Katy Perry w/Robyn
Sunday, June 19
Better than: Being sent to bed without dessert.
Pop music can be a funny thing sometimes. So often, the factors that divide fandom from outright loathing can be completely extramusical, yet they can still inspire frothing at the mouth/keyboard over the “realness” of performers and songs and such—look at the gallons of virtual blood that get spilled when you dare to compare Beyoncé to Gaga, Rihanna to Ke$ha, Britney to anyone.
It was with this in mind that I went to see last night’s concert by Katy Perry, who has been a particular bane of my existence since “I Kissed A Girl” dropkicked itself into the national consciousness in 2008, and who many of my colleagues have tried to convince me to come around on. She was taking Robyn on tour! She was promising a trip to Candy Land with the purchase of each ticket!
After a brief set by the aforementioned proto-perfect popbot, who punched and kicked her way around the stage to songs from the Body Talk trilogy and who won over a good chunk of the arena’s front section, the anticipation for Perry to arrive onstage seized the room; at around 9 p.m. after a brief film that outlined the Dorothy Goes To Candy Land And Finds A Cute Boy At The End Of The Rainbow conceit of the show, she went right into “Teenage Dream,” the first-blush title track from her hit-spewing 2010 album; she then spun right into “Hummingbird Heartbeat,” a catchy, if marblemouthed, rewrite of Kylie Minogue’s “Love At First Sight.” (Kylie came to mind quite a few times during the course of the evening; the scope of Perry’s show was impressive, complete with aerialists and a cloud to bring her out to the middle of the stage, and reminiscent of the Aphrodite tour.) It was fun, light, and frothy—and a woman dressed like a slot machine came out, and Perry noted that this pal of hers was named “slot,” not “slut.” She helpfully spelled out both words to both underline the joke and wink at her brilliance for coming up with such a half-entendre.
Subtlety is not Perry’s strong suit at all; the robo-stomp of the extremely heteronormative “I Kissed A Girl,” the various things shooting out of her breasts, everything about the extended dick joke “Peacock.” The first time I saw her, at the Warped Tour a few years back,” she actually yelled “PENIS!” to lighten the mood; she didn’t repeat that stunt last night, but the “jokes” she would make ranged from smirk-inducing to facepalm-worthy.
The Desmond Child crunch of “Waking Up In Vegas” (which was capped by her throwing coins into the crowd) at least put the groaning aside, but any goodwill engendered by that performance further evaporated when she stormed into “U R So Gay,” the angry riposte to a metrosexual ex that preceded “Kissed” in the Katy Perry Onslaught Of The Late Naughts. Considering that the shrill “Firework” has become something of a rallying cry for the It Gets Better movement, you’d think she’d retire this particular track, trafficking as it does in the use of the word “gay” as nothing more than a pejorative, albeit one that’s somewhat synonymous to the dreaded word “hipster.” The performance had Katy dancing with two mimes, as if to underscore the “ewww!” factor; they then let her eat some of their “magic” brownie, which was her excuse for acting omg, so crazy! for the next couple of songs. She invited a guy up on stage but instructed him to take off his shirt first for some sort of lap-dance-ish action that would go wrong; the comedy came from her assuming he was from Jersey (he was from Brooklyn; this confusion over where the “Jersey” fans actually hailed from would continue throughout the evening) and Italian (he was Israeli), and also from the way one of his hands lingered around his crotch. Actually, come to think of it, these two would make a great comedy team; or at least, whatever awkward banter they had on offer would be better than “I Kissed A Girl,” which was up next and during which Katy, even in her brownie-addled state, was demure enough to leave the girl-on-girl duties to a pair of her female dancers. (“At least one of them looks kinda butch,” noted SOTC pal Chris Weingarten, who I’d lured into being my partner in viewing. True!)
The long stretch of Teenage Dream album tracks that followed was punctuated by a laser-laced performance of the maddening and very lyrically creepy “E.T.” (the words were helpfully projected above the stage to remind the audience of just how ick-inducing they were); costumes for her dancers that looked like they were on loan from a musical adaptation of Delicatessen and huge slabs of meat hanging over the stage; and a song called “Not Like The Movies” that childishly holds up the Hollywood ideal of romantic love as the paradigm for romantic relatonships everywhere, which should be quite the addition to her set list should her marriage with Russell Brand suffer the same fate as Arthur‘s box-office receipts.
