It’s almost too easy to be cynical about celebrities and the things they say and do in the name of their respective craft. After all, fame is an industry that values artifice over authenticity — being “real” is only an asset if it fits within a neatly defined package that can be spun and marketed as the Next Big Thing. Because of this, it’s less than surprising that Katy Perry’s latest undertaking — a 96-hour YouTube live stream of the pop star living under the microscope in a rented Los Angeles house — has been met with more eye rolls than applause. It’s been branded ‘calculated’ and ‘dumb’ by the likes of the New Yorker and Spin, who probably like to think they have their fingers on the pulse of pop culture at any given second. Generally, they’re right — not this time.
While there’s no doubt that “Witness World Wide”, which coincided with the release of Perry’s new album, Witness, was borne of the desire for an innovative approach to promo, to reduce it to nothing more than a cheap (albeit rather dedicated) ploy to sell albums feels a little short-sighted. Of course, you’d actually have to spend a good chunk of time watching it to determine that — the highlight reels show the “good stuff”, but it’s all the moments in between that’s actually the most telling and frankly, the most human.
Perry expressed throughout the weekend her desire to live a simpler, more authentic life; to spend more time as Katheryn Hudson and less as the carefully constructed, larger-than-life pop star we’ve come to know her as over the past decade or so. That desire to return to simpler times isn’t new among celebrities of Perry’s status, who often admit to struggling with their identity off-stage. However, few have so openly shared the realities of that struggle as Perry herself, who, as she broke down in a therapy session with Dr. Siri Singh during Friday night’s broadcast, admitted to feeling embarrassed by past suicidal feelings as they went against the perception the public has of her as strong and invincible.
This willingness to be vulnerable wasn’t restricted to the hour-long session (which, if you haven’t already watched in its entirety, is well worth the time) but extended throughout the weekend, during which she welcomed guests including (but certainly not limited to) Gordon Ramsay, Ru Paul, James Corden, Caitlyn Jenner, and YouTube star Gigi Gorgeous. As Perry herself stated, the aim was to foster communication, to “witness” experiences and lives different from her own and hopefully share those moments with her fans. In that regard, it’s safe to say she’s succeeded.
The topic of conversation during Saturday night’s dinner was about minority representation and how to be an ally while Sunday’s saw Republicans and Democrats share their opposing viewpoints in the hopes of finding common ground. Earlier in the day, she played a Truth or Dare-esque game with James Corden in which she took a shot of soy sauce and mayonnaise in lieu of revealing her least favorite city to perform in. Later the same night, she hosted a transgender beauty vlogger whose transition was documented in a film which was screened in its entirety during the broadcast. In between, she sang, danced, had her makeup done by a “glam squad” composed of YouTube makeup stars, and played with her micro teacup poodle Nugget, who became an unsurprising star of the weekend. At the end of it all, she concluded her marathon production with a concert for a dedicated group of fans, during which she sang a good portion of the songs from Witness publicly for the first time.
Admittedly, parts of Witness World Wide were clunky and awkward, others comparatively menial and boring. And yet, that’s exactly what’s made it so compelling — Perry’s dogged determination to evolve her own perceptions and ways of thinking and to document that evolution while encouraging her audience to do the same are perhaps the most authentic things she’s done thus far. Throughout the weekend, she answered for some of her questionable past decisions, from cultural appropriation to her overblown and rather immature feud with Taylor Swift, and renewed her dedication to finding peace with the dichotomy of her personal and professional lives. It was, in a word, refreshing.
Given the current political and social climate where hate is rampant and cynicism, negativity, and doubt are second nature, Perry’s rather simplistic approach to peace and unity is naively endearing. She’s not going to eradicate war or solve world hunger, but she’s not trying to. What she seemingly is trying to do is find herself amidst all the noise, and her openness about the difficulty of that task, as well as her ability to admit the mistakes she’s making along the way, are what make her one of the most relatable pop stars and Hollywood personalities out there today.