…music reviews: “E.T.” Katy Perry

This post kicks off my formal music reviews. I’ll be more or less combing the Billboard Hot 100 from top to bottom and giving my perspective on singles as I come across them. And unlike most of the artists I talk about, I do take requests, so let me know if you want something in particular profiled.

“E.T.” Katy Perry Featuring Kanye West (#1 Hot 100, Week of April 16, 2011)

There’s no question Katy Perry knows how to construct a #1 record. This makes four consecutive trips to the top spot for her. What she may have given up to achieve this feat, however, could be priceless. Unlike fellow chart dominatrixes Gaga and Ke$ha, Katy never struck me as the subversive sellout type. Her major label debut more than hinted at some intrinsic musical integrity, an almost indie vibe that caused her to skew a little left of mainstream.

Needless to say, that approach has all but disappeared on her second record, Teenage Dream. Thankfully, “E.T.” is the closest thing to edgy she has released thus far from the new record. It’s a sonically engaging mix of power pop, faux-futuristic blips (to complement the sci-fi title) and Def Leppard-style chanty arena rock.

The lyrics are a serviceable extended metaphor comparing a love interest to an interplanetary visitor; Perry has reportedly said the song is about an alien of a more earthbound sort (Russell Brand, perhaps?), thereby blunting the metaphor a tad. I prefer the images of otherworldliness to be a little less literal, so I will continue to enjoy the song that way.

“E.T.” comes a little closer to what I like about Katy, because she’ll never be as deadpan pop-ironic as Gaga or as insanely hooky as Ke$ha.

Still, this isn’t the smart-alecky Katy we were implicitly promised when she introduced herself with “Ur So Gay.” Kanye West’s featured rap on the “E.T.” remix dwarfs Katy’s lyrics in sheer swagger. If I were her, I wouldn’t stand for being upstaged like that in the future, even if she has to sacrifice a few #1 hits in the process.


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