It was the spring of 2009. It was a rather odd time in my life. I had just finished my first year of college, still had no idea what I wanted to do with life (do I now?), and gained the infamous freshman 15 (ok, 20). Like I said, this time was just odd, not depressing, just plain odd.
Did I also mention that I had black hair and ear studs? Those pictures have been deleted.
The now superstar, Katy Perry, had just premiered the year earlier with her landmark first single “I Kissed a Girl.” From the moment I heard that song I knew that I would be a fan. I still remember where and when I bought her first album, One of The Boys. I loved her rebellious attitude and how she had a hand in writing all her songs.
On May 11, 2009, my fandom for Perry was sealed in cement as I traveled to Dallas to see her first tour “Hello Katy” at the now closed Dallas House of Blues. She was enchanting to say the least. There was a certain aura around the whole auditorium when she took the stage and it’s something I have not seen again.
Now fast forward to 2015. I have bought every Katy Perry album since then the first day of release and have listened to them religiously. My favorite will always be One of The Boys. Her writing was on point in that album and she didn’t have as much commercial influence. I still sing “Waking Up in Vegas” in the shower.
In 2013 Perry released her 4th album, Prism, and to be honest, this is where she lost me. I quickly dismissed this album. Teenage Dream was an amazing album that almost topped Michael Jackson’s Thriller for most number one singles. The accolades just rolled in for her. Usually I don’t feel good when these awards roll in for artist, but Perry is so genuine that I could do nothing but smile.
Prism opens up with the now Perry classic “Roar” and is on Hillary Clinton’s Spotify playlist. I always took Hillary as more of a Cher girl, but kudos for jumping into the millennium! “Roar” is a great power anthem to anybody who has ever been kicked down either by love, betrayal, friendship, you name it. I love the consistent piano “ting” if you will, that keeps beat throughout the song.
What I love about vinyl albums is that it breaks the actual album up into different “acts.” I didn’t dig Side A to this album at all. “Roar” was great, but I really wasn’t feeling songs like “Birthday” or “Legendary Lovers.”
Side B starts out with what I often say is one of Perry’s best vocal performances of her career. “Unconditionally” was the second single from the album. I was glad that Perry was releasing such an emotional song. She had not done so since “Thinking of You” in 2009. This song is where we first begin to see a glimpse into Perry’s inner emotions.
On a side note, this album came out after she had divorced Russell Brand. A relationship that everybody was skeptical of. As her movie Part of Me chronicled, the trials of fame and distance didn’t fare well on their relationship and their marriage did not survive.
We next have “Dark Horse” and “This is How We Do.” Great singles, although they weren’t as successful as some of her previous singles had been. “Dark Horse” mixes pop synth and R&B fluently making them sound of one language. “This is How We Do” touches on the mistakes we all just can’t seem to stop making right now. Make sure my mother doesn’t hear this song.
It’s when we finally change vinyls and flip to side C that this album begins to truly unfold. The first part of the album has all the frills, humor, and spunky writing you expect every Perry album to have, but now it was time for the nit grit. It was time to see what Perry was really feeling underneath the blanket of commercial success. She had gone through emotional hell and that wasn’t going by the wayside.
Side C begins with “Ghost,” a diamond in the rough for this album. It talks of how there is now an “Echo where your heart used to be” and that “You’re just a ghost.” The album then immediately goes into “Love Me,” which is easily one of the best sentiments of the album. She says that she must “Love myself the way I want you to love me.” How can you expect someone to love you if you can’t even accept yourself? This is the second semi ballad of the album expressing a simple concept that everyone struggles with.
Jumping down a track, the album then goes into “Double Rainbow.” Although this song seems positive on the outset, it has an eerie feeling behind it. The song discusses how rare double rainbows can be. I wonder if they are so rare that this song is really just speaking of a dream or illusion. Did she actually find a double rainbow as the song proclaims?
Finally, we come to the one true ballad of the entire album “By The Grace of God.” There is no denying this song is a chronicle of her breakup from Brand. Perry’s passionate vocals sore over a simple piano accompaniment showing she doesn’t need all the pop effects to have talent. She revisits the spiritual realm in this song acknowledging the fact that it was only by the grace of God that she survived this time in her life. She croons over the chorus, “And I looked in the Mirror. And decided to stay. Wasn’t going to let love take me out like that.” A simple march begins in the climax of this song. I felt like it was a march of survival and resilience.
I believe this song is the prelude to what will come next in Perry’s carreer. To say the least, I’m very excited. “By The Grace of God” showed Perry’s writing at its best, her vocals at their most pristine, and her talent in the rawest form. Greater and better things are in store for Perry and I can’t wait to hear the soundtrack.
What I realized after listening to this album a little harder was that I was listening to it all wrong. This isn’t an album made of simple pop anthems. Perry pours her soul into these songs and expresses her emotions from a pivotal experience in her life. These are easily some of Perry’s freshest and truest writings. Sadly, I was listening for another Teenage Dream.
I guess I was just looking through the prism wrong the first time around.
So as I sit here now, nearly 5 years after I saw her concert, I think about how my life has changed and how it hasn’t. I also think about peppermint swirls and dancing sharks. I realize that I have literally lived half of Perry’s songs. She has provided a hint of hope for those of us who still just want to be who we are creatively and stand up for what is right, but are restricted by society. Although her music has morphed into a commercial machine, her writings have not. She is the same Perry not wanting to be one of the boys.
Now if you’ll excuse me I need to run down to the drugstore. My lips are chapped, I need some chapstick. I hope they have cherry….