Colorado songwriter mixes obscenity and emotional heft with huge pop melodies
Live Review: Katy Perry
HMV Hammersmith Apollo, London, 17th March
It’d be a shame for the recent omnipresence of Perry’s blue-wigged pout, to the point where her face is probably more familiar than your own mother’s, to overshadow the fact that she has tunes as well as image, from the supercharged motivational dancepop of ‘Firework’ via the addictive robotic lurch of ‘ET’ to the skippy sass of ‘Hot N Cold’. It’s the quick-fire, multi-costume changed (please don’t make me list them), seamless pitstop delivery between these and the inevitable duffers (‘Circle The Drain’, ‘Hummingbird Heartbeat’, ‘Who Am I Living For?’) that can make you feel a little like a fractious toddler having a series of expensive toys waved in its mottled face by a fretful aunt to keep it from deciding it wants to cry.
But hey, you won’t see our bottom lip wibbling, and if it’s childish, Perry’s ‘California Dreams’ tour is not nursery-neutered – the inclusion of the rather woeful sexualised ‘Mickey’ retread of ‘Peacock’ alone would see to that (if you are having trouble with the subtext there, let us help: KATHERYN LIKES TO LOOK AT PENISES). Katy is Pixar pop, extra layers of meaning for the adults and the cynical, blended in like one of your five a day in a strawberry milkshake. As any self-respecting pop phenomenon is these days, she’s self-aware and sending up her own meticulous construction, poking fun at pop tropes even as she deploys them. Inspired to write a review debunking Perry’s full-spectrum sensory deluge as consumer spectacle, devoid of real cultural nutrition? I’m not, but if you were, you’ve noticed the stage set is composed of cupcakes, lollipops and candyfloss, right? Fancy deriding her soppier lyrics as escapist, reactionary princess nonsense? The fairytale video narrative that threads the set – Perry batting her albatross-wing false eyelashes through a Wizard Of Oz-dreamworld to find her baker’s boy – got there first, smartarse. Then there’s the part during ‘Not Like The Movies’ (a song that dissects the disappointing endings into which real life can twist fanciful ideals), where the flower-entwined bower swing that Katy perches on rises up to reveal an enormous white bridal train that billows out to fill the whole backdrop.
It is knowingly, expertly contrived from start to finish, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t moving, isn’t sick-makingly exciting – and to be honest, if you imagine your average My Chemical Romance, Muse or White Lies show is any less painstakingly planned out, any more ‘real’ or spontaneous, you’re just deluding yourself. Plus, Matt Bellamy might well be the world’s sexiest man for the 85th year running, but we’d like to see him rock a glittery tutu like Perry does. And unlike a rock show, every low point is succeeded by a high one almost faster than your brain can process. So if the customary stool-sitting ‘impromptu covers section’ (a medley of ‘Only Girl (In The World)’, ‘Born This Way’, ‘Big Pimpin’’ and ‘Whip My Hair’) feels a little unnecessary, her saucy lounge-jazz take on ‘Ur So Gay’ and a hen-night-and-proud exuberant Dance Party USA shot at Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)’ are perfectly pitched, building gradually towards the climactic energy explosion of ‘Firework’, a song whose relentless ‘yes, you ARE special’ positivity, much like its singer, should by all rights be utterly hateful.
It’s hard to remember now exactly how much of a dick Perry seemed at first; ‘Ur So Gay’? ‘I Kissed A Girl’? That post-feminist emo-retro “Yeah, I do pole-dancing classes, it’s such a great workout for the thighs” look? Oh, do fuck off. But somewhere along her way, she won us over with sheer force of personality. She’s no dancer, really, but she works for it, every sassy stage-crossing march stomped into the floor like she’s bagging a Munro. Every hip-flick, every air-punch is executed with cheerleading, saucer-pupilled zeal; she will make you believe. During ‘Waking Up In Vegas’ a fruitmachine graphic spins up on the screens, Katy’s feline friend/alter ego Kitty Purry grinning behind the legend ‘Try again’. And Perry, a pop survivor who dodged multiple career failures, a born trier, does. And if it doesn’t work, she tries it again. Harder. Aunty Katy will bat her eyelashes, she will jump up and down, she will pull a silly face. Then she will shower you with CONFETTI! And LASERS! And BEACHBALLS! And CLOWNS! And DANCING GINGERBREAD MEN! Until she sees you crack a giggle. And you won’t be able to help loving her.
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