Katy Perry’s Prism lacks in creativity but has moments of profound self actualization. In between forgettable pop grooves and cliche lyrics, Katy speaks from a place of relational experience that shows a level of responsibility and honesty not often found among her peers.
Musically, there is nothing to get excited about. Overly polished tracks with layers upon layers of vocals makes this music perfect for the stadium tour that is soon to follow but ultimately uninteresting. What does make this album worth listening to are the moments of clarity that Katy gives to her audience. Her honesty about the brokenness in her life results in a collection of sound relationship advice for a tween age audience that is beginning to develop their paradigms of what makes a healthy relationship.
Let’s get the party jams out of the way before we dig into the songs with substance:
Roar: The lead single from the album is a string of bad cliches. For example:
- I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything
- I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
- Now I’m floating like a butterfly, Stinging like a bee I earned my stripes
- I went from zero, to my own hero
It’s like she is giving her audience a handbook of empowerment soundbites. The song itself is pretty minimal and there is tons of space between notes for the catchy vocals to live. The themes and imagery attached to this song are already played out.
Birthday: Nothing shocking, nothing special. Though this song might make for an entertaining music video, the songs is full of weak innuendo and what might as well be track from an old Casio keyboard.
This is How We Do: Ugh… Tired themes of celebrating excessive consumption and the culture of indulgence. Sure the melody is catchy but the fact this song even exists in the same space as By the Grace of God and It Takes Two demeans the impact of the other songs.
International Smile: Here is a shell of a character for anyone to project themselves into. The song props up a false ideal of living in luxury and reads like a juvenile attempt to affirm that lifestyle as desirable.
Enough of the bad stuff. Prism has some deep moments that you can’t help but think were influenced by Katy’s history within Christian music.
Unconditionally: The second single from Prism could be a Hillsong anthem and no one would know the difference. Unconditional is a power ballad worthy of assuming the ecstatic worship position. The song can be heard from two different perspectives; between two lovers or between God and a believer. If you listen to the song through the framework of a human relationship it resonates as someone desiring to engage their partner on a deeper level despite their flaws. If you listen to Unconditionally as sung from God’s perspective you will see the emergence of Christian theology and characteristics traditionally ascribed to God. The song becomes cloaked in grace, forgiveness and the desire to be known.
I don’t think we are supposed to separate the two understandings of the song. What I think Katy is going for is showing how she wants her relationships to reflect the example given in the Christian story. For an audience that is still creating their ideas of what love is, this is a hopeful representation of an ideal that Katy strives for.
By the Grace of God: Easily the most honest song on the album. This is Katy looking back at the last period of her life, acknowledging the brokenness and asking herself “how’d I get through this?” By the grace of God and the support of her family, she was able to slowly reengage with life and begin to work through the hurt. The song is more about her raw state and the support she received than anything about her spiritual worldview.
It Takes Two: This is my favorite song on the album for two reasons, her willingness to admit fault and her ability to apologize. So often we find our celebrities scapegoating and placing blame for the disfunction in their lives and it’s refreshing to hear her take ownership for her role in the break up of her relationship. The other thing I like about this song is that it isn’t musically forced. The tone of the lyrics and the music fit together in such a way that helps communicate both her remorse and determination to learn from her mistakes and move forward.
These three songs (Unconditionally, By the Grace of God and It Takes Two) provide an amazing framework about what it means to be in relationship. The desire to embody the height of love, the needed support when that ideal isn’t attained and the responsibility to admit fault in the shortcoming.
Prism offers moments of clarity in the midst of the false allure of pop stardom. I wish that this had come out as two albums with the songs divided thematically. We could have one collection of songs that are meant for those who want to crank it up and dance while the other collection of songs would be for those of us who are more interested in the introspection of a super star. My hope is that the depth of this album doesn’t get overlooked because it’s sprinkled in amongst the mundane.