This past spring, three of the world’s biggest pop stars released new music and this new music is slightly underwhelming. Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, and Taylor Swift are giants of the pop world and their commercial slide is both shocking and surprising and leaves me with one underlying question. Are these three trendsetters regressing on their creativity? Disclaimer: this is less a blog post and more an essay, so it’s pretty long.
I wrote about Taylor two years ago where I mentioned how her, not exactly country and not exactly pop, singer-songwriter mix broke the music wheel and changed the game. She had outsold everyone in her path and proved that the nice girl next door can win without having to kowtow to societal pressure. This was all in response to the still horrible song that is Look What You Made Me Do. Her album Reputation was released soon afterwards and while it did well, it did not produce Taylor-like numbers. Reputation has sold 4.5 million copies worldwide. That’s a huge decline from her previous albums. Her debut album Taylor Swift has sold 7 million, Fearless has sold 8 million, Speak Now, 6 million, Red, 7 million, and 1989, 10 million. The reason for this is simple, Reputation just wasn’t very good. In my original review for the album I talked about how the album grew on me and while it did at first, I became disenchanted with the album as I continued to listen to it and there are really only two songs on it that I like (Getaway Car and I Did Something Bad). Her other albums, however, I could listen to on repeat for days, especially Speak Now. When Taylor first started dropping hints about TS7, I was excited. I was getting 1989 vibes, and even more exciting, country vibes. The timing was perfect for her to release a new country album. The pop climate was changing and changing fast and the songs that were doing well had a country/rock vibe. In fact, looking at the top 10 songs on iTunes (RIP), 5 of them are by or feature country artists. Lil Nas X has held the top spot for over two months and his song features Billy Ray Cyrus!!!!! Included in this mix is Ed Sheeran who has always had a folky sound and Billie Eilish who sounds like no one. Taylor was in prime position to make her grand comeback to the country world.
What did we get? ME! Featuring that guy from Panic! At the Disco. Yeah…… The song is incredibly dated. It sounds like something that would have come out in the summer of 2012. To be a successful pop star, one must always be moving forward not back. The previously mentioned Billie Eilish, easily the most popular among the younger generations, was only 10 years old in 2012! The world has changed and pop stars must change with it.
ME! sounds as if it should be at the end of a Disney Channel movie. It has no substance whatsoever. She breaks no new ground and says nothing productive about the woman she has become, as is her usual formula. Taylor will be 30 in December and she is trying desperately to ignore that fact. She is acting younger than she ever has and is working overtime to connect to the younger generations. Furthermore, she is so desperate for a hit, understandable after Reputation failed to create a large amount of radio play. But not just any hit, she wants a massive generation remembering hit. It is the only thing that is lacking in Taylor’s career. To do this she borrows from every pop hit that came before it, from the beat to the lyrics. As if her thought process is if I just include everything that has been successful before this is bound to work. What comes from this is a lazy pop song. She takes for granted her audience and assumes that they will just consume anything she feeds them. While some probably will, Taylor is far too talented to travel down this road. Say what you will about Taylor, but she is an amazing songwriter. She’s never got the credit she deserved though, but she also writes songs catered to teenage girls and young women. An audience that is often not taken seriously and anything they deem as desirable or meaningful is often laughed at, but one only has to look at All Too Well from the album Red and there is no doubting her talent, which is why this new song is such a disappointment. The song includes such lazy metaphors as “like a rainbow with all of the colors” as if rainbows don’t always have all of the colors. And my favorite part, is when at the end of the song she announces “spelling is fun“ and then doesn’t spell anything! I’ll even ignore that this part of the song is a blatant rip-off of Hollaback Girl. This part of the song has been mocked endlessly and rightfully so. It turn a bland generic pop song into an embarrassing uninspiring nursery rhyme. Also and I know this is not the point, but spelling is most definitely not fun. I am still holding out hope for the album, Taylor has a tendency to release the worst song off the album as the first single. I hope this is still the case because I always assumed that Taylor would become the next Shania Twain and it pains me to watch her transform into the next Leann Rimes.
