‘Prism’: The album that should have won Katy Perry a Grammy

It’s been five years since Katy Perry’s Prism, the follow-up studio album to the colossally successful Teenage Dream, which had given the Californian singer six number-one hits. There was no way Katy could’ve topped that album; no one dared to think she would, yet she put on a really promising fight with her record in 2013.

The lead-up to Prism was a worrisome affair. A year prior to 2013, she entered divorce proceedings to end her marriage to British comedian Russell Brand, which had left the singer in a “really dark” place. Her woes were even the talking point of Katy Perry: Part of Me, a concert documentary film that followed Katy through her first world tour, the California Dreams Tour.

Anyone in pop would understand that the word “dark” usually means over-emotional, non-mainstream records that while cathartic and artistically fulfilling, which also means “commercial disaster” for a mainstream singer (remember Kelly Clarkson’s My December?).

So when Katy unveiled the name of her album Prism, people were confused. A prism deals with light, not darkness, a tangent from Katy’s upcoming, supposedly gothic phase. But as the then-29-year old explained, her album was named so because she decided to allow the light into her life, and wanted to disperse its ray into a myriad of colors.

Indeed, what ended up on the Prism track list was a colorful array of bops as sizzling as the chart-topping confections of Teenage Dream. One of its most colorful is first single “Roar”, which ignited Prism’s streak of success when it became Katy’s eighth number-one single.

The empowering upbeat pop song full of animal similes memorably beat its sound-titled rival, “Applause” by Lady Gaga (which was released only one day after “Roar”), and even inspired the Glee episode “A Katy & A Gaga”, where rival teams perform either song in a class contest.

“Roar” is Katy Perry’s second biggest-selling song: 6.4 million units to date, behind only Teenage Dream‘s “Firework”. At the time, it also became Katy’s third longest-running hit on the Billboard Hot 100, spending 35 weeks on it, behind only “Firework” and One of the Boys’ “Hot N Cold”.

Prism’s third single, “Dark Horse” featuring Juicy J, was an even bigger success, scoring Katy yet another number-one and spending four weeks atop the charts. The inventive fusion of trap and pop was acclaimed by critics, fans and even celebrities like Vin Diesel, who recorded a video of himself bopping to the hit. It’s sold 6.3 million units and spent 57 weeks on the Hot 100, more than any other song in Katy’s career.

Unlike Teenage Dream, not every single from Prism was a stellar success. Second single “Unconditionally” broke Katy’s nine-song streak in the Top 10 when it stalled at #14.

Funnily, people were more upset by its geisha-inspired performance at the American Music Awards. Katy was accused by social justice warriors of cultural appropriation, befuddling to Japan, who actually loved it.

Fourth single, the effervescent “Birthday”, was let down by a longwinded music video that chopped the song brutally, and peaked at #17.

Fifth single and my personal favorite, “This Is How We Do”, had its fair share of accusations of cultural appropriation (this time, black culture), and peaked at #24. Nonetheless, these are moderate successes compared to what transpired later in 2017 with Witness. Furthermore, no one in the right mind would think that Prism could achieve success at the level of Teenage Dream.

Ultimately, Prism‘s biggest offerings, “Roar” and “Dark Horse”, would still notch nominations at the Grammys for Katy. Prism was indisputably a Grammy-approved success.

In 2014, “Roar” received two nominations for Best Pop Solo Performance and Song of the Year. A year after, “Dark Horse” was a contender for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, while the album itself was up for Best Pop Vocal Album.

None of these nominations turned into victories. To this date, a Grammy still evades Katy, even after 13 nominations since 2008. At this rate, the pop singer is on track to become the most-nominated artist without actually ever winning.

While I have no qualms with “Roar” and Prism being bested in their categories, my jaw dropped when I found out “Dark Horse” didn’t end Katy’s Grammy drought. I can’t say the winner was undeserving. Christina Aguilera and A Great Big World, were supremely exquisite with “Say Something”, but I had really counted on “Dark Horse” to race past the finish line first.

To end things on a positive note, the tour for Prism was a smash success and outlasted the California Dreams Tour. The Prismatic World Tour played 151 shows from 2014 to 2015, around 30 shows more than its predecessor, and outgrossed it by approximately $150 million. I myself was part of the Prismatic crowd, having watched Katy up close in May 2015.

And in the midst of the tour, Katy took on the biggest headlining show in America, the Super Bowl half-time show in 2015, which she opened with two Prism songs: “Roar” on a mechanical, multi-faceted lion, then “Dark Horse” on a silvery chess board.

The live telecast drew a viewership of 118 million, the most-watched in Super Bowl history. So Katy might not have won a Grammy, but the Prism era was still a solid victory.


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