"Roar" and the Search for Meaning

A Conversation About Prism and Katy Perry's Pantheistic Quest to Wear Your Skin Like a Suit

Mike Force

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PAUL CONSTANT: Katy Perry has always been a singles artist. She really only hits home runs with her singles—you'd have to be a total dick to deny the appeal of "Firework" or "California Gurls." So why does "Roar" feel so deflated? Worse yet, why is "Roar" the best thing on this album?

CIENNA MADRID: Perhaps because Perry finally hit puberty? Now, instead of squirting whipped cream, her mechanical-nipple bras will squirt expired milk and tax forms. I actually like this song. Perry's voice is best when she's scream-singing—it's full-throated, it's husky, and it makes you want to scream-sing along. We don't get enough of that on this album.

PC: But it doesn't even have the abandon of her other full-throated songs. You listen to Katy Perry's singles for that wordless ejaculation at the end of the chorus: The "Make 'em go aaaaah aaaaaay aaaaaay" in "Firework" or that weird "aaieeau-eow-eow" in "California Gurls." Here, it's a more restrained "oooah-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ohheoh." It ends in a choke, not a bellow.


CM: Really, her most egregious misstep is embracing ballads instead of the clubbier pop hits that made Teenage Dream so fantastic. Without a punchy beat behind her, it's more obvious that her pedantic lyrics—basically just clichés running together in a semi-coherent stream—don't even rhyme. Take the first two lines of "Legendary Lovers": "Under a silver moon, tropical temperature/I feel my lotus bloom, come closer." Later on in the song, she rhymes "legendary" with "legendary." This is what giving up sounds like.

PC: This song just makes me feel gross. All the all-you-can-worship-spirituality-buffet talk about auras and magic and karma and cleansing rivers and saying names like scriptures makes me feel like I'm listening to a Scientology indoctrination tape.

CM: Also, the sitar. Nothing screams cultural appropriation like sitar and lotus blooms.


CM: I do appreciate how Perry can walk the line of chaste flirt and sexy seductress. This song is all about birthday sex. "So let me get you in your birthday suit/It's time to bring out the big balloons/So let me get you in your birthday suit/It's time to bring out the big, big, big, big, big, big balloons" she croons. Meanwhile, while making the media rounds promoting Prism, she's been shaking her bobble-head sadly, blinking her great big blue eyes, and talking about what a shame it is that other pop starlets can't keep their clothes on. (This is the woman who posed nude in cotton-candy clouds on the cover of Teenage Dream AND is seemingly topless on the cover of Prism.) The thing is, she seems so very nice that you feel compelled to nod along to her polite hypocrisy.

PC: This is maybe the second-best song on the album, just because it has a nice Prince vibe to it. Unfortunately, it's post–Jehovah's Witness Prince.


CM: This song sounds like a drag-queen club anthem. It's not terrible, but again, it doesn't hold a candle to Perry's earlier club hits. I've listened to this song no less than 20 times, and it has never once gotten stuck in my head.

PC: "You're reading me like erotica" is a pretty good line for a pop song, but "Boy, you make me feel exotic yeah" is a terrible follow-through. The problem with Prism is that every song has like 30 to 45 good seconds in it—just enough to make a great soundtrack for a TV commercial, hint-hint!—but the other two or three minutes feel sloppy.


PC: Un-con-dish-SHAUN-ul! Un-con-dish-SHAUN-ul-lee!

CM: Katy Perry is teaching an entire generation how to pronounce words wrong. And for that, we give her millions. This country is fucked.


CM: It was during this song that I realized my overarching problem with this album: I'm not sure what its message is. I mean, this is supposed to be one of the "darker" songs—we know because it has the word "dark" in the title, and features heavy bass and Juicy J from Three 6 Mafia—but the theme's the same as most other songs: love 'n' sex.

PC: To be fair, Katy Perry has always been about mixed signals. "Firework," her supposed gay pride and anti-teen-suicide anthem, is about being beautiful for a second and then exploding into nothingness.

