Only two artists in history have sent five singles from one album to the top of the Billboard charts. Michael Jackson accomplished the feat with hits from his 1987 album Bad. And Katy Perry pulled it off with her 2010 album Teenage Dream.
So with the arrival of her follow-up to that feat (her third album, Prism), Katy Perry felt like she had something to prove, a legacy to protect. And her fans had her back, quickly pushing Prism's first single, "Roar," to No. 1—and making us all very curious about what the rest of the songs might be like.
Well, here's what they're like: The same sort of sassy, sensual stuff that frolicked suggestively and recklessly throughout Teenage Dream mingles with a few songs focused on the hard lessons Katy learned from her marriage and divorce to Russell Brand … as well as hints that she's increasingly leaning on Eastern spirituality to help her make sense of it all.
"Roar" gets the release started with an empowerment message insisting that Katy is done being a timid people pleaser. Then (after several tracks celebrating sex) Katy settles into a clear-eyed series of reflections on the lessons she's learned since her divorce. "Ghost" expresses the pain of her marriage's dissolution. "Love Me" confesses the sense that she squandered herself "in fear of losing you/ … I lost my own, my own identity," then claims that she's learned to love herself better through it all ("I'm gonna love myself, the way I want you to love me").
"By the Grace of God" finds her rejecting the idea that the relationship's end was somehow all her fault. It also hints that she had to push away the temptation of suicide. "By the grace of God (there was no other way)," she sings, "I picked myself back up (I knew I had to stay)/I put one foot in front of the other/And I looked in the mirror/And decided to stay/Wasn't gonna let love take me out/That way." The iTunes bonus track "It Takes Two" then finds her admitting that while her marriage's failure wasn't completely her fault, she can see now that she did have some responsibility ("Oh, I can take responsibility for me/It takes two, two sides to every story/ … I admit half of it, I'm not that innocent, oh yeah").
"Double Rainbow" revels in finding a soul mate ("You're a one of a one/A one of a kind"). "Unconditionally" promises completely committed love ("I will love you unconditionally/There is no fear now"). And "This Moment" reminds us we can only love others in the here and now ("All we have is this moment/Tomorrow's unspoken/Yesterday is history/So why don't you be here with me?").
"Legendary Lovers" blends suggestive sexuality with Eastern spirituality. "I feel my lotus bloom/Come closer," Katy croons to a paramour. "I want your energy, I want your aura/You are my destiny, my mantra/I never knew I could see something so clearly looking through my third eye/Never knew karma could be so rewarding and bring me to your life." She gushes, "Legendary lovers, we could be legendary," then suggests that the lover in question is perhaps another woman: "You're Cleopatra/You're blushing Juliet/Anything for your love, a ride or die." Likewise, the iTunes bonus track "Spiritual" also couches sexual chemistry in spiritual/mystical terms.
Teenage Dream-style sexual shenanigans fill "Birthday," as Katy tells a lover, "So cover your eyes/I have a surprise/I hope you have a healthy appetite/ … Pop your confetti, we can get it on/So hot and heavy till dawn/ … So let me get you in your birthday suit/It's time to bring out the big, big, big, big, big, big balloons." Euphoric sex also consumes "Walking on Air" ("You're giving me sweet, sweet ecstasy/ … Just when I think I can't take any more/We go deeper and harder than ever before"). And later, Katy brags, "Even heaven is jealous of our love/Yes, we make angels cry." "Dark Horse" finds Katy alternating between seducing and trying to scare off a beau, warning, "You better choose carefully/'Cause I'm capable of anything/Of anything and everything/ … Once you're mine/There's no going back."
On that latter track, guest rapper Juicy J mingles more Eastern spirituality with a reference to cannibalism ("She's a beast/I call her karma/She eat your heart out/Like Jeffrey Dahmer") and says he's addicted to their sexual relationship ("D‑‑n, I think I love her/ … Turn the bedroom into a fair/Her love is like a drug"). Elsewhere, one use of "h‑‑‑" turns up on "This Is How We Do," as well as, "Now we talking astrology, getting our nails did, all Japanese-y/ … This goes out to you people going to bed with a 10 and waking up with a 2."
Two other songs, "By the Grace of God" and "It Takes Two," reference astrological details. In the latter, for instance, we hear, "Is Mercury in retrograde, or is that the excuse I've always made?" while the former reads, "I was 27, surviving my return of Saturn."
To borrow a catchphrase from The Brady Bunch, Prism practically compels an exclamation of "Katy, Katy, Katy!" A devastating divorce has obviously caused Ms. Perry to mature in significant ways. And she's admirably determined not to let her marriage's failure torpedo her life and sense of who she is. But neither has it provided any sort of healthy perspective on sexuality or a renewal of her commitment to God.
To get to the good stuff, we have to wade through Katy's carnal surrender to various lovers, lavish lyrical praise for Hindu spirituality and effervescent infatuation with astrology. Never mind the song title "By the Grace of God," because almost completely absent here, in contrast, are references to the Christian faith Katy once claimed.
Prism is, then, clearly fractured, beaming out some brightly beautiful ideals … right along with the darkly dangerous and jagged ones.