Revisiting Katy Perry's (non-Madonna) influences
Jul 22, 2011 | 11:12 am
Ringing alarm bells all over the otherwise conservative surrounding territory of central Texas, Katy Perry brings her personal brand of 21st century pop-rock to Austin tomorrow. Two albums into her career as a mainstream superstar (following a previous incarnation as Christian rocker “Katy Hudson”), Perry has received a seemingly equal amount of praise and criticism for both her songs and the signature style in which she presents them. Perhaps that’s because Perry, in a performative context, has never been abashed to showcase her truly huge… act… and through her videos and live performances, she has certainly cultivated an outsized stage persona that rivals any of her modern-day peers not named “Gaga.”
And while Perry certainly possesses a theatrical streak that, at times, verges on the positively avant (kinda? almost?), her music remains roughly twice as derivative as it is catchy. Almost from the jump of the bisexuality-baiting hook in her breakthrough hit single, Perry’s detractors intoned from the cultural sidelines that: “We liked this phase better when Madonna was going through it. Twenty-five years ago.” Yet great hoardes of humanity will flock to the Erwin Center this weekend to spend a night basking in the glow of a starlet for whom everything old is once again a part of the “Teenage Dream,”™ because — by today’s standards of popular music — Katy Perry really is just “so unusual.”
So, before Perry sweeps Austin off of our collective feet, now feels like the perfect time to revisit some forgotten touchstones of a sound that helped define the once-glorious genre that she now rules:
She’s So Unusual – Cyndi Lauper
Before she settled into a comfortable career rut as the new-wave Bette Midler, Lauper exploded into international stardom with one of the great debut albums of the 1980s: She’s So Unusual. Although Lauper also found herself initially dismissed as a Madonna re-tread (in 1984!), the infectious potency of “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” was no more deniable then than Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” is today. But the real genius of She’s So Unusual is in its proudly amateurish central talent. Lauper’s voice cracks and goes off-key as it’s dressed up in increasingly ecstatic production and synth-heavy arrangements. Tellingly, Lauper received no writing credits on any of the album’s five hit singles, yet she deservedly became the instant icon of the MTV generation on the strength of covers, like her version of Prince’s “When You Were Mine” and The Brains’ achingly profound “Money Changes Everything.”
Eat to the Beat – Blondie
Eat to the Beat is Blondie’s Exile on Main St., in that it somehow manages to endure as possibly their best, most consistently rewarding album without serving as home to any of their ten or twelve greatest hits. Instead, Debbie Harry and company revisit the up-tempo rockers that fueled Parallel Lines even as they look ahead with experiments in island sounds (“Die Young Stay Pretty”) and unadulterated bombast (“Victor”) that characterize the future singles that would fill out their “Best Of” compilations. The closest thing that comes to an enduring favorite on Eat to the Beat is “Atomic,” which integrated driving rhythm and disco beats in a more convincing synthesis of Blondie’s style with elements of trendy dance music than their novelty hit “Heart of Glass” ever did.
Crimes of Passion – Pat Benatar
Pat Benatar’s debut album offered the promise of a female artist that could hang around the American charts in an era still largely defined by “big dumb guy rock,” but it was Crimes of Passion that fully delivered her as the solo power-pop rocker that would dominate the early ‘80s. Alternating between the “tough as nails exterior” (“You Better Run,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”) and the “tender heart beneath it” (an excellent cover of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”) dynamic that typified her media image, Crimes of Passion remains in many ways the definitive Pat Benatar album, a resonant moment in pop history that deserves to be bettered remembered than perhaps it is. A classic.
Katy Perry is at the Frank Erwin Center this Saturday, July 30th, with special guest Robyn.