In the context of a pop career, Katy Perry’s “Never Really Over” is presumptuous as hell.
While declaring her “over” is overstating it, Katy Perry has been on a serious downswing. Her last album Witness flopped badly, with a shift towards conscientious pop that made sense to absolutely no one and a string of forgettable singles (remember, or don’t, “Swish Swish“). Her last music release was “365“, a collaboration with producer Zedd that really didn’t go anywhere. She did branch out to television with her gig as a judge on American Idol, but that’s hampered by the show’s aggressive irrelevance. For someone who could release a #1 single in their sleep not long ago, it’s been a steep drop off.
That doesn’t mean it’s all doom and gloom for the pop princess. Earlier this year, Perry got engaged to actor Orlando Bloom, two years after they split up. That insight is key to understanding her new single, which is actually not about her spotty place in the pop landscape, but a relationship that has unexpectedly bloomed again (pun very much intended). Perry has wielded nostalgia-tinged love as a chart weapon before – most successfully with the sublime “Teenage Dream” – so there’s no fresh ground here, but there are shades of maturity that actually feel believable this go around. Her words about needing therapy ring with an impressive amount of self-awareness.
Katy the Grown-Up hasn’t completely lost touch with her candy-coated side (the video alone proves that). That giant chorus, which sounds like a bunch of balloons launching into the sky, is Katy Perry at her euphoric best. The credit belongs to Zedd who, despite veering dangerously close to his smash hit “The Middle”, channels Katy’s uniquely youthful spirit through his warm, electropop production. The chorus is great, but the post-chorus, with its rapid-fire synths and vocals, are a full-blown pop moment, one of the year’s best thus far. It expertly captures her energetic, frenetic strength without being especially grating. After “Bon Appétit“, that is a genuine triumph.
Whether or not it was presumptuous, pop music with Katy Perry as a reliable hitmaker hasn’t felt quite right. Yes, she often tried way too hard and got herself into some trouble, but at least she was trying. And when she was on her game, well, Teenage Dream did have five number-one singles to its credit. It’s too soon to say whether she can pull that hat trick off again, but “Never Really Over” is the best shot she’s had at righting the ship in years.
Maybe she’s right on target: maybe she is never really over.