Katy Perry, Unplugged

KATY PERRY’S MTV UNPLUGGED session is exactly what you’d expect of a young pop star with one album under her belt: it’s a seven-song performance of her big hits, some nice acoustic ballads, an unreleased tune and a well-chosen cover.

Going acoustic may seem like an odd choice for a singer who’s known for her big, brassy pop songs, but Perry did get her start in the singer-songwriter circuit at L.A.’s Hotel Cafe. So it’s no great surprise that her mellower numbers here (“Lost“, “Brick by Brick“, “Thinking of You“) come across quite well with an acoustic band.

But what is unusual is that she’s also able to translate her more rambunctious numbers into an acoustic format.

She turns the feisty “I Kissed a Girl” into a loungy, cabaret-styled torch song — and it’s shockingly good. Where the original version oozes with braggadocio, this acoustic version is almost more of a tortured confession. She turns the song on its head in both style and meaning, and that goes a long way toward making it work in such a stripped-down setting.

Katy Perry, Unplugged

Perry’s acoustic version of “Waking Up in Vegas” works less well, in large part because she presents it in the same format as the original. The impudence behind the song’s messy hangover works when there are big, bold instruments behind her; without them, Perry’s howling sounds out of place.

Even still, “MTV Unplugged” goes a long way toward making Perry seem more serious than just a pop tartlet; even her choice of cover — Fountains of Wayne’s uber-catchy “Hackensack” — brings an air of maturity to an artist who has always seemed like little more than a rebellious party girl.

Don’t take that too far, though: some of the interview segments included on the DVD are pretty inane, as she discusses her inability to wear an outfit more than once and extols the virtues of tweeting over blogging. She is, after all, still in her early 20s, and it shows.

Perry may not present herself as a serious artist in all respects quite yet, but “Unplugged” is definitely a step in a good — and unexpected — direction.

Written by Express contributor Catherine Lewis
Photos by Frank Micelotta