Maybe Katy should take her Jamaican Guy and go back to the Private Life.
Thomas Inskeep: Full disclosure: I came into this not expecting to like it, but trying to keep an open mind. But then Katy decided to show off how “woke” she thinks she is. Ooh, we’re “all chained to the rhythm,” but clearly should be doing more to change the world, just like Katy Perry. Some of us, however, still haven’t forgotten the likes of “Ur So Gay.” She can claim she’s progressive etc. all she wants, but I don’t buy it for a minute; Perry will do whatever she thinks will sell sell sell her records. Bizarrely, she seems to think that a cod-reggae beat is the answer in 2017? (Or more accurately, that could be the fault of co-writer Sia, who’s predisposed to such notions.) Because you know what’s awesome? When white artists show you how much they know about “rhythm” by featuring — oh, I know! Let’s get a member of the Marley family in here! Great idea! Perry’s screechy, barely-in-tune voice doesn’t help matters, of course. Here’s hoping this is the beginning of the end of her career: she’s like the Paula Abdul of the ’00s/’10s, only without the half-decent songs and pleasant personality. There is no pop star today worse than Katy Perry, full stop.
Cédric Le Merrer: Katy Perry is my mainstream barometer. When she made “I Kissed a Girl,” showy but defensive female bisexuality was totally where people were at. When she made trap-pop, it became the new normal. Now Katy Perry is confusedly woke, and you can’t tell me that’s not the norm in 2017. Her terribly heavy-footed scansion even works in her favor thematically, as she’s completely chained to that stomping rhythm. Incapable of taking any liberty from the beat, she moves around like Link wearing his iron boots. So as usual, it’s a bit terrible but it also makes things easy for us weak singers wanting an easy song for karaoke, and whatever my reservations, in the end Katy and Max Martin always win me over.
Megan Harrington: Who but Katy Perry would turn three minutes of arena pop into a very, very, extremely literal call for wokeness? Even her obviousness is obvious. Of course she’s pivoted away from the lusty pleasure of her early hits and toward a crude attempt at “real” meaning. “Chained to the Rhythm” is, ultimately, not a very good song, but Perry is familiar, even comfortable, in her clunky movements. We’ll never know that utopian future but Perry would be there, no matter the sleight of fate’s hand. And “Chained to the Rhythm” in a good year is — unsurprisingly — the exact same song as “Chained to the Rhythm” in a bad year. She is a coin with only one side.
Claire Biddles: Like a latterday Daft Punk song that’s been cloned over and over again until its defining features are completely flattened out, “Chained to the Rhythm” is so insubstantial that I swear it stops existing after it finishes playing. The lyrics are full of self-drags — she MUST have known asking “Are we tone deaf?” would be used against her in a review — and there’s something particularly desp about the way she references “your favourite song” knowing that this could never be it.
Maxwell Cavaseno: The inexplicable pivot of the cheesiest, most banal to trying to edge upon wokeness is certainly not the career move you’d expect from Katy Perry off-hand but at the same time, it’s been brewing. She’s moved from the goofiness into a sea of power-ballads of vague ambition and motivation, so to create an anthem meant to parse through a sea of bullshit by feeding vague lines about utopia and what have you is not improbable. And not for nothing, for all Sia’s weird reggae mining and her bullshit fake patois voice she built for playing Trojan RiRi, she’s only just recently bothered to put an actual Jamaican on a record or get them writers’ credit. And so the awkward promo-featuring of Tuff Gong’s grandson is maybe a weird gesture for authenticity from someone so unlikely, but I can’t be too upset given this surprisingly rare accommodation. If there’s anything to say about this in particular that’s a flaw, it’s that in many ways it feels too calculated, in a way that Katy Perry used to never bother with. As unflattering or at times infuriating as her lack of foresight could be sometimes, there was something to be said for being so brash.
Anthony Easton: When your entire genre is founded, and continually plays, with notions of black authenticity, does it mean anything that Perry plays with patois, and if it doesn’t–why does she have Skip Marley, and if it does, does it mean anything that she doesn’t fully commit (rhythm instead of riddim). Minus a point for talking about distortion without having any of it at all, plus a point for sneaking the word empire in.
Alfred Soto: My delight at the “distortion” in a dance pop tune is mitigated by Katy Perry’s odd stresses; in this case they land on the last syllable, which has the effect of howling when someone digs a high heel into your big toe. A similar travesty happens in the phrase “to the rhy-THM, to the rhy-THM.” Still, the gloss suits her: if any performer would revel in being chained to a rhythm, it’s Perry, who in some bars sounds like Toni Braxton.
William John: She did not get away with the grating elongation of “unconditionally“, so I have no idea how Katy Perry has been permitted to transgress again with such klutzy abandon; once again, we are faced with an extreme case of the wrong emphasis on the wrong syllable. As to the song’s alleged “woke-ness”, I proffer no comment save that it’s unlikely any slumbering apoliticals will be roused by a track with empty platitudes and such narrow dynamic range.
Will Adams: The trendification of aligning with social justice causes has made it easier than ever for people like Katy “Artist. Activist. Conscious.” Perry to market themselves as woke with just a modicum of effort (all while continuing to act as shitty as they always have). The idea that “Chained to the Rhythm” and its vague politics have any potential for significant impact is one of the more insulting concepts the pop machine has lobbed at us in recent memory. But even if Perry had any insight, we’d still have to contend with this torpid mess of recycled Weeknd disco, indulgent Sia-isms, and Perry outdoing the awful scansion on “Unconditionally” a million times over. There’s no bite to this, no feeling, and no reason to dandandance.
Katie Gill: American pop music can’t be THIS starved for bangers, can it?
Mo Kim: Katy Perry is so bad at being radical that she needed to hire a black hip-hop artist as a temp for this.
Scott Mildenhall: After all that apocalyptopop a few years ago it’s weird that now, with the Doomsday Clock actually closer to midnight than at any point since 1953, Katy Perry doesn’t sound that arsed about the walking daymare she’s describing. It’s not like she’s known for her subtlety — if anything it’s like she’s trying to undersell the hugely unsubtle “makes you think”-type statements in the lyrics. Weirder still is that “Wide Awake” already did all this without any obvious allusions to infer (and thus better), but at the very least it avoids the weirdest possibility: being completely terrible. As it’s akin to an inessential Sébastien Tellier remix, it really isn’t that, but it is strangely bloodless.
Katherine St Asaph: One point for every point I’m not giving this: 1. I did not expect Melanie Martinez to be where Katy Perry was positioning herself. 2. If you told me Katy Perry was doing Pleasantville, I would have expected a pinup theme. 2a. Though it’s remarkable that the cover art doesn’t show her face, and yet still manages to showcase her boobs. 2b. I’m sure Vigilant Citizen is on that photo. God, for the days of obscure cranks. 3. Sia still doesn’t do subtext, at all. If she feels zombified, the lyric will have shambling goddamn zombies. 4. Or maybe she does, because this is a subtext-free “Chandelier,” down to the isolatable “dance, dance, dance!” and “DRINK!” interjections. 4a. Someone get those ornaments out of her picket fence. Get the lens out too. 4b. Disco balls-and-chains aside, I actually don’t think anyone involved was trying to avoid “Slave to the Rhythm.” This is the exact kind of tweak-a-word that’s Sia’s main writing trick, and besides, Katy Perry did “E.T.,” she doesn’t care. 5. How is Katy Perry one of the few singers who doesn’t sound exactly like Sia’s demo vocals? Is this a sign of her being a distinctive singer, or too limited to try? 6. I blame Max Martin for the Swedish reggae. Ali Payami probably did the prechorus. 6a. Because they just had to get the funk guitar in somewhere, didn’t they? This sounded much better at the Grammys, where it sounded like a more straight-ahead Martin/Payami track. 6b. With a line like “dance to the distortion,” would some distortion be too much to ask? 7. I have no idea what Skip Marley is doing here and neither does anyone else. 8. Why does Woke Katy Perry just sound like the late ’90s, the time of Fight Club and The Matrix and endless plaints by landfill alternative bands about the pathetic emptiness of our meaningless, consumer-driven lives? Sia was also a product of the ’90s; I bet if she released “Chandelier” today that would be called political too. 9. In these days of our Pigmask Putin we’re going to see a lot more of these political-shaped but anodyne “protest” songs, aren’t we? Please extradite me to wherever it is that I did whatever it was to deserve this.