Strong visuals, strained vocals

Strong visuals, strained vocals

Reigning bubblegum pop princess Katy Perry played to a 9,000-strong audience here in a Monday showcase that was overloaded with visuals, but woefully thin on vocals.

Perry's two-hour-long Prismatic World Tour, held at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, was a giddy parade of outlandish set designs and deafening laser shows, packed with every absurdity imaginable.

On Dark Horse, her electronic dance music smash featuring rapper Juicy J (who appeared as a gangster pharoah hologram), the 30-year-old, dressed like Cleopatra, mounted an animatronic Trojan horse on stage, flanked by a phalanx of bronzed Egyptian guards.

On This Is How We Do, an unabashed toast to consumption, an assortment of balloons, including a poop-shaped emoji, hovered gently above the stands, as Perry, clad in a green wig and Japanese warrior princess gear, rode about on an inflatable convertible with gyrating dancers.

This is, of course, on top of at least 10 wardrobe changes, with costumes ranging from a metallic silver bustier with a kitten face emblazoned on her chest to a neon pink latex catsuit, for her Kitty Purry persona.

The sheer amount of effort and imagination deserves kudos, even for a singer whose work has long teemed with sexualised artifice, and millennial references eagerly retweeted by her rabid Katy Cat fans (Perry is the most followed celebrity on Twitter with 69.5 million followers, ahead of United States President Barack Obama).

The au courant slang featured prominently in Perry's show, especially in her audience banter.

"Yasss," she enthused at two well-dressed girls, in her high-pitched, affected trill. "You girls look even prettier than me, I need to have you removed."

"JK," she added, using the popular abbreviation for "just kidding".

Later, during her performance of the 2010 summer smash California Gurls, dancers manoeuvred human-sized block letters into combinations such as YOLO and LOL, another nod to the lingo used by her tween fans.

But bits of her planned schtick, especially an attempt to learn the native language by inviting a fan on stage, fell flat. After a minute of confusion, she finally gathered that Singlish was not an actual language - one would think that Perry, who has been here several times, should know that Singaporeans speak English.

And all the pomp and pageantry could not mask her feeble live singing, exacerbated by vocal fatigue, on the line-up of mostly uptempo numbers (20 in total, including a brief Madonna cover) culled from three multi-platinum albums over a decade- long career.

Even as she kicked off the night with the jaunty jungle cry Roar and break-up anthem Part Of Me, her voice sounded strained and breathless, and she replaced actual singing with shouting - a lapse also apparent at her Super Bowl half-time performance earlier this year.

By the time she arrived at the finale segment, whatever spark in her voice had fizzled out and she was content to let the crowds belt out the big sing-along choruses of hits such as the glittering synth-pop gem Teenage Dream and the jubilant chart-topper Firework on her behalf.

Some of her music arrangements, such as a jazzy interpretation of Hot N Cold and a botched attempt to merge two ballads (The One That Got Away and Thinking Of You), were also misfires.

The evening's best performance by a mile was the bruising ballad By The Grace Of God, written about her break-up and divorce from comedian Russell Brand. ("By the grace of God, there was no other way/I picked myself back up, I knew I had to stay/I put one foot in front of the other, and I looked in the mirror, and decided to stay.")

The minimal acoustic guitar-piano arrangement let Perry show off her voice, a thick, throaty rasp that simmers with angst and sensitivity.

A pity that such moments, few and far between, were drowned out by the spectacle and hubbub of a wildly over-the-top arena tour.

This article was first published on May 13, 2015.
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