Katy PerryEcho Arena 21/6/18
What is the point of pop music? Is it art, or is it a form of mainstream hypnotism, designed to sedate and appease its listeners? In the past, artists such as John Lennon, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and MIA have all made it to the top of the charts with hard-hitting lyrics promoting peace, or opposing capitalism, suggesting that popular music can be both political and catchy.
For the most part though, it is just catchy; pop princesses talk about young love, boy bands sing about the sort of break-ups that see teenagers sobbing in packed-out arenas, and other chart-topping artists repeat mind-numbing lyrics about clubbing, sex and fame. In 2014, the Journal Of Advertising Research published a study which found that the success of most singles in the Top 100 can be predicted, based on whether the song is about one of the following themes: loss, desire, aspiration, break-up, pain, inspiration and nostalgia. Not Brexit or the NHS then.
But what of the flipside, the joy that pop music brings to millions by being simply and proudly pop? Artists like Little Mix, Zayn and Meghan Trainor are less concerned with reminding their listeners about the fact that the cost of living is constantly rising, than they are about distracting them with some meaninglessly danceable lyrics: “I’m all about that, all about that bass, no treble/We gon’ take it to a whole another level”.
Does it matter? Therein lies the debate. Tonight, I’m throwing caution to the wind by attending my first ever pop concert: KATY PERRY at the Echo Arena. As a staunch goth in my teenage years, the very idea of Perry’s bubblegum pink antics was uninviting at best, with my adult cynicism around the value of pop stars and the horrific expense of tickets (how do they expect working-class families to afford to take their kids to see their heroes?) solidifying that resolve.
Nevertheless, into the standing area we dive, giving ourselves up to this capitalism-fuelled Teenage Dream. Cue hordes of backing dancers with multiple costume changes (each as garishly colourful and over the top as the last), plenty of latex, unnecessary trapeze interludes and gigantic puppets ripped off from the stage shows and videos of other, more critically acceptable artists.
All this as Perry wails, warbles, shouts and croons her way through a catalogue of hits so recognisable it was as if they had been etched onto some gigantic public subconscious (no doubt reinforced by the enormous all-seeing eye at the back of the stage). California Girls, Roar, I Kissed A Girl, Firework. ‘Why do I know the words to this song?’ I think aloud. Does this mean I like Katy Perry?
The vacuous space that is pop music is often construed negatively, but how often do we consider the emotional value that stars like Perry bring to our lives? For a night, we’re on a different planet, being entertained by an otherworldly character, who connects to her audience through chant-able lyrics and ridiculous routines. We have fun. And that’s what these things are about, right?