How Katy Perry Can Get Back on Track

Katy Perry, whose career has hit a bit of a wall, plays Toyota Center on Sunday night.
Katy Perry, whose career has hit a bit of a wall, plays Toyota Center on Sunday night. Photo by Marc Brubaker
Katy Perry is one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. She has toured the world, sold millions of records, logged hits for days, made millions of dollars, and in the process, became an absolute pop culture phenomenon. Point being, it’s good to be Katy Perry, who brings her Witness the Tour to Toyota Center on Sunday night (Carly Rae Jepsen will open).

And yet, all is not well for one of the world’s biggest hitmakers of the past decade. After a run of multiplatinum albums and No. 1 hits, Perry stalled out somewhat in 2017. Her new single, “Chained to the Rhythm,” fell relatively flat, as did subsequent singles “Bon Appetit” and “Swish Swish.” As a result, Witness (released in June) was met with critical and commercial indifference and will likely be Perry’s first record to not go Platinum.

Now, to call Perry’s career over is premature. All the greats have their misses, and Perry is no exception. That said, her career could certainly use a kickstart. To do just that, Perry should consider the following.

Perry took a relative hiatus prior to Witness, her first album in nearly four years. However, since releasing “Chained to the Rhythm” as the lead single from Witness almost a year ago, she has remained in the headlines for many reasons, most of them not exactly positive. Whether it a string of relatively unsuccessful singles, Witness’ commercial failure, an unfortunate musical guesting spot on Saturday Night Live, or her ongoing feud with fellow pop heavyweight Taylor Swift (more on that in a minute), the whole “no such as thing as bad publicity” proved a fallacy for Katy Perry in 2017. Perry is scheduled to tour on behalf of Witness for much of 2018, which is to be expected, but once the tour wraps, it might be time for a little breather to reset the board a bit. Perhaps absence will indeed make the heart grow fonder.

Witness found Perry ditching her fun-loving popstar persona in favor of a more serious, socially conscious tone. The hair got shorter, the outfits more conservative, the lyrics layered with political and social undertones. This is all well and good; Perry is certainly entitled to style herself and dress as she sees fit, and no artist should be condemned for using his or her platform to shine a light on pressing societal issues. If anything, Perry should be lauded for taking a chance and opting for a more serious tone in her music. That said, when one changes up their sound, they run the risk of alienating a loyal fanbase, and Perry did just that with Witness. Simply put, the sound doesn’t suit her. Rather, Perry is best doing light-hearted fare. Think “Teenage Dream,” “I Kissed a Girl” or any other litany of hits from her catalog. When Perry keeps it light, the hits keep coming. On that note …

Typically, requesting that a pop star generates another hit is a rather vague request. After all, hits don’t just spring up out of nowhere. However, considering Perry has logged nine No. 1 hits, including a ridiculous streak around the turn of the decade when she notched five in a row, it doesn’t seem too much to ask to get some great pop minds in a room, do their thing and put another megahit on wax. Keep it simple (and under four minutes) and watch the streaming numbers rise. Speaking of collaborators …

Perry has made absolute magic in the past with collaborators like Snoop Dogg, Juicy J, and Kanye West; she logged No. 1 singles with each. She attempted to recreate that magic with the first three singles from Witness, all of which feature name-brand collaborators – Skip Marley on “Chained to the Rhythm,” Migos on “Bon Appetit,” Nicki Minaj on “Swish Swish.” Even so, only the first of those singles made much of an impact, and even “Chained” was fairly here and gone as Perry singles go. Perhaps a collaboration with Drake or Future is in order. Or, and I’m being serious, Perry could team up with ex-boyfriend John Mayer to give her songs a little folk flavor. As she’s proven oh so many times before, when Katy Perry finds the right teammate, she wins.

Whether Perry and rival Taylor Swift have buried their long-time feud for good is to be determined, but the point remains, it’s time to cool it with the diss tracks and mea culpas in the media. As Paul Newman once said, “a man with no enemies is a man with no character,” and Perry should take this to heart. She and her former friend Swift no longer get along, and “Swish Swish” fell flat as a pseudo-diss track. Let it lie, and move on. Taylor has her own career blowback to tend to anyway.
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Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale