In 2012, Katy Perry accepted the Woman of the Year award from Billboard magazine by announcing, "I'm not a feminist, but I do believe in the power of women." It was a murky declaration, but if suffragette Susan B. Anthony had a dollar for every time a young pop star dropped a headscratcher about female empowerment, we'd be talking some serious coin.
Let's suggest that Perry is an "actions speak louder than words" kind of pop star. On Friday evening at the Air Canada Centre, for the first of her three shows there, Perry opened a lavish concert spectacle with her hit Roar, a rhythmically relentless anthem that begins with "I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath, scared to rock the boat and make a mess," but quickly builds an empowering anthem about being a champion and refusing to be held down. She had emerged from a pyramid-shaped structure, stern of expression and aglow with a neon-trimmed skirt and halter top. She was surrounded by a troupe of spear-carrying warriors, all in her charge.
Later, in a high-energy, eye-popping, ear-pounding riot of fireworks, four-by-four beats, multiple costumes, sky-high acrobats and insistent, blaring contemporary pop music, Perry rode a golden mechanical stallion as a way of introducing the hip-hop influenced Dark Horse, a hit (like Roar) off her latest album Prism. She was garbed as Cleopatra, a sexy pharaoh with cat-o'-nine-tails whip. At one point, two male studs fought for her affection – a piece of choreography which ended with them carrying Perry on their shoulders.
Keeping it down to a dull roar? Perry's Prismatic Tour concert, which is as expensively produced and whimsical a show as Toronto audiences have ever been witness to, would have none of that.
But beyond the Cirque du Soleil-style shenanigans and the Andrew Lloyd Webber-level feline fetish – Perry's show puts the cat in the catwalk – what was the message, if any? What is the takeaway for a fan base which is decidedly girly and impressionable?
The two-hour spectacle, which began with such empowering imagery, soon devolved into a parade of ideas seemingly hatched from the Teenage Dream singer's cutesy inner child. At a concert earlier in the tour, the 29-year-old Californian told the crowd that she was still a 13-year-old girl inside, and that she tours with her teddy bear and blanket. Part of the show involves inviting an audience member on stage for pizza; in Toronto, it was Bella, age 10, who got the thrill and the pepperoni. "I feel maybe we should switch bodies," young Bella was told by her heroine.
For the hooky, Prince-styled tune Birthday, which was the final song of the main set, a pigtailed Perry floated around the arena in a harness adorned with colourful balloons.
She had thrown the party of her own teenaged dreams, in front of not only children but young adult women who, like Perry, seemed quite happy to dress up to appear childlike. "So make a wish, I'll make it like your birthday everyday," she sang. "I'll be your gift," she continued, the implication being that girls were pretty prizes to be offered up to the boys.
In the end, it was a just pop concert, and a highly entertaining one at that. Perry doesn't need to be seen as a role model, and if she wants to Peter Pan it, that's her choice.
Katy Perry's Prismatic Tour plays Toronto, July 21; Winnipeg, Aug. 26, Saskatoon, July 28; Calgary, Aug. 29; Edmonton, July 31 and Sept. 1; Vancouver; Sept. 9 and 10.