CM: There's no evolution. We're not looking at these entwined themes from different points of view, we're just dwelling on them with a new set of tortured metaphors. Instead of lotus blossoms and birthday balloons, this time we get forbidden magic, birds in a cage, a perfect storm, the requisite dark horse, a Jeffrey Dahmer dinner, pie, a knight in shining armor, drugs, and a roller coaster. (What, no kitchen sink?) ALL OF THAT MELODRAMA STUFFED INTO ONE THREE-MINUTE SONG ABOUT LOVE. This buckshot tactic makes it hard to follow, let alone relate to, what she's singing about.


PC: It's no secret that I'm a Ke$ha man. And part of Ke$ha's appeal, to me, is that she seems to wallow in her lifestyle and image, in the same way that punk musicians lived their lyrics, back when punk still mattered. Unlike Madonna or Lady Gaga, who are always putting on and taking off images, Ke$ha is all about one continuous legend, which feels refreshingly authentic. "This Is How We Do" is the trashy Ke$ha-style party track on this album, and I just don't buy it. In the middle of the song, Perry gives a shout-out to "all you kids buying bottle service with your rent money." I expected the next line to be something about blowing your trust fund on a new scooter. It just feels like the Christian high schooler wearing a fake nose ring to give off a renegade air. The pre-chorus refrain, "It's no big deal/It's no big deal/It's no big deal/This is no big deal," reeks of desperation, like someone trying to convince herself that going to breakfast in last night's dress isn't going to be a mark on her permanent record. Katy Perry is about as sleazy as an autoclave at a cancer research lab.

CM: I suppose this tune is refreshing and different because it's about partying, not love 'n' sex. I just wish it were executed better. The song feels like a Miley Cyrus rip-off—as if someone reminded Perry that she's about to turn 30, and that's about double the age of her fans, so she should scramble to relate to them before they start counting the lines on her face like rings on a tree.

PC: I'm also unhappy with the line "gettin' my nails did all Japanese-y." Considering Perry is on the record as wanting to tear the skin off a Japanese person and then wear it "like Versace".


CM: The beat is up-tempo and catchy (at least relative to the other songs on this album) but it sounds more like generic filler for Teenage Dream than a fresh hit. That said, I'd listen to it on repeat if I had to undergo minor dental surgery. Much like getting punched in the stomach distracts your attention away from a headache, this song might lessen the pain of a root canal by comparison.

PC: Let's see what other cultures we can murder and eat! How about all of them? Let's just eat all of them.


PC: I know we sound like haters, so let me just say that I loved Perry's concert documentary Part of Me and I'd recommend it to anyone. It's maybe the most successful multimedia promotion of a singer since Madonna's big Sex push back in the early '90s. This song feels like brand maintenance. It acknowledges Perry's divorce from Russell Brand ("You sent a text" is obviously a callback to how Brand reportedly divorced her), and it pushes her personal story. Personally, I just can't be bothered to give a shit. Part of Me was the perfect mix of entertainment and emotion. This album is too much of the latter and not enough of the former.


CM: This song is one of the most cohesive and honest on Prism. It's probably about John Mayer; nevertheless, the message is relatable and affirming. "Sometimes I wish my skin was a costume/That I could just unzip, and strip/But who I am is who I'm meant to be/And it's who you are in love, in love with/So now, I don't negotiate with the insecurities/It's gonna have to take a back seat/I know I have to love myself/The way I want you to." I think the message would sing stronger if every song weren't about cajoling or seducing a man into loving you, but still: It's better than most on this album.

PC: Again with pulling off and wearing skin! Someone's a Silence of the Lambs fan.


PC: Is this song more like a fart in an elevator or a warm spot in a public pool?


PC: Of all the many plodding ballads on this album, I guess this is my favorite. But that's not saying much; an '80s synth-pop show-dragger inspired by a wildly popular YouTube video starring a weeping hippie is at best an amusing oddity.


CM: There's been a lot of speculation that Perry is getting back to her Christian roots and shrewdly remaking herself as a more modest pop icon (someone Christian parents can approve of), in contrast to the twerkers out there. Perhaps that's so. However, this song, much like "Love Me," is clearly another autobiographical autopsy of Perry's crumbled marriage. The lyrics "by the grace of God" feel more like using common vernacular as a reaffirmation of personal strength than a pledge of allegiance to a white Sky King.

