Writer Heather Havrilesky offers this verbal blitzkrieg against Katy Perry that is awe-inspiring in its unprovoked aggression against the music world’s least-offensive pop star. Even Donald Trump would read this and go, “Hey lady, maybe you should play a bit nicer.”
Some choice lines: “Her brand is the very essence of reassuring, non-threatening stagnancy.” “She’s a void with swappable wigs, a tasty nothingburger.” “Because like every retrogressive, subtly anti-empowerment movement to gently but steadily erode the hard-charging swagger of mainstream feminism before her, Katy Perry represents the status quo.” Give the thing a read. It’s one excellent piece of devilry.
And I get where she’s coming from in this hatchet job. Not only is Perry’s music not art, but unlike her peers such as her nemesis Taylor Swift, she doesn’t even bother pretending there’s any art or meaning to her catalog. Katy Perry really is the music of Target and of mall food courts, as Havrilesky describes in wicked detail. And it’s obvious why all this would be so aggravating to a white, progressive, and (I’m assuming here) Brooklynite writer, marinated as she must be in the scene of the L-train corridor and all its pretensions to great meaning.
But what does Perry have to apologize for? She has achieved exactly what she set out to do: become a bubblegum-pop princess. All she wants is fame and to be the pretty face plastered on 12 year old girls’ walls, while earning a mint. That’s it. What you see is exactly what you get. When she first whiffed at trying to make it as a Christian rocker in the ’00s, she abandoned all pretense and went full-bore saccharine, with literally nothing in her lyrics that can’t be gathered from just glancing at her wardrobe.
And there’s something refreshing about that.
Mainstream pop has always been the theme music of Target and of mall food courts — the automatically inoffensive tracks even the most musically obtuse supermarket manager in Kansas knows will be equally pleasing to 16 year olds as 61 year olds. The vaguely suggestive lyrics are about as racy as the copy of Tiger Beat. Ooh, she kissed a girl, and she liked it! Oh, they got bad blood now! You must be confused — the boy is mine! It’s like my very first time!
Not even most Christian fundies can get worked up by these PG-level trifles, titillating only to the most sheltered fifth-graders. Fundies are literally more offended by Perry’s boobs than her music. Gangsta rap it ain’t.
But that’s ok. Not every track on Spotify needs to have gravely portentous lyrics exposing some deep personal pain. Not every melody must invent some new riff to make Pitchfork writers eagerly invent neologisms to describe. Not every artist must represent the fusion of these six other bands that you probably have never heard of. Not every album must lead to a certain type of white person insisting it must be heard on vinyl to be authentic. Maybe it’s ok if some music is just pleasing to the auditory centers of the brain without demanding any engagement.
There is space on this planet for Fruit Ninja, there is space for the show Friends, there is space for pumpkin spice latte, and there is space for Katy Perry.
Granted, I do hope that your horizons extend a little beyond this sort of thing. But on the other hand, if you’ve recently endured binging hard-to-watch critical darlings such as The Leftovers and Fargo, then maybe it’s ok if you then briefly shift your brain to neutral by listening to the musical equivalent of Mike & Mollie.