If you’ve known me for any reasonable length of time, I will inevitably bring up the fact that I’ve been a fan of Katy Perry’s since 2001, back when she was going by the name Katy Hudson and recording Christian rock music. So it’s been a dream of mine to talk with Katy about that particular genre, since it’s something that rarely gets brought up in interviews. Well, as of Sept. 6, I can say I’ve done just that.
It came up during a special listening party for Perry’s upcoming studio album, Prism (out Oct. 22). Katy and her label have hosted a few listening parties across the country, and while the one in Atlanta was largely for radio programmers, a few other press people such as myself were also invited.
After listening to 11 of the standard album’s 13 songs, plus watching the just-released music video for lead single “Roar,” most of us lined up to get our photo taken with Katy. Of course, I jumped at the chance. And when I got up to meet her…I went with the first thing that came to mind. Fortunately, Katy seemed to be excited to talk about that, even if it was briefly. She asked if there was a particular reason I listened to gospel music growing up, and I mentioned that there was – my father was a youth minister at that point. She acknowledged growing up in a similar situation, and mentioned that it was great meeting someone else who knew what it was like to get out of that particular mode. Then she brought up a few of the artists I listened to at that point (dc Talk, Jars of Clay, Sonicflood and Rebecca St. James), before mentioning that she was roommates with Jaci Velasquez at one point.
Then came the photo, and I was off. So not a lot of time with Katy. But I’m very happy with my brief encounter with the pop superstar.
Now, for my thoughts on the Prism tracks played. Note: the songs are in the order they were played for us, which Katy acknowledged isn’t the tracklisting order for the album. The eleven songs played don’t include “Roar,” one remaining song from the standard edition, or the three tracks that make up the deluxe edition bonus tracks.
“Legendary Lovers” – The song has a nice bhangra beat to it. There’s a breakdown around the bridge area that will make you want to dance. Some of the lyrics are delivered surprisingly quickly. I could see it as a later-era single.
“Birthday” – Katy described this as a song that Mariah Carey might’ve included on her debut album, with some influences from Wendy & Lisa. The song is fun, and one of a few songs with a definite 90s feel to it. It includes a few different points where Katy whispers “Happy birthday” Marilyn-style. The second time it played, at the end, Katy had a cute embarrassed look on her face. I could see this song as a single at some point.
“Walking On Air” – This is one of two songs that Katy promoted just before the VMAs for early release. While the other song, “Dark Horse,” ended up winning, Katy did say that this song would also be released before the album. The 90s feel continues on this song, which is reminiscent of CeCe Peniston’s “Finally.” Klas Åhlund, who’s produced a lot of Robyn’s material, produced this song. The 30-second snippet released to promote the track in August did not do this song justice. This could easily be a part of Katy’s ever-growing string of #1 singles, and of all the songs played tonight, I’d make this the second single.
“Unconditionally” – Katy mentioned that this was her personal favorite on the album. Epic chorus. Pulls at the heartstrings. Easy contender for single status.
“Dark Horse” (feat. Juicy J) – The only song with a feature, at least that was played for us. The song gets an early release on Sept. 15. Very moody. The 30-second snippet released in August doesn’t fully hint at the trap sound that the song takes on. Booming bass. Not sure if this will be a single or not; Katy was insistent that this and “Walking On Air” are not necessarily the second and third singles.
“This Is How We Do” – This one has some hip-hop swagger. Lyrically, it’s like a less-funny take on “Last Friday Night (TGIF).” One of the Stockholm tracks. Song fades early, then comes back. Very fun. Could be a single later on.
“International Smile” – Written for one of Katy’s friends, DJ Mia Moretti. There are some rock influences on the track, though it’s by no means a rock song. Of the songs heard by this point, this was the first that didn’t immediately grab me. I don’t see it being a single. This is all just based on one listen, though.
“Ghost” – This is almost definitely aimed at Katy’s ex, Russell Brand. Could be a single later in the album cycle.
“Love Me” – This track comes from “Toxic” producer Bloodshy. Katy emphasized the importance of the lyrics on this one. Another one that’s likely aimed at Brand. It’s an interesting mix – the lyrics are dark, but the music is very dance-centric. At the very least, it’ll do well in clubs.
“Double Rainbow” – Katy collaborated with Sia and Greg Kurstin on this one. Some of Katy’s finest vocals of the album are on this song.
“By the Grace of God” – This song closes out the standard album. It’s the only flat-out ballad we heard. It’s a piano-based song, but it’s more epic in its instrumentation than Teenage Dream’s closing ballad, “Not Like the Movies.” Given the success of piano-based songs on radio since Adele’s “Someone Like You,” it wouldn’t completely surprise me to see this as a single.
After the songs were played, Katy played the music video for “Roar.” After hearing the other tracks, it struck me how different “Roar” is from the other songs on the album. While I wouldn’t say all the songs sound the same, there’s a definite dance mode to most of the songs. “Roar” doesn’t fit in. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s just worth noting that the lead single is definitely not representative of the whole album, musically speaking.
Also, for the record, here are my favorites based solely on one listen: “Legendary Lovers,” “Walking On Air,” “Unconditionally,” “Love Me,” and “By the Grace of God.”
Finally, based just on one listen, here’s what I think of the album as a(n incomplete) whole: it’s a more mature progression from Teenage Dream. I don’t think Katy will get another 5+ #1 singles from this album, but she doesn’t need to do that. It’s an exceptional pop album, and especially if the tracklist is sequenced in the right way, this will be a killer album.