Since posting Katy Perry Confession, which was about her 2010 album Teenage Dream, I’ve been listening in the car to her other CD, Prism, that I got after hearing Perry perform at the Democratic National Convention. The album opens with “Roar,” which she sang live at the DNC, along with “Rise.” A solidly good song, “Roar” has a chorus full of hooks and a cute official video that doesn’t do its self-empowerment message justice, in my opinion.
On first listen, the only thing I liked on Prism was “Roar.” But as it repeated endlessly while I drove around, I found myself getting interested in other songs, and also in the quality of Katy Perry’s vocals. Apparently she had worked hard on her voice between 2010’s Teenage Dream and this offering in 2013.
For one thing, by 2013 she had conquered melisma, which is the singing of one syllable of text using several notes. “Ghost” nicely demonstrates this accomplishment, as well as her judicious use of the technique, unlike a lot of female hip-hop and R&B artists who carry melismatic singing to annoying extremes (and maybe other vocalists, who are pop artists, abuse melisma, but I typically don’t listen to pop, as I explained in Katy Perry Confession).
Perry’s tasty melismatic chops show up in a fan-made music video that interprets “Ghost” as being about Perry missing her ex-husband Russell Brand:
It’s a halfway fair interpretation given that Brand sent Perry a text saying he wanted a legal separation. And the first line of “Ghost” is “You sent a text.” Take a look at this article from the British press about their divorce:
But Perry has moved on since the breakup with Brand. You can often hear it in her voice.
In Prism Perry’s voice often has a darker, more mature coloring, for example in “Unconditionally”:
Compare her voice in this song to any track on Teenage Dream and you will hear a great difference.
A few days ago, I brought up this song in my Bible study group (you cannot say anything out-of-bounds in our group!), saying that Perry was wrong to say that she could love someone unconditionally because as human beings we aren’t capable of that, only God is. My friend and fellow Bible student Steven said that Perry had actually started out as a Christian singer and that “Unconditionally” is about God’s love.
When I look at the official video for “Unconditionally,” I do see Christian symbolism: not only in Perry’s large earrings that are crosses, but also in the shots of hands touching or almost touching, like Michelangelo’s famous painting, “The Creation of Adam,” on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which shows God reaching out to Adam:
Perry also shows that she can do hip-hop with aplomb in the song right after “Unconditionally.” “Dark Horse” happily features the rapper Juicy J:
It’s a funny Egyptian-themed video, although with a strange pronunciation of the name Nefertiti… 🙂
Getting back to Perry’s performance at the DNC last month, here is the other song she did, “Rise”:
Once again, as with “Unconditionally,” Perry’s vocals on “Rise” are darker and more mature than anything on Teenage Dream.
You can see her live performance of both “Rise” and “Roar” at the DNC on my original post Katy Perry Confession. Both these songs have strong messages of self-empowerment, which are so important to young people today, especially teenage girls, who so often denigrate themselves based on how they measure up to plastic, objectifying body-image-based standards that are so prevalent in our culture.
Perry demonstrates that pop music can be more than just entertainment.