During Katy Perry’s encore at her Tuesday night show in Anaheim, she pulled an ecstatic tween from the crowd and onto the stage.
After learning that the girl’s birthday was Wednesday, Perry placed her atop a throne made of white-frosted cake. They rode together over the arena’s 14,000 fans, while Perry sang the effervescent funk single “Birthday” right at her feet.
What a lovely present. But then the girl then did what most of her peers would have done in that situation: She pulled out her phone to record it, watching the whole spectacle through a six-inch screen.
Hope the Instagram points were worth it, because that’s what Katy Perry is up against as a massive pop star now at the edge of 30.
How can any singer truly hold teenagers’ attention today? Pop’s younger fans only see music (and, increasingly, every experience) as an endless slipstream of video content, existing to populate your social media portals for a few hours. Even in-the-flesh live shows are just real-time music videos.
But if anyone can survive that, it's Perry. Her second LP “Teenage Dream” tied Michael Jackson’s “Bad” for the most #1 singles from one album (she had 5). Last year’s “Prism” missed those chart achievements, but it remains the year’s most underrated big-pop record, mixing masterful Max Martin writing with vintage house, disco and power ballad productions.
Tuesday’s “Prismatic” show at the Honda Center proved that Perry’s persona is a lasting one, and that she’s built one of the sturdiest catalogs in teen-centric pop. But three albums in, she’s still concerned that fans’ attention might wander. (Perry comes to Staples Center Friday and Saturday.)
After 2010’s lusty electro-pop masterpiece “Teenage Dream,” “Prism” initially felt a little slow. But almost a year after its release, the album’s hidden pleasures have finally bubbled over.
In concert, “This Is How We Do” revealed itself as the pre-party anthem for teen-girl misbehavior in America today. It didn’t matter that the ‘90s diva-house references of “Walking On Air” went right over the heads of the 12-year-olds in the audience (who don’t remember 9/11, let alone Black Box and Crystal Waters). Its chunky pianos and wailing vocals could rouse any generation, as could the pool-party sizzle of “International Smile.”
Through sheer force of will, Perry made the devotional chorus hook of “Unconditionally” feel like its opposite -- a statement of individual power over the mess of relationships (Russell Brand, John Mayer, and maybe goofball rapper Riff Raff) left in her recent wake.
The songs are there, and Perry can deliver them. The few stumbles came in the presentation.
Perry came to fame with a self-aware coquettishness. She was always sucking lollipops, shooting whipped cream from her chest, and winking at her eye candy appeal while singing smart, immaculate teen pop.
But Tuesday’s show opened with a visual theme of lasers and tribal warfare that looked ripped from the Burning Man discard pile. The much-missed singer Kesha was messing around with ravey imagery five years ago; while the acrobatics and the scale of Perry’s sets were impressive, they were very stock moves for an arena tour today.
The visuals improved with the ancient-Egypt noir on “Dark Horse,” and Perry’s potent voice was well-suited for the acoustic medley centered around "Thinking of You." But there’s no way to explain the twerking, big-bootied mummy portion of the set. It was meant as dumb fun, but cannot even death and embalming save women in Africa from such portrayals?
The more affecting allusion to death came when Perry thanked fans for showing up when she needed them. “I’m obsessed with you guys, in all the healthiest ways, I promise,” she said to the crowd. “Like, I want us to get matching caskets.”
It was a grim joke, but one not lost on those who've followed Perry for most of her career. We’re not getting any younger, and while the kids go home with plenty of VineFace SnapBook videos from Tuesday’s show, Perry’s more wizened fans know these perfect pop songs will follow them to future oldies stations.