Despite reports of lagging ticket sales, Katy Perry showed up to a filled American Airlines Center on Sunday evening with her A-game intact, proving to her critics that 10 years after launching her career with “I Kissed A Girl," she’s still poppin’.
Her decadelong run could be attributed to the fact that her appeal transcends age groups — there were just as many people over 30 singing along with Perry as preteens with their parents. Perry asked for all the 10-year-olds in the crowd to scream and then let this sizable contingent of the arena know that her next song, “Hot N Cold” is as old as they are.
The preteen crowd made this show tamer than some (not that Perry spared them any of the lascivious lyrics in tracks like “I Kissed a Girl”), but the ages of the crowd (younger than 12, older than 40) meant that half of the arena sat through her set, which was not for the stamina challenged, clocking in at more than two hours.
She put on a strong and spirited performance with ornate stage and costume design that rivaled that of Lady Gaga’s AAC show a month ago. Standout costumes included a rhinestone-encrusted, silver gown with a matching rhinestone-encrusted, Egyptian-inspired wig and silver over-the-knee boots, as well as a structured, high-neck, gold bodysuit with gold, armor-plated arm pieces.
It’s hard to top Gaga in terms of showiness and performance, but Perry might have done that. She was the controlled power to Gaga’s manic energy, and she hit each of the dance steps with precision that rivaled her fantastic backup dancers.
Perry’s not just powerful; she’s funny, too, and those aspects of her personality shone throughout the show. It was like an early Mardi Gras celebration inside the arena. For example, confetti dropped from the ceiling no fewer than four times, giant puppets were used during several numbers, a costumed man on stilts played the part of an alien during “E.T.” and her six female backup dancers donned outlandish getups (such as TVs on their heads) to perform kick-line-inspired routines.
Stage props were larger than life and sized like parade floats. They included:
- A pair of lips suspended 40 feet above the stage that Perry, sitting in a swing, bravely sailed through when the lips parted during “I Kissed a Girl.”
- A garden of 12-foot-tall roses that sprouted along the teardrop-shaped stage during “Tsunami” from her new album, Witness. Perry and a male aerialist rode the revolving rose at the tip of the stage much like an exotic dancer does a pole. Perry’s male accompanist performed the highly gymnastic feat effortlessly.
- A 15-foot-tall pair of dice that served as an oversized platform for Perry and her dancers to ascend. They writhed through the dot openings during “Roulette.”
- And most beautifully, a giant Saturn that whisked Perry 60 feet in the air through the galaxy of the arena, which was strewn with lighted planets and set to the backdrop of thousands of twinkling cellphone lights during an acoustic performance of “Thinking of You."
Her song with Nikki Minaj,“Swish Swish” (also from Witness), made use of a giant basketball hoop and net. Perry challenged “a dad from the audience” to a best-out-of-three free-throw game. They shot enormous exercise stability balls decorated up like basketballs, and (spoiler alert) Perry won. She spared the poor dad no heckling. She dabbed in his face after scoring two shots and told him he let Dallas down when he failed to make any.
The appeal of Perry isn’t only her powerhouse vocals and over-the-top showmanship, which were consistently on point throughout her performance. She's also compelling because she tells it like it is.
“Dallas, what in the heck is y’all’s problem?” she asked. “We’re going to have a real come-to-Jesus … about all the bicycles that have been left on the freeway,” she said, referencing the onslaught of bike-share bicycles abandoned in strange places, which got a huge laugh from the crowd. “I played a drinking game yesterday with water. And I almost died from drinking too much water every time I saw a deserted bicycle."
Perry was easy to connect with. At to no point did she seem pressured to keep the show moving at a swift clip. Before “I Kissed a Girl,” she told the audience that once she hit 30, she vowed to call her parents more (now in their 70s), but it still doesn’t happen often enough. She asked if the audience to wait while she called her dad in Santa Barbara, who narrowly missed the deadly mudslide last week.
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Her dancers pulled out a giant prop phone. “This is not prerecorded,” Perry told the audience. She was being honest. Her dad answered the phone, saying “Hello?” several times, but he obviously couldn’t hear her, and the line went dead. It was great to be in the midst of a performance that, while rehearsed to a T, had some off-the-cuff moments.
Perry kept the show light — she didn't make any political or social statements — even when the 10-year-old girl chosen from the audience to make a wish said her one wish was world peace and an end to crime and bullying. The girl, named McKayla Perry, told the musician that she wanted to be a singer like her.
Katy Perry asked if they were related or if McKayla was her child, to which the girl hilariously responded, “I already have a mom,” and Perry faux-pouted. She told the girl that being a singer was a great career choice and advised McKayla not get a real job because “they’re boring.”
At AAC, Perry was down-to-earth and approachable enough that it took effort to remember that she’s not a regular person and has probably never had a real job. Rather, she did her own not-boring job as predictably and competently as anyone who’s risen to the top of a field — her job just happens to be pop star.