Katy Perry

Katy Perry’s undeniably a pop star, but she’s not really a Pop Star with all those Capital Letters. Sure, she’s got her hordes of fans and sells gazillion albums, but what even really is her identity? One day it’s rockabilly pinup, next day it’s whipped cream dude fantasy, next it’s crying power balladeer.

It’s this same kind of identity crisis that affects a lot of her fourth studio album, Prism, which “officially” hits the street today. Katy comes off like that cheerleader in school who had a “weird” phase but eventually came back to her senses, married her chubby, red-faced athlete boyfriend, and now spends her days saving elaborate children’s bento box ideas on Pinterest.

In other words, it’s confused, flirts with subcultural trappings but then backtracks and runs back to its pep rally buddies. But you have to wonder why – nobody really asked Katy Perry for a full-on Proper Album, ya know?

The cool thing about pop music is that it’s never really been tied to the Proper Album format. That’s especially now, when the album format is really only necessary when people want to prove they’re Serious Artists.

We’re living in a singles world – which should be great for pop artists like Katy, who can pull off a great song or two but can’t really carry off 16 in a row. But yet this whole crop of entertainers insists on still proving something.

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That’s how we wind up with stuff like Prism, which has some super-effervescent moments, but often turns into the audio equivalent of warm milk. That means it’s not offensive, but it tastes super bland and after a while also helps put you to sleep.

Just how mixed is this bag of Katy Perry tricks? Let’s take it track by track and rank them by what Katy does best, create fluffy pop songs that glow like magical piles of glittering unicorn poop:

1. “Roar”

You’ve already heard this a million times, especially if you like to take suburban group fitness classes that rely heavily on motivational Top 40 anthems. This is another one of these hit songs where the words are entirely besides the point.

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The point instead is to build up to the soaring hook, over and over again. Yes, this was tailor-made for use in snippet form in commercials and TV cutaways.

Glittery unicorn poop rating: 4 of 5! Try as you might, it’s hard to hate this song.

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2. “Legendary Lovers”

So very early in the song, she actually sings these words: “I feel my lotus bloom.” BARF! This is another example of a typical Katy midtempo ballad where she tries to be a Serious Singer, but it doesn’t work.

Ugh, then there’s all this talk of mantras, auras, and third eyes. Be right back, I’m calling People For the Ethical Treatment of Eastern Religious Metaphors.

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Glittery unicorn poop rating: 1 pile for trying

3. “Birthday”

The pop gods on high who decided to revive disco are doing the right thing. The lyrics are asinine again: “Cover your eyes/ I’ve got a surprise/I hope you’ve got a healthy appetite.” But mainstream disco lyrics often seemed pretty frivolous, too. It’s all about the beat here – and the song is a happy surprise!

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Glittery unicorn poop rating: 4 piles! Almost a perfect score!

4. “Walking on Air”

Whoever told Katy she should revisit ‘90s jackin’ house here is a genius! Hands down, this is the best song on the album. Goodbye trap and brostep — this is a dance/pop crossover phenomenon we should get behind. This era of hip-house was super cheesy and positive and promoted gender/racial/etc. unity. Couldn’t we use some more kumbaya moods in pop?

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Glittery unicorn poop rating: 6 out of 5 piles!!

5. “Unconditionally”

Here’s another one of her ballad pop torch songs. It’s got a catchy enough chorus. It’s not worth skipping to directly, but it’s also not really worth making the physical effort to skip through.

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Glittery unicorn poop rating: 2 piles

6. “Dark Horse”

Here’s another WIN for Prism! The production here is amazing, with Dr. Luke, Max Martin, and Cirkut going on some creepy faux-underground ish that still works. It would work as a bloggy instrumental track on its own and totally snow hipsters into thinking it was some new cool group. It further proves that Dr. Luke and his cohort are truly evil geniuses.

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Juicy J comes in around 2:18 and seems kind of Frankensteined onto the song, but it’s a nice bonus.

Glittery unicorn poop rating: 5 piles

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7. “This Is How We Do”

With the talk of eating breakfast in last night’s dress, this is like a faster-bpm, boom-bap update of “Waking Up in Vegas.” It’s the aural version of the expression “meh.”

Glittery unicorn poop rating: 2 piles

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8. “International Smile”

You know how you can eat a Monsanto-charged corn syrup snack and like 10 minutes later forgot you even ate it? This song is that sugar-amnesia feeling in musical form.

Glittery unicorn poop rating: 1 pile

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9. “Ghost”

The vaguely ‘80s synth-pop intro is totally worth digging, but then the lyrics start out with, “You sent a textttttttt.” This probably feels really meaningful if you are 13, but Katy is about to be 29. Also, every time she sings the word “ghost” it sounds like “gWWOOOAssst.” Still, “Ghost” > “International Smile.”

Glittery unicorn poop rating: 2 piles

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10. “Love Me”

“Sometimes I wish my skin was just a costume that I could unzip.” Oh really Katy? Those are some deep thoughts! This one isn’t bad but it’s not anything special, either.

Glittery unicorn poop rating: 2 piles

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11. “This Moment”

This is another midtempo, seize-the-moment kind of thing, which is somewhat saved by the snapping, ‘80s-style Flock of Seagulls drums on it. Still, it doesn’t really stand out. It’s kind of like if you took a bit from the Drive soundtrack family of artists and made it happy – which also kind of ruins the point.

Glittery unicorn poop rating: 2 piles – see the pattern? This is where things get dangerously neutral.

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12. “Double Rainbow”

When the “Double Rainbow” viral video came out, it was so compelling, entertaining, and hilarious that you had to watch it over and over. This song is not that. This song is an argument for doing away with pop albums or cutting them off before the 10-song mark. Alas, at this point we are at track number 12.

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Glittery unicorn poop rating: 1 pile

13. “By the Grace of God”

Ugh another ballad and this is still going on ☹

Glittery unicorn poop rating: 0 piles

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14. “Spiritual”

Here’s another version of Katy going ambient. This one’s just a tiny step above massage parlor music, complete with Enya-style bazillion-tracked vocals, yet it’s pleasant enough. At this point in "Prism," that’s high praise.

Glittery unicorn poop rating: 2 piles

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15. “It Takes Two”

At this point Dr. Luke is just on a trip where he’s like, “Let’s lay down some lush synth pads. I’m having a lot of fun with them. Yeah, Katy, just sing some love-lost touchy-feely stuff over it. Sure, why not. Cool, cool, you’re a star, baby.”

Glittery unicorn poop rating: 1 pile

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16. “Choose Your Battles”

The funny thing about this one, with its slowed-down, New Age mood, is that if you put some more tastemaker-y singer over it, again, the blog world would go nuts. Alas, it’s Katy Perry here singing in a major-key tonality, so instead it’s just kinda more pop album filler.

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Katy is not the kind of deep album artist who needs to bother with 16 tracks. Maybe not even six. How great would it be if Katy would just save her really great songs – “Walking on Air,” “Birthday,” as stand-alone singles with cute videos full of costumes and glittery unicorn poop? Nobody would even notice the difference. Consider it, Katie! Xoxoxo

Arielle Castillo is Fusion's culture editor, reporting on arts, music, culture, and subcultures from the streets on up. She's also a connoisseur of weird Florida, weightlifting, and cats.