Finally, after that lengthy justification of why Teenage Dream really did deserve that Album Of The Year nod from NARAS last winter, Perry and her band pulled up some stools to the edge of the stage. “Do you love music like it’s another limb, or a sixth sense?” she asked. Rapturous roars from the crowd. This was the intro to her medley of cover songs that included a pitch-shifted version of Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In The World)” (the key change made it sound unexpectedly great); the chorus to Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin'” (who knew that we’d hear a Pimp C shout-out at a Katy Perry show); “Whip My Hair” (seriously thought she was about to cover “Airbag” when this particular bit started); and Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” which the entire arena knew and which the girls behind me were particularly excited to hear.
Perry has taken up “Friday” as a cause, even going so far as to cast Black as the bad girl in her reference-confused video for “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” It’s easy to see why; not only does doing so appeal to her oh-so-contrarian nature, “Friday,” for all its inanity about fun and weekends and such, captures innocently that sort of childlike wonder that Perry is so obsessed with soaking herself in, but can’t tone down the dick jokes and look-at-me quasi-bisexuality enough in order to completely capture. (It’s also incredibly hooky in a way that Dr. Luke is no doubt studying as he hunkers down in his bunker getting ready for Perry’s next album.)
From there we were in the home stretch; Perry climbed on a crowd to sing her weepy ballad “Thinking Of You,” covered “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” in an effort to underscore the total ’80sosity, man of “Last Friday Night,” and performed some clothes-changing magic tricks during “Hot & Cold” that I’m still trying to figure out. (Seriously, two of her dancers threw confetti at her and, poof, her dress changed. It was one of the few times during the show where I went, “ohhhh,” and meant it.)
For the big finish Katy brought out her contribution to the It Gets Better-core canon “Firework,” dedicating it to “everybody in the room.” “I believe in people,” she declared. “Do you believe in people?” This pronouncement was a bit hard to swallow given the lyrical nastiness of “U R So Gay” and “Circle The Drain,” but it got the crowd roaring, and yes, I did mumble along with the chorus a couple of times. Because—to go back to the idea of pop as persona—if, say, Ke$ha was performing “Firework,” I’d probably have much less of a problem singing along with its declarations of everyone having something special within.
“California Gurls” and a happy ending where Katy found her cat and got her guy (a cute baker with a secret double life as a gingerbread man) closed out the night, and all of Katy’s candy pals came onstage, including two guys dressed in those complicated one-person chorus line outfits that I’d only seen in re-enactments of the Village People’s act during minor-league baseball games. And then the whipped-cream cannons came out, soaking the people who were closest to the stage in white goo that stubbornly clung to their hair. It was fitting that even as people were making their exit, they’d be walking that line between “gross” and “fun” that Perry teetered over for most of the evening.
Critical bias: I am going to go insane if I don’t get “E.T.” out of my head before the end of the day.
Overheard: “Fuck you, Katy Perry, I don’t have a boyfriend!”
Random notebook dump: The fashions on display at last night’s show were almost more impressive than the ones walking around the rotunda at Lady Gaga’s concerts, if only because of their ramshackle charm—some young ladies quite successfully replicated the candy-buttons dress and peppermint bustier from the “California Gurls” video, but others were more creative, festooning cut-up t-shirts with puff paint, sporting tutus and taking the “candy” ideal to new conceptual levels. (My favorite: The girl who repurposed her Brownie uniform to be a devotional to her sweet-appreciation skills, complete with chocolate-chip-cookie beret.) How many of these homemade-frock-wearing fans are going to become the next generation of Etsy merchants?
Robyn set list:
Fembot / Bad Gal
Dancing On My Own
We Dance To The Beat / Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do
Never Will Be Mine (w/Rye Rye)
Call Your Girlfriend
Hang WIth Me
Katy Perry set list:
Waking Up In Vegas
U R So Gay
I Kissed A Girl
Circle The Drain
Who Am I Living For
Not Like The Movies
Only Girl In The World / Big Pimpin’ / Friday / Whip My Hair
Thinking Of You
Hot & Cold
Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)
I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)