The roar that launched Katy Perry’s third major studio album was a life-affirming signal that there was plenty of fight left in her yet. Released on October 18, 2013, Prism came off the back of both a difficult patch in the 29-year-old singer-songwriter’s personal life and a three-year gap since her previous album – a lifetime in pop’s frenetic calendar. The plan had initially been to make a darker record: “It was inevitable, after what I went through,” she told L’Uomo Vogue a year ahead of anything emerging from the studio.
In fact, that gap – professionally largely spent touring and promoting Teenage Dream – allowed song ideas to ferment gently over a longer period. Those fragments eased Perry back into the recording process, which started in the States with ongoing collaborator Dr. Luke and Perry’s team of songwriters, before concluding with a spell in Stockholm, Sweden, where über-producer Max Martin put his magic mark on most of Prism’s tracks. Perhaps it was the decent rest, or maybe Katy’s trademark, up-for-it energy that reshaped what eventually reached listeners.
If you were looking for revolution, album track “Walking On Air” is perhaps where you would find it. The song is an edgier dance track than anything the sugar-coated Teenage Dream would have offered a few years earlier. Riffing off an early 90s pop-house vibe, it showed that Katy was maturing and prepared to experiment.
If you were looking for confessionals, however, the album’s second single, “Unconditional,” delivered. Coming after the more familiar power-pop of Prism’s lead single, “Roar” – which had topped charts worldwide – it was a brave choice for a promotional cut. The sublime “Ghost,” another Dr. Luke/Cirkut/Martin composition, was perhaps a safer bet: a poignant electro-epic drenched in gorgeous, ethereal synths. But was Perry really up for playing safe at this stage?
With its frothy, catchy riff, “This Is How We Do” might suggest yes, but that song was picked as the album’s fifth single, almost a year after “Roar” had been released. It was, in fact, “Dark Horse”, the album’s third single, that signaled everything you needed to know about Katy’s direction of travel. Featuring rapper Juicy J, this hypnotic jam became the world’s second-best-selling song of 2014 and really helped push Prism towards multi-platinum status. Its steely riff was sharper than anything Katy had attempted before, and this daring experimentation really paid off, winning Single Of The Year at the American Music Awards. The genesis of Katy’s even bolder 2017 album Witness can be traced to this moment.
More exploration can be found on the writing collaboration with Sia. Steered by Prism’s other principal helmsman Greg Kurstin, “Double Rainbow” is a lilting, more organic piece that sits nicely alongside the raw, confessional album closer “By The Grace Of God,” which appears to address the questions everyone had about the singer’s recent marriage to comedian Russell Brand. The song is perhaps the closest thing to the album Katy had first imagined making, but the moving lyrics once again capture her sharp survival instincts.
If Prism is anything, it’s perhaps Katy Perry’s recovery record: a gesture towards the high-energy dance-pop she’d owned so effortlessly on her previous album; a shared, insightful acknowledgment that her perspective had shifted somewhat; and a signal that things would be different going forward. Across a handful of tracks here, a restless energy edges towards the surface, waiting to explode just a few years later…