PC: Yeah, the autobiographical songs are the worst. You know what Ke$ha's autobiographical songs are about? Having sex with motherfucking ghosts in haunted hotel rooms. I know which story I'd rather hear. And I refuse to believe Perry would tie herself down to one religion. She's nothing if not ambitious. That's why this album worships at least 230 individual gods and demigods at various points in its lyrical journey; she doesn't want to alienate anyone.


CM: Likewise, "spiritual" is all about sex on an altar, so I doubt it was penned to pander to Christian parents. Also, it invokes witchcraft. So.

PC: Dear Wiccans: You are a valuable demographic, and I look forward to seeing you represented on future earnings reports.

Regards, Katy Perry


CM: This is the best song on Prism. It thunders in like a rock anthem and it's all about taking responsibility for yourself and your actions. This song gives me hope that Perry will be able to pump out satisfying hits in the future, instead of the perfunctory turds that overwhelm this album.

PC: I just don't buy it. Maybe as a single I'd be able to appreciate this song, but after the monotony of the rest of Prism, I'm kind of numb. I sincerely wonder if I'll ever be able to love Perry in the same way ever again.


PC: I have nothing to say about this song.

CM: Overwrought. She should've ended on "It Takes Two."

PC: I met this person online who earnestly thinks that Perry, a vocal Obama supporter, named her album Prism in order to obfuscate the Google searches of people who might want to learn more about PRISM, the NSA's once-secret blanket wiretapping program. He believes that Katy Perry's album was named as part of a counterintelligence strike against government overreach. I think that's sort of symbolic of the way most people look at Perry: Everyone wants to give her more meaning than she puts into the work. Everyone wants to find something hidden underneath, some agenda that puts everything in perspective, when really, she probably just picked "prism" because it's a pretty word that sounds nice. recommended


Comments (21) RSS

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I disagree with most everything in this album review. You really don't understand Katy and her music very much. You like what you like. That's fine. Like all art, it's all in the eyes and ears of the beholder and the so called "expert reviewer" has a lot less influence over other people's opinions than they think.

Katy is evolving in her music ... trying new things like artists do. Millions and millions of other people around the world will like this new album. She's probably going to be megastar for years to come like Madonna has been since the early 80s. You'll see.

Katy is a "real deal" musician who knows her stuff. She's been in the music industry since she was about 14 or 15. She paid her dues, learned instruments and the whole nine yards as a typical struggling musician on the small venue circuit for several years ... from age 15 to 23 or so. She's no Disney kid creation. She had help from good producers along the way though.

Since she's trying new types of songs this new album likely won't be a grand slam homerun like Teenage Dream was. It would have been very hard for Katy and her collaborators to do "Teenage Dream II" and have all those smash hits again ... six Hot 100 #1 hits I think. It really IS one of the best pop albums of all time. I like nearly all the songs on Teenage Dream and a lot of the songs on her first album.

Seems like Katy has been evolving from pop/rock to pure pop and now towards inspirational "deep" pop or whatever. Who knows, maybe for the next album she will start all over and be "rock and roll Katy" again like she was on her first album tour. There's lots of Prism colors and parts to Katy like the title of her 3D movie "Part of Me" goes.
Posted by brian_3520 on November 6, 2013 at 10:33 AM · Report this
thelyamhound 2
I have no defense for Katy Perry. But while the buffet spirituality you describe can loosely fit a secondary definition of "pantheism," it's really a shallow use of a word that refers primarily to the presumption of impersonal unity, and not personal deity, as the foundational metaphysical principle. To hear Katy Perry's acts of appropriation placed alongside the principles at the root of Taoism or the writings of Giordano Bruno and Baruch Spinoza by way of facile word usage is discouraging.

Posted by thelyamhound on November 6, 2013 at 3:28 PM · Report this
lolorhone 3
I'm not a dick- really, I'm not- but those earlier singles of hers hurt my feelings. And by my feelings I mean my sense of aesthetics. Even though PJ Harvey's my favorite musician, I love pop music as long as it's well-crafted. But there's nothing distinct about the either the sonics or the songcraft of Perry's music- and the lyrics are excruciating: "Roar" isn't even a comment on cliched uplift, it's cliche mad lib. I'll take Gaga's sincere performance art pretensions over Perry's sincere high-fructose corn syrup any day.
Posted by lolorhone on November 6, 2013 at 6:58 PM · Report this
Yeah you really need to look up the meaning of pedantic...
Posted by thatannoyingguywhocorrectsgrammar on November 7, 2013 at 9:29 AM · Report this
kellyllek 5
i hate myself for thinking she is so damn hot :(
Posted by kellyllek on November 7, 2013 at 3:17 PM · Report this
Cienna Madrid 6
@2,4 you are right. Sometimes I misuse words.

