Seeing a Katy Perry concert raises lots of questions. Is there symbolism behind each wig change? Are those sparkle cat costumes an homage to “Cats: The Musical”? Does she really believe that stars are “cosmic jewels”? What’s with that music video interlude that shows her in a mental institution? Why is there pizza on stage?
It quickly becomes apparent, though, that searching for meaning at a Katy Perry concert – one that is filled with impossibly glittery outfits and neon paint and people dressed as animals – is an intriguing but useless exercise. And it was clear that during Perry’s sold-out show at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night that no one was supposed to do anything but scream, dance with reckless abandon and take in the brightly colored spectacle in front of them.
Perry’s life is always very public, chronicled regularly by both the tabloids and herself. (With nearly 54 million followers, the 29-year-old Perry is the most-followed person on Twitter, followed by Justin Bieber and President Obama.) But during a live show there’s really no time to think about those real-world concerns and over-analyze what everything might mean. There’s just so much to watch: Back-up dancers dressed as warriors with glow-in-the-dark spears. Perry riding onto the stage on a fake horse. Guitar players shooting into the air with instruments spewing fire. A tap dancing cat. Inflatable tacos. Aerialists performing terrifying tricks. Fireworks. Confetti cannons. Perry flying around the arena on a set of balloons. More fire.
It was the kind of show where music took a back seat to all of the above, as you were too captivated watching the Egyptian-themed set piece (with Perry dressed as Pharaoh) to really appreciate the beat-heavy “Dark Horse” and Kanye West collaboration “E.T.,” the latter of which was accompanied by a hologram of West’s face.
And though Perry has moved into the more “grownup” phase of her career with the introspective album “Prism” – the bubblegum pop of “I Kissed a Girl” and “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” seems to be a thing of the past – she still can’t resist having a group of costumed cats dance around to Madonna’s “Vogue” on stage while chasing a mouse. (Perry’s most loyal fans call themselves KatyCats, so that may explain the feline obsession.)
The only time the actual songs were the focus was a brief acoustic interlude, which Perry told the crowd is her favorite part of the concert. It was during this segment that Perry, whose on-stage antics and catchy, dancey tunes often overshadow the fact that she actually has a great voice, played “The One That Got Away” and “Unconditionally.” She introduced them with a long, rambling speech in which she alternated between giggling Valley Girl, spiritual leader and patriotic pop star.
“I’m Katy Perry, I guess,” she chirped by way of introduction to the screaming attendees – plenty of kids and their parents, with a mix of tweens and childless adults. Wearing a shiny, long white cape and an elaborate butterfly gown, Perry laid down on the stage to take a selfie with a young fan. “Don’t tell anyone I got down in the floor in my couture.”
She explained that D.C. was the second stop on the U.S. leg of the Prismatic World Tour; she’s scheduled to play again at the Verizon Center on Wednesday. Perry, a well-publicized fan of Hillary Clinton, then told the crowd to follow their dreams and appreciate that they’re from a free country: “You know what’s so great about America? Any one of you can be president now.”
Perry dedicated the dark “By the Grace of God,” to the people that supported her when she was at her lowest point – presumably her public, messy divorce from Russell Brand a couple years ago. “Katy Perry goes through crappy days, too,” she confessed. She said her fans helped her get through it with positive Twitter messages, and “telling me I could put one foot in front of the other when it felt like I could not.”
Serious moment over, she sprinkled some confetti from a watering can into a hole in the stage (as you do) and an acoustic guitar and a pizza appeared. She accused people backstage of sabotaging her. “They know I’m a pop star – I’m not allowed to eat things like this,” Perry complained, giving the food away to the audience as she sang a couple lines of it’s-so-hard-to-be-famous ballad “Lucky” by Britney Spears. (Seriously, what’s with the pizza?)
Perry might be more self-aware about her fame than most, and it really allows her to be as weird as possible during live shows – her particularly devoted fans will love anything she does. In addition to performing nearly every song off “Prism,” she sang a slow, jazzy version of “Hot ‘N Cold.” During “California Gurls,” the giant letters that were supposed to spell out “YOLO” accidentally spelled “YOOL” at first, but no one seemed to mind.
Things wrapped up as Perry appeared for her final song, the irresistible “Firework” dressed — obviously — as a human firework. It was one last moment of welcome over-the-top escapism.