October 25, 2013
I’d know her signal anywhere. That’s how I think of KATY PERRY (Katheryn Hudson, born 1984), whose voice-synthesis setting is the most distinctive of background noises as cars speed by or gyms rotate their soundfiles. Perry’s style is a kind of self-aware ringtone, orchestrated inventively; everything needs to be a team effort in these recessionary times and as a lifelong mainstream-comicbook fan I’ve never begrudged the concept of art by assembly-line — the parts need the sum, all modern mass culture will be embraced by a community and so it can be made by a committee, and assembled pop can be as much artisanship as manufacture. There’s still a “me” in “team” somewhere, and Katy Perry makes everyone think she’s talking about you — affirmations you can’t get out of your head, since she already knew what you were thinking. A consciously anonymous persona yet a conspicuously anomalous presence, seemingly peeled from 1940s aircraft paintings or racy wall calendars and thus literally one-dimensional yet monumentally inescapable, Perry is pure style but she feels like the essence of an age. While evoking a far-off era in which people last faced war and economic collapse and a contentious gender-jostle in workplace and society and needed to feel better. (The album out three days ago, serendipitously sharing titles with the NSA’s all-seeing spy program, also downloads ’80s diva-nostalgia, third-world sonic souvenirs, celeb mysticism and some true transcendence; her wardrobe has many hangers yet to be revealed.) She doesn’t project the program-override of a Gaga, who seems to be the irreplaceable part in her art-factory, but Perry pilots her aircraft well. She may be like the puppy in the space-capsule, and a few years from now they won’t even need the puppy, but right now that rocket is a firework, headed straight for the sky and making it seem more wide open than it otherwise possibly could to workers climbing out of Depression and women rising toward the still-hovering glass ceiling and young people reaching for an unguaranteed future if they ever dared look down.
READ MORE about members of the Social Darwikian Generation (1983-92).