH 2 Miley, what’s good? Perry debuts a platinum-blonde pixie cut that has an awful lot of fans doing a double-take with the Malibu singer. The pop star later draws heat for a sarcastic response about her ‘do’ to a fan on Instagram Live in April, who comments that they prefer her longer, darker locks. “Oh, do you miss Barack Obama as well?” Perry retorts. “OK, times change. Bye.”
APRIL 28 Rather than follow Chained with another so-called “woke pop” single, Perry reaches into her bag of tired innuendos and pulls out the limply sexual Bon Appetit, featuring rap group du jour Migos. Perry’s LGBTQ fan base calls her out for collaborating with the Bad and Boujee group, which has a history of homophobic statements. Others accuse her of cultural appropriation, saying she is stealing from black culture for her personal gain.
MAY 2 Days before Bon Apetit’s eerie video is released, Perry co-hosts fashion’s biggest event, the Met Gala, in New York. She makes numerous worst-dressed lists in her veiled scarlet ensemble – and shameless album plug! – from designer John Galliano, drawing jeering comparisons to Carrie and Beetlejuice on Twitter.
MAY 19 Perhaps sensing Bon Appetit’s swift descent from the charts (now at No. 96 on the Hot 100, after peaking at No. 59), Perry releases yet another single on the eve of her Saturday Night Live performance: Swish Swish featuring Nicki Minaj. Many speculate that the uninspired club-banger – a self-proclaimed “anthem” against bullies – is a diss track against her pop rival Taylor Swift, stemming from a years-long feud over copped tour dancers and Swift’s hit Bad Blood.
The singer happily spills details about the long-simmering beef during her well-timed “Carpool Karaoke” segment on The Late Late Show with James Corden, with enough mixed messages to give us whiplash. Swift “started it and now it’s time for her finish it,” she declares, only to preach moments later that “women together will heal the world.”
MAY 20 Perry’s awkward dancing on SNL’s season closer is roasted on Twitter, with many users once again denouncing her for cultural appropriation and saying that the teenage “Backpack Kid” dancer stole the show. Swish Swish’s live debut doesn’t do much to boost its chart life, either: The song climbs to No. 46 on the Hot 100, only to fall to No. 78 this week.
JUNE 9 During a livestream to promote Witness, Perry breaks down in tears and reveals suicidal thoughts. “I’m ashamed because of course Katy Perry is so strong,” she said. “I feel ashamed that I had those thoughts – that I could feel that low, that depressed.” She also talks about a past battle with alcoholism and her dramatic new haircut, saying: “didn’t want to look like Katy Perry anymore.”
USA Today with Fairfax Media