The pop star introduced her new album and played it in its entirety at an exclusive event at Los Angeles' Hammer Museum.
“I know every date for the next two years,” said Katy Perry Thursday night at Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum, only half-kidding. The occasion: a full-on premiere of Prism, Perry’s third album, in its entirety, now that it’s been sequenced, mixed, mastered and sent off to the presses with its own official release marked for Oct. 22. In recent weeks, "We all grew a little older," she cracked.
The album represents a milestone moment for the 28-year-old singer, whose last full-length, 2010’s Teenage Dream, yielded five No. 1 singles -- a record number. To say that the pressure is on would be an understatement of universal proportions. Indeed, it’s Universal Music Group, which purchased EMI’s recording arm in 2012 -- and with it, Capitol Records, the label to which Perry is signed -- which has the most to gain from the highly-anticipated follow-up. After all, few would argue with the commonly held belief that Prism, along with Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP, are the company’s two top priorities for the fourth quarter of 2013 and beyond.
But Perry has her own creative heights to climb, she showed the slightest bit of nervousness in gauging their responses at the invite-only party. How did the album come together and what can we expect of its impending roll-out? Plenty, as THR learned during 13-track listening session.
1. Prism features at least four potential singles: As THR's sister magazine Billboard had previously noted, at least four of Perry's new songs have hit potential. They include "This Is How We Do," a sunny 80s throwback that references LA's hipster neighborhood Silver Lake and the luxury brand Chanel in practically the same breath; "International Smile," which had Perry singing along with the hooky line, "Please fasten your seat belts and make sure your champagne glasses are empty;" "This Moment" and "Ghost," mid-tempo ballads that are closest in DNA to Perry's previous smashes; and "By the Grace of God," which could see major traction in the bible belt. The power ballad "Unconditionally," Perry's current favorite, is also destined to become "the wedding song of 2014" -- or so Capitol EVP Greg Thompson (pictured below) demurred.
2. Perry's musical inspirations include Robyn, Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” Wendy and Lisa-era Prince: Most of the 14 tracks represented a sonic departure from chart-topper "Roar" indicating that Perry is proudly wearing her influences on her sleeve. To wit: the Prince-ian song "Birthday," produced by "the dream team" of Dr. Luke and Max Martin, which Perry described as "something Mariah Carey would have put on her first record;" The Robyn-flavored "Walking on Air," an uptempo club banger; and "Love Me," produced by Bloodshy, the man behind Perry's "favorite song ever, Britney Spears' "Toxic."
3. The title comes from an email: Perry's word du jour has to be "prismatic," which she used to describe several songs on the album. Explaining its title, the Santa Barbara native said Prism came to symbolize "a point in my life that was a little on the dark side." She saw the light, however, after someone called her a prism in an email. It was at that point that Perry let it shine through the songs.
6. A “self-sabotaging” fourth album is on the way... Perhaps we'll get the answer to the great unknowns of Perry's life with her next release, which she joked was bound to be a "self-sabotaging" acoustic record. "Are you ready, Steve?" she goaded of Capitol's CEO.
7. It all comes back to her boobs: Working on the track "Double Rainbow" with producer Greg Kustin and co-writer Sia, said Perry, allowed her to "dump" pent-up emotions and gets things off her chest. Then with a pause, she added. "Why is everything always about my chest?"
Perry also revealed that two more tracks from the album will preview in September -- the hip-hop heavy "Dark Horse," featuring rapper Juicy J, on Sept. 17, and "Walking on Air” on Sept. 30. THR also learned that she’s set to open the American Music Awards in November. By then, a second single should be climbing the charts, although a rep for the singer will only confirm that another song is expected to go to radio by the end of the year.
4 & 5 at the ROARce
MuuMuse has a description of each track along with his thoughts on the lack of cohesion...
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.
ROARce Track By Track ROARce