@5, you are also right.

@1, you are wrong. Sorry!
Posted by Cienna Madrid on November 7, 2013 at 4:48 PM · Report this
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Posted by DooMm on November 7, 2013 at 6:55 PM · Report this
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Posted by Doomm on November 7, 2013 at 7:05 PM · Report this
Cascadian Bacon 9

Lol you consider mass prioduced pop for the masses "Art"

Katy is pretty hot but her albums might as well be written by machine ala 1984.
Posted by Cascadian Bacon on November 7, 2013 at 7:15 PM · Report this
thelyamhound 10
@4 - Did my post NOT strike you as being excessively concerned with minor details and rules and/or with displaying academic learning [not that I really claim any]? Perhaps you misunderstood the way I was using the tag--I was admitting to being pedantic in raising the concern.

Though really, I was probably just being defensive because I identify as a pantheist.

@6 - You didn't really misuse the word; you just didn't use it in my preferred way. Don't mind me. :)
Posted by thelyamhound on November 8, 2013 at 11:20 AM · Report this
thelyamhound 11
Oh, and @5 - Yes.
Posted by thelyamhound on November 8, 2013 at 11:24 AM · Report this
My only complaint is that when I tell people I get ready for all business meetings by kissing my pistols and listening to "eye of the tiger" on a loop they think I mean "roar" not the song by the iconic band Survivor.
Posted by Seattle in Alaska on November 9, 2013 at 12:06 PM · Report this
smade 13
Her perfect and discrete enunciation of every syllable, once you notice it, overwhelms everything else until you also notice there are no edges anywhere in the music. It's music made from Fisher Price plastic pieces in primary colors with soft, rounded non-threatening corners.
Posted by smade on November 9, 2013 at 2:38 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 14
I miss Missy Elliot.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on November 9, 2013 at 2:59 PM · Report this
yelahneb 15
Hoping you two will write a review of McDonald's next.
Posted by yelahneb on November 9, 2013 at 3:58 PM · Report this
Katy Perry songs are the fucking WORST. Bah! Tired cliches belted out and computerated over computer generated music-ish algorithms. Zero depth. Zero musicality. Awful stuff
Posted by Racing Turtles on November 9, 2013 at 4:50 PM · Report this
Pridge Wessea 17
Dear Wiccans: You are a valuable demographic, and I look forward to seeing you represented on future earnings reports.

Regards, Katy Perry

That's glorious.
Posted by Pridge Wessea on November 9, 2013 at 5:25 PM · Report this

Katy Perry is old technology.

Miley blew the doors off her and Gaga.

Gaga is pulling up on Miley by ditching the sexual ambiguity and going space tech.
Posted by Elliot Mintz's Best Friend on November 9, 2013 at 7:01 PM · Report this
The prime audience for Kate Pery is 10 year old girls.

It stands to figure that Ped-Fem like Madrid would be sticking her something snout in it.

Posted by Anonymous Crime Stopper on November 9, 2013 at 10:23 PM · Report this
Katy Perry is Amy Grant.

Both started in contemporary christian noise.

Both have found success in sugary sweet cotton candy pop.

Amy divorced Gary then married Gill. Now, she's all about pop-country and pop-country gospel.

So, Katy's next marriage should let us know where she goes from here...I'm betting on a TV series called "Candyland"... :)
Posted by All that glitters on November 10, 2013 at 1:16 AM · Report this
Jessica 21
The only thing I know or care about this album is that every time I'm channel-surfing the radio in the car, my two year old son flips his shit out if I move past "Roar". You owe me for the 30+ minutes of my life I've lost to it so far, Perry. That song is destined to haunt dentist offices for eternity.
Posted by Jessica on November 10, 2013 at 8:17 PM · Report this

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