Monday, Nov. 21, 2011
Better than: Cavities.
Katy Perry is a piece of candy. Or perhaps a cupcake. She's a short, sweet, delicious treat that you can have every day, or at least on a fairly regular basis. She's not a revolutionary, a piece of science fiction, or a conceptual artist. She doesn't wear dresses made of meat -- in fact, the villain of the loose story behind her current live show is a butcher with a mangled grin who yells at doe-eyed Katy, his employee, for cutting off too much fat. At one dark point in the story, large cuts of meat are raised over the stage like crucified saviors, illuminated in ominous red in case the symbolism wasn't obvious. Katy's only hope through all this chaos is, of course, a strapping young lad ... who happens to be the son of the local cupcake baker.
"Candy Land" made a memorable theme for the "California Gurls" video, but sweet treats are a fitting metaphor for what Perry represents: She's desirable and beautiful -- but not exotic. The pleasures she selling are attainable. Her songs fit neatly into the lives of the 14,000 screaming fans who sold out Oracle Arena last night, casting both daydreams and daily life in vivid, familiar detail: skin-tight jeans, posting party pictures online, sand in the stilettos, the fickle love interest everyone's had.
And unless she's a really good actress, which is unlikely, Perry herself is a regular kind of
girl. Her unscripted, between-song chats were awkward, rambling, and revealing: She called out the city of Stockton, and then tumbled through a long story about how, when she lived there, she ran with the "cholas," drew her eyebrows on with a Sharpie, and pierced her nose by herself: "I was really hood, okay?" Five minutes later, as she was boarding a pink cloud that would whisk her through the air to sing "Thinking of You" to the back of the arena, she messed something up and muttered "Uh-oh spaghetti-o's" -- casually, like it's right there in her everyday lexicon. Rihanna would never say "Uh-oh spaghetti-o's."
Just when you think Katy Perry is playing it too safe, or getting too saccarhine, she slips in some mild, tart little transgression: Kissing a girl (albeit one who wears cherry-flavored lip gloss), freaking in the Jeep, too many shots at the bar. She goes just far enough to not be totally PG, yet there's nothing shocking or challenging about Perry's stories, even when they're about sex. Her come-ons are sleeved in euphemisms about a millimeter thick -- "I wanna see your peacock," really? -- but they stop at a well-defined limit of taste. Gaga barely covers herself in concert, but Perry never showed any skin between her waistline and her chest.
Musically, her success rate for hit singles is high -- just think for a second about how many songs from Teenage Dream you've heard in the gas station, the grocery store, the waiting room. Perry dominated not one, but two summers of Top 40 radio with that album. So last night she basically lurched from one blowout to another, filling the space in between with skits, costume changes, random speeches, and interactions with her crowd. Oh, and some boring songs. Few of her non-singles can compete with "Teenage Dream" or "Firework" or "Hot N Cold." Still, when Perry stands alone in front of the mic, it's clear she has a powerful voice, and she managed to accompany herself adequately with an acoustic guitar.
It was a little difficult to focus on the music amid the continuous visual barrage. The show brought a fleet of dancers, plus lasers, fireworks, confetti, three video screens behind the stage (two more to the side), a catwalk into the crowd, a full band dressed in gleaming white, and the lollipop utopia of her "Candy Land" set. Perry presided over this expanse of glimmer, sparkle, and flash like a dazed party host: Making some dance-like movements occasionally, but usually strutting around or jumping up and down. She left most of the synchronized contortions to her crew of hardbodies.
That's okay. The most expressive parts of Katy Perry are her eyes and her mouth, which work in a glossy partnership to display basically four emotions: apprehension, desire, goofiness, and triumph. All the feelings that Katy Perry the Pop Star has to give you are in there. A more complex artist might do more, but Perry is an easy treat, a glittery ideal to sweeten life up. And who doesn't like a little piece of candy once in a while?