Call Katy Perry whatever you want — but what's certain is that the singer came to entertain with her Witness Tour, and didn't disappoint
How does a pop star stand out in a world dominated by the likes of fiercely unapologetic voices such as Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez? Dominating the charts and gossip headlines, each individual comes backed with talent, a powerful PR and marketing machine and legions of fans. Singapore is spoilt for choice, with most names having visited our tiny market in the last few years. So how does Katy Perry, former Gospel singer turned international pop star fare in her Witness Tour pit stop?
By remaining unabashedly PG-13. Perry's brand of sexy isn't risqué, OTT or try-hard. Her appeal lies in the saccharine spot that straddles both cheeky schoolgirl (Fun fact: She was once expelled for dry humping a tree) and devil-may-care college girl on spring break. While the Californian's sound has slightly evolved over the years, it hasn't completely departed from that feel-good, happy-clappy essence, even in the emergence of darker, emotionally laden songwriting.
It certainly kept the throngs of parents at the Singapore Indoor stadium relieved. Chaperoning teenyboppers and fresh kindy grads were the "I'm not a regular mom, I'm a cool mom" women with their husbands, slumped in their seats, feet-tapping to the '80s pre-concert soundtrack. We suspect the likes of Michael Jackson's 'The Way You Make Me Feel', Simple Minds' 'Don't You Forget About Me' and Cyndi Lauper's 'Girls Just Want To Have Fun' were specifically played to ease the Gen X crowd into the evening. Older millennial women dragged along their pussy-whipped partners, who looked resigned to fate. Meanwhile, there were the in-betweens, such as myself: Young enough to appreciate Perry's musicality, old enough to know better.
Of course, it was Perry's breakthrough album, One of the Boys (2008), and its follow-up, Teenage Dream (2010), which accompanied many a girls' night out soundtrack in my late teens and early 20s. Although my introduction to the singer was through 'Simple', a song that featured in The Sisterhood of Travelling Pants soundtrack back in 2005, it was the bubblegum goodness of 'Hot N Cold', 'Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)', 'California Gurls' and 'Firework' that left lasting impressions. For Perry's third visit to Singapore (she was last here in 2015 for her Prismatic Tour and in 2012 for F1 Singapore Grand Prix), I was left thoroughly entertained.
Produced by AEG Presents, Witness: The Tour pulled out all the stops at the get go. First, there's that the eye icon at the background, taken from the cover art for her newest album, Witness. The stage then winds its way around the middle of the crowd, and it's at the end of this swirl where Perry chooses to start her concert. Rising from beneath the ground in a gold outfit that'll put an extra-terrestrial Power Ranger villain to shame, she pranced around as smoke dramatised each move, confetti filled the air, lights bedazzled the stage and a kaleidoscope of images lured you further into Perry's out-of-this-world reality.
The adrenaline-fuelled train continued with 'Dark Horse' and 'Chained To The Rhythm', while 'Teenage Dream' was performed after a throwback montage into Perry's childhood albums. Her second outfit was effective in announcing the next numbers, which included a seeding of 'Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)' into 'Hot N Cold'. Despite naughtier lyrics like "sex on the beach" and "ménage à trois", Perry and her back-up dancers stayed away from provocative choreography and wardrobes, opting for a more campy, theatrical and playful stance — pure innocence on a visual acid trip. At one point, Perry even showed off a somersault and split, thrilling the audience.
The vegetarian Left Shark — the character who became an internet sensation after Perry's Super Bowl halftime show in 2015 — was an instant hit, introduced in 'California Gurls'. "You're not California but you got the weather," Perry announced, and joyously sang "Singapore girls you're undeniable" after. Although she was looking for a local fan to join her on stage to teach Mandarin or Malay phrases, a Vietnamese fan, Ben, was brought up instead in a Lost In Translation moment. "Plot twist," she joked, before learning how to say "Hello" and "Thank you" in Vietnamese.
"I'll shut up and start singing now," she retorted, launching into 'Déjà Vu', 'Tsunami' and 'Bon Appetit', three numbers from Witness. While these songs weren't as popular with the masses, they introduced us to her supporting cast of curiosities: Fernando the pole dancer, saucy Venus flytraps, giant salt and pepper shakers filled with confetti as well as this gem of a moment: A mash-up of 'Bon Appétit' and Janet Jackson's 'What Have You Done for Me Lately'.
Perry took a breather an hour into the show with an acoustic performance of 'Wide Awake', playing the tune on her mint green guitar — you know, in case you forgot that she's a real artist who can play an instrument. Slowing things down with the emotional number, 'Into Me You See', Perry knelt down for most of the song before rising up and pumping out 'Power', raising the temperature back up again.
'Swish swish' — the song that's rumoured to be a diss track aimed at Taylor Swift — had the crowd going after Perry shared a nugget of advice. "First and foremost, pray for them," she said after a water break, which saw her gulping down the "blood of trolls". After Perry introduced her dancers (who hail from places as varied as Australia, Japan and Greece), we found out that one of them is half-Singaporean — a pleasant surprise.
Perry's 19-song set had us in the palm of her hand — quite literally. She rose from the clenched fist structure to perform 'Firework', before disappearing back down to end the night. Looking at the crowd's reactions, it's no wonder she's such an icon to impressionable girls. While she can cleverly mask naughty lyrics with a cheeky grin, it's the uplifting messages and imagery in her songs that stick. 'Roar' saw balloon eyeballs darting across the crowd as women sang along to a tune about rising back up, while 'Firework' inspired all of us —jaded adults and music snobs alike — to shine "even brighter than the moon"... before slipping back into the daily grind that awaits the following day.