She’s back! Katy Perry has spent the past several months reflecting on the unprecedented first two decades of her career. She’s starring in a new Las Vegas concert residency, Play, where she’s notably returned to her signature long black hair to sing hits like “I Kissed a Girl,” “E.T.,” and “Teenage Dream.”
But this is no swan song era for Perry. On Jan. 10, the singer dropped her