Oh Miley, what are we going to do with you? She confuses me to no end. Miley is extremely talented and unlike the other two pop stars mentioned in this post, has an incredible voice. Her issue is that she has never really known what to do with that voice or how to develop her talent. Her image is confused. She is trapped between being the person she wants to be and being the person she thinks society wants her to be. She is always quick to jump on the latest trend or bandwagon whether that be professionally, musically, or personally. All you have to do is look at her music catalog, it screams confusion instead of reinvention. She goes from good girl to bad girl rock star, to singer songwriter pop star, to hip/hop appropriator, to hippie acid tripping psychedelic rock chick, to artistic clean cut folk star, to drug taking rock/hip/hop/singer person.
Miley released one of three EPs this past Friday, that will ultimately form her seventh album She is Miley Cyrus. The music is not great but it’s not exactly bad. It’s confusing. She goes back to the hip/hop inspired sound from Bangerz that she tried to distance herself from just two years ago. But when her last album Younger Now was a commercial failure, she quickly changed course back to the crazy girl that had shocked us into purchasing Bangerz. But you can only shock people so much before it starts to become pathetic. She crossed that line long ago. Her actions aren’t new or cool (were they ever cool?) anymore.
She Is Coming, really not a fan of that title, is this first EP. The first song is Mother’s Daughter and it is one of the only ones I like. It is the one with the most rock vibe and her voice compliments it. I very much appreciate the line “Don’t f*ck with my freedom. I came back to get me some. I’m nasty, I’m evil. Must be something in the water or that I’m my mother’s daughter.” That’s all fine and good, the rest…? First she talks about drugs…alot. I have heard maybe this is a cry for help, but I have my doubts. Her song D.R.E.A.M stands for drugs rule everything around me. How rebellious and edgy of her to be a drug user. It’s not like drugs have ever killed anybody or anything. [insert eye-roll here] The rest of the songs are about sex. We get it Miley. You are not Hannah Montana anymore! From downright degrading photoshoots to doing weird things with fruit, Miley is in desperate need to prove that she is a sex symbol, or worse, a symbol of female empowerment. I have never and still do not understand how posing naked has become this feminist empowerment move. I thought it was pretty empowering when I graduated from college, but now maybe I’m just not “empowered” enough to understand the meaning behind this gesture. In short, Miley is trying way too hard and it’s exhausting. Personally, I am still suffering from nightmares from watching her with that foam finger. She is aware that most people are laughing at her and not with her? If not, someone should tell her.
The worst song on the EP is saved for Cattitude. Cattitude is that raunchy over the top song with lyrics such as “turn up your gratitude, turn down your attitude. I love my p**sy, that means I got cattitude.” It is so bad, there are no words to describe how bad this song is. It is the perfect example of what I mean when I say she is trying to hard. The rest of the songs have potential and I think that’s what disappoints me the most. She is so close to making a complete album. This is seen on The Most, a slow love song that shows just how talented she is. I wish she understood that she doesn’t need the sex or drugs. She just needs to be her. But that seems to be the issue. I don’t think she knows who she is and maybe that is the consequence of becoming famous before you hit puberty.
-Katy (Does it bother me that she has convinced people that you spell Katie with a Y? Yes!)
Where do I even begin with Katy? Let’s back up a bit. Katy Perry burst onto the scene in the summer of 2008. She was my favorite of these three ladies and I’m a little bitter that she is the only one of them that I haven’t seen in concert. Katy was in on the pop star game from the beginning. Her image was perfectly constructed almost as if she was a fictional character. She was this over the top parody that seemed to poke fun at the music industry while simultaneously defining it. From wearing bras that squirt whip cream to dressing in drag at children’s birthday parties, Katy was pure entertainment and she never tried to be anything more. In the meantime, she created some of the best pop hooks of the last decade, “I’ma get your heart racing in my skin-tight jeans be your teenage dream tonight. Let you put your hands on me in my skin-tight jeans be your teenage dream tonight.” Pure pop gold! While the critics failed to understand her, she was rewarded with unprecedented commercial success. She has sold over 100 million albums worldwide and her first three albums produced 9 songs that reached the top of the Billboard Charts. Her songs became those generation defining pop songs that Taylor is so desperate to create. What would summer 2008 be without I Kissed a Girl or summer 2010 without California Gurls? And then she took a hard left turn. The election of 2016 shocked many people. Katy was one of those people. An outspoken Democrat, she had always managed to walk the fine line between politics and music. Usually keeping the two separate as to not alienate any part of her large audience. Essentially, she was following the model set by basketball legend Michael Jordan who famously said he stays clear of politics because “Republicans buy sneakers too.” But Katy suddenly couldn’t be silent anymore. She announced that her new music would be “purposeful pop.”
Purposeful pop is not a thing. Pop music is fluid, it is, by its very name, popular music. Katy Perry doesn’t get to decide what’s popular, the masses do. It’s why you hear certain songs by rock stars, country stars, or rap stars described as “crossover hits”, because they were songs designed for a specific audience, but managed to make it to pop radio. Pop music is for everyone and so pop stars like Katy Perry are making music for everyone. The style is defined by what is hot at that time. It is why they all work with the same producers and why a lot of pop songs sound the same. It is why you can listen to certain songs and know exactly what decade, or even further, what year it was released. They follow the trends and that is what we want as consumers. It takes a very special kind of talent to be able to have a popular hit without conforming to the style of the time. A talent that most artists don’t have.
This leads me to Witness. Her last album that was a huge commercial failure. It failed to even go Gold in the United States and hasn’t broke a million in worldwide sales. The album is bad. It’s very dated pop music that she claims has a message but I am not sure what message the line “swish, swish, bish” could possibly have. Furthermore, she completely changed her personal style and people weren’t too pleased. What this likely did to her career at large is even worse. When she stopped playing a character the real her was revealed. By forcing her audience to take off their rose-colored glasses she revealed herself to be an average entertainer, and even worse, not a very good singer. An average entertainer with a less than stellar voice does not sell and she learned that the hard way.
After a much needed break Katy has returned to the music world. She did exactly what I told her to do two years ago! She got engaged to Orlando Bloom and has started to grow her hair back out. She is also trying to get back to her “true” self. Her new song Never Really Over is good, it’s my favorite out of all of the songs mentioned in this post, but it’s not Teenage Dream or Roar. It’s just a good pop song and she can’t come back with a good song, she has to come back with a hit. But can she? While listening to the song it is incredibly clear to me that she does not have the strongest vocals, something I never noticed on her other albums. Maybe that is the true legacy of Witness. In trying to be ‘woke’ she exposed herself and therefore played herself.
The real question we have to asked ourselves is have these pop stars reached that point that all pop stars, with the exception of Madonna who was lucky enough to be the first, reach? Are they now in a place where their success is based on a nostalgic fan based desperate to hold on to whatever little childhood innocence they have left? Not that nostalgia doesn’t sell, have you looked at the movie box-office lately? I was once told that the music each generation considers the best is the music that was released while they were in high school. This isn’t always the case, but to put this into perspective, I was 14 turning 15 in 2008 when these three women first made it big. That year I graduated middle school and began high school. I was part of the target generation that these ladies were selling to because it was my generation that was deciding popular culture. I am now 25 turning 26. My generation has graduated college, moved out on their own, and has entered the workforce. We no longer have time to be debating what is cool and popular. My generation already has its own “oldies” station, channel 10 on SiriusXm, Pop2K, a station that regularly plays Love Story (Taylor Swift), Hot N Cold (Katy Perry), and Party In The USA (Miley Cyrus). Their commercial decline is likely the result of failing to grow and evolve with the generation that made them a star. In short, Katy Perry needs to join Gaga in Vegas, Miley needs to put her pants back on and release a country album, and Taylor? Taylor is the only one of these ladies that I believe has enough raw musical talent to shock us, but she is never going to do that if she continues to play to the Disney market that is listening to Billie Eilish.
💚 Katie M.