September 13, 2013
#PRISMTHOUGHTS: An Account of The Katy Perry ‘Prism’ Listening Party in Los Angeles
Katy Perry is feeling awfully prismastic lately.
At least, that’s what she told the crowd last night at the Hammer Museum in LA during the listening party for her upcoming studio album Prism, out in October.
Although the blue wig-burning, funereal teasers that preceded the release of “Roar” might have suggested something a little darker and edgier from the upcoming record, the truth of the matter is that Prism is, in fact, an album full of light.
“It was a little dark-sided,” she said of the first writing and recording sessions for Prism back in November. But ultimately, Katy decided not to go down a darker, singer-songwriter path — or as she called it, the “third self-sabotaging record.” “That’ll be my fourth record,” she quipped. Watch it, Katy — we’re going to hold you to that.
Instead, she got happy. “I did some self-reflection, let in a lot of light in my life. Someone called me a prism…I do feel really prismatic.”
And so, the Prism era was born. It’s a disappointing dose of truth for some, given that her image re-haul toward the end of Teenage Dream suggested some sort of gothic influence creeping into the music — but for the artist who just came off the candy-scented, whipped cream-coated California Dreams Tour not too long ago, it’s not an entirely unexpected move, either.
Last night, after gawking at the giant gold #PrismTruck parked outside (IT’S REAL!) and standing around sipping on #PrismVodkas with light-up ice cubes on top of lightboxes (and taking #PRISMPICS at the #PRISMPHOTOBOOTH!), the listening party properly kicked off as we (writers and/or assorted industry types) were herded into a smaller room in the museum. (Side note: Is the Hammer Museum a Museum of Hammers? I still don’t know.)
Capitol label exec Greg Thompson came up to the front of the room to introduce the record briefly (beginning with the video for “Roar”), and then, in came Katy.
After walking in to a thunderous standing ovation (aw shucks!), the songstress sat smiling calmly at a table with Greg in a tan top and patterned high waisted pants covered by lions (#RoarPromo), walking us through every song on the standard edition of Prism, cracking jokes and laughing at a room full of (mostly) warm faces.
And so, this is a rundown of those songs based on a single listen. (Disclosure: I had more than a few #PrismVodkas, meaning I too was full of light.)
Roar – #ROAR.
Legendary Lovers – The first new song of the night, and an instant favorite. “Say my name like a scripture,” she sings. “Take me down to the river.” There’s a tribal, mystical touch to the production — especially during the breakdown — as she goes on about being a “ride or die” lover. I always appreciate the use of the term “legendary,” and I can still hear her yelping “Legendary lovers!” in my head — that’s always a good sign.
Birthday – Neither a Selena Gomez cover, nor a Rihanna cover — but good nonetheless! Produced by Max Martin and Dr. Luke (“the dream team,” as she called them), Katy called the track “Wendy & Lisa-inspired,” namedropping Prince and “first album Mariah Carey” as well. The track is big, bubbly and feel-good, along with a cheeky “big balloons” bridge. “It wouldn’t be a Katy record without an innuendo or two,” she joked to the crowd. “Everything with a wink.”
Walking On Air – Okay, here’s the deal The “Walking On Air” sample selected for the Pepsi campaign was not at all representative of the track in full. Somehow, they managed to snip the track at exactly the most uninteresting moment. In fact, “Walking On Air” (which was produced by Klas Åhlund, of Britney‘s “Piece of Me” and Robyn greatness) a huge early ’90’s club banger, almost like something Annie would produce. Katy foresaw “ponytails being whipped” to the track, which is industry code for BIG GAY ANTHEM. It’s great.
Unconditionally – “Unconditionally” is Katy’s favorite song on the album. The massive power pop ballad packs a punch with its soaring vocals: “I will love you unconditionally, there’s no more questioning / I will love you unconditionally.” There are a lot of conditionals and unconditionals and devotionals happening — it’d be a solid choice for a next single.
Dark Horse – The overwhelming winner of the Pepsi #KatyNow campaign, and deservedly so. While I realize “Walking On Air” is brilliant, “Dark Horse” is still fantastic, complete with that drippy, #SomethingMoreUrban ghostly beat. “So you want to play with magic?” she taunts as the track builds to the trap breakdown. The song also features Juicy J (eh) and drops on September 17 (which I noted as “LOL BRITNEY DAY #WORKBITCH”). The #PrismVodkas began to kick in at this point.
This Is How We Do – Another favorite, again produced by Max Martin and Klas Åhlund. It plays like a bouncy, joyous bout of escapism. “It’s no big deal!” she happily sings on repeat at one point. “I like this,” I noted, underlined several times. Helpful and articulate. Where’s my Pulitzer?
International Smile – A smile translates across all languages — that’s the general gist of this peppy production. “In foreign countries, all I do is smile,” she explained. The song’s dedicated to Mia Moretti, Katy’s BFF who acted as her “muse” for the track (who produced one of the summer’s most brilliant tracks, “Summer of ’93”). It is bright and, well…prismatic. “From Tokyo to Mexico to Rio,” she sing-songs along on the jet-setting number. Note: I gave Katy Perry a thumbs up and she smiled back at this point in time.
Ghost – “It’s fine.” That’s all my notes for this one, but I do remember more: “Ghost” was one of the album’s only “darker” moments, as Katy waves goodbye to the ghosts of yesterday (hey, Russell Brand!) above a chilly synth undercurrent. It didn’t quite grab me in the big room listening experience, but it may prove excellent in private.
Love Me – Produced by Bloodshy & Avant, who Katy always wanted to work with “because they produced Britney’s best song ever — ‘Toxic.'” (It’s almost like she’s never heard “Soda Pop.”) “Love me, there’s no more questioning!” Katy declares on the self-empowering thumper. It doesn’t sound a thing like “Toxic” or any other production they’ve done for Britney, but it does sound Swedish and good, so there’s that.
This Moment – Inspired by The Power of Now, Katy took the book’s message of “living consciously” and funneled it into this Swede-sounding production. This song was not played at the NYC listening party. (“LOL NOT PLAYED IN NYC BYE,” I wrote.) “Yesterday is history — all we have is this moment.” It’s a total YOLO summer anthem. “Why don’t you be here with me?” she suggests. It was all a bit Robynesque, if you will. At this point in the night, Katy congratulated the crowd for making it this long without our phones, and empathized with our inability to check our various social networks. “There will be so many Instagrams to like,” she offered.
Double Rainbow – The Sia Ballad. Produced by Greg Kurstin, “Double Rainbow” seems to be pegged as the favorite ballad of the record. “You’re brighter than the Northern Lights,” she croons. “They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure…so if it’s up to me, I’m gonna keep you forever. A double rainbow is hard to find.” It’s a big song that, if serviced properly, could give her a better ballad follow-up to “Wide Awake.”
By The Grace Of God – Katy’s Christian faith is an indelible part of her being (really, just watch Part Of Me). “By The Grace of God” taps into her Christian Rock Artist Katy Hudson roots in all the right ways. Produced by Greg Wells (who also helped helm her first studio album and the producer she goes to when she needs to “dump” — no comment), Katy explained that this was the first song she wrote last year. “I thank my sister for keeping my head above water,” she solemnly coos across the piano-led ballad. “I know I am enough, possible to be loved…let the universe call my bluff, the truth will set me free.” It’s not alienating or overly religious in the least — just honest and introspective.
The good news is that Katy’s ditched some of the more childish “Peacock” wang talk and corny “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” party platter cheese in favor of a more mature, glossy and Swede-inspired sound on Prism. (Evidently, Robyn made a huge impact while opening for her on tour.)
The bad news? It doesn’t quite make sense as an album — at least upon first listen. The last record became a modern pop masterpiece because of its cotton candy-coated teenage dream cohesion from beginning to end. This one? I’m just not sure yet, apart from an airy, lightheaded feeling. (That might have also been the #PrismVodka.) The songs are all objectively good of course, but unlike Teenage Dream, there’s no obvious unity or mission statement. It’s a bit like Rihanna’s Loud in that way — a buoyant pop record with assorted offerings of varying quality.
The lack of cohesion’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Considering her expert marketing ability and vast array of inoffensive, radio-friendly tunes, there are plenty of single options on hand (“Walking On Air,” “Unconditionally,” “This Is How We Do,” “Double Rainbow” and “Legendary Lovers” all come to mind first). But then, she’s Katy Perry — she could pick any record from the album, and it will almost inevitably race to the top slot on the Billboard Hot 100. Like a prism, she’s got plenty of ways to shine.
And finally, here I am, remaining prismatic with Katy Perry. She is lovely.
Prism will be released on October 22. (iTunes)