Nov. 7, 2017
“People talk about my hair or they wish it were longer, and like, I so badly want to be Katheryn Hudson that I don't even want to look like Katy Perry anymore sometimes.” Katy Perry said this during her Big Brother–like, four-day-long live stream in June when her latest album, Witness, was released. After going for an edgier look with a blond pixie-cut and speaking out on politics, it appeared the once-frothy pop star who sang about melting popsicles and teenage dreams had matured and taken a more serious turn as an artist.
One would expect her “Witness: The Tour” to follow suit. But at the first of three shows at Staples Center Tuesday night, aside from the blond pixie-cut, the pop star onstage looked everything like Katy and nothing like Katheryn.
Witness may not have been as big a hit as Perry's three previous albums or spawned as many chart-topping singles, but it ushered in an era in the singer's career that seemed to be an important turning point. When performing the lead single, “Chained to the Rhythm,” for the first time at the Grammys in February, Perry wore a Hillary Clinton–esque white Tom Ford pantsuit, complete with a Planned Parenthood logo on the lapel and an armband with the word “persist.” The performance of the song, which many have interpreted to be about political apathy, ended with the words of the Constitution displayed behind her.
Witness: The Tour featured no such messages. The performance of “Chained to the Rhythm” featured a backdrop with far more ambiguous images, such as atomic bombs, soldiers, astronauts and miscellaneous technology. Perry's dancers emerged with TV sets on their heads. Unlike the Grammy performance, where the message was subtle yet impactful, the message for the tour performance was more “I'm pretending to say something impactful but I'm doing it vaguely enough so that it doesn't offend anyone.”
Perhaps Perry decided that since, unlike at the Grammys, her fans had paid to see her perform, she should tone done the edgier, woke Katheryn and give them the Katy they were expecting to see. So she returned to the zany, cartoonish antics and set pieces that secured her place in pop culture over the last nine years. And there sure were a lot of them: huge, dancing flamingos; a giant set of lips; beach balls made to look like giant eyeballs that were thrown into the audience; and, of course, an appearance by Left Shark, made famous by Perry's Super Bowl halftime performance.
Sure, the show was fun and entertaining, but it also felt a little random and unfocused. During Perry's latest single (and rumored Taylor Swift diss track) “Swish Swish,” she brought a dad onstage (not a daddy, she joked, but an actual dad) to compete with her at shooting giant basketballs into a giant net. She stopped the show to make a live call to her mother, after instructing the kids in the audience not to ignore their parents' calls or texts. For her encore, “Firework,” she stood in the palm of a giant statue. Did the statue represent anything? Who knows?
Surprisingly, perhaps the most political moment came from a 13-year-old girl from La Habra named Lisa, whom Perry chose to join her onstage to wish on a shooting star. When Perry asked her to share her wish, Lisa replied that it was for world peace. At first, Perry made a puzzled face and said, “You want world peace?” But then she got the entire arena to shout “world peace” on the count of three after declaring what a crazy world we're living in. So a 13-year-old girl spontaneously provided the realest moment of the night.
“I'm still the same weirdo,” Perry told the audience as she flew overhead at one point, perched on a planet with an acoustic guitar and talking about her pre-fame days before singing a stripped-down version of “Thinking of You,” which was one of the evening's highlights. Katy Perry being her usual weird, goofy self isn't necessarily a bad thing. Not every pop star needs a deeper message or theme behind everything they do, and the campy pop spectacle Perry put on display at Staples Center can be an escape in itself. But after giving us a glimpse of Katheryn Hudson, the Katy Perry of Witness: The Tour came off as an artist who's now unsure what kind of pop star she wants to be.