Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Can't Help But Pop

Katy Perry might not have been destined to hit it big, but I bet she does. She kinda can't not, you know? Even though her debut album doesn't drop until this spring, based on a CD EP released in November and some live performances, including a New Year's Eve gig in San Francisco, Perry's got a resume that just says superstar.

Even though she's yet to release an album, Perry's appeared in music videos for Gym Class Heroes, POD, and Carbon Leaf. She's had a song on The Hills. She's got a song opening the Oxygen show Fight Girls. She had a song on the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants soundtrack. And she was on the ABC Family program Wildfire.

That's an impressive resume leading up to your first full-length release! She's even attracted the attention of Perez Hilton, whose mention in his blog last March earned him promo package placement. Blurbed! Perry's been working with some pretty impressive people: Glen Ballard (producer of Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill), Dr. Luke (who produced Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend"), and Greg Wells, who co-wrote Perry's breakout single "Ur So Gay." And she's sung for the Matrix, the songwriting powerhouse behind hits by Lavigne, Hilary Duff, and Britney Spears. All by the age of 23.

The record's been three years in the making, according to press materials, and earier this month, I got a copy of the EP courtesy of Jules Di Cesaris. For the last couple of days, I've been giving it a listen.

The single, "Ur So Gay," is a slow-paced giggle-fit slam on an emo boy who might have broken Perry's heart. While the repetitive melody is somewhat infectious, the song doesn't have a lot of lasting power. In addition to the SMS-text slang in the title, the song has a homophobic undercurrent that's as conflicting as it is "funny." While I'm no fan of using "gay" as a derogatory term, I can imagine the remix getting turntable time at gay dance clubs -- as well as straight ones.

You might get tired of the song by EP's end, because it's on it five times. There's the edit -- as opposed to the actual song? -- the remix, an instrumental, an instrumental remix, and an a cappella version. It's the a cappella version that's my favorite. Stripping the song of everything but Perry's voice let's you focus on her and her alone. Can she sing? Kinda. But just see if you make it through the scat singing without taking her even less seriously than she's taking herself.

It would've been nice if she'd taken her cover of the Outfield's 1986 hit "Use Your Love" (which peaked at No. 6 on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles chart) a little more -- or less -- seriously. From the initial guitar riff, the cover's just a little too close to true, despite its distorted, synth-driven vocals. Similar to the Ataris's cover of "Boys of Summer," the song just begs an original approach rather than a dead-on copy.

But the inclusion of the cover might telegraph Perry's goal. She's not aiming for high-minded new-school jazz like Nellie McKay. She's not working out her blues like Amy Winehouse. She's not pop tarting up punk rock like Avril Lavigne. And she's not trying to reinvent herself like Alanis Morissette. She's going for camp. "Ur So Gay" will get the jocks giggling. The remix will get folks of all persuasions out on the dancefloor. "Use Your Love" will tug the heart strings of the '80s reminiscence set.

And "Lost," the outlier on the EP, will keep us guessing. Can she really sing? Does she really want to? Or is Katy Perry so tightly packaged and promoted that she can't help but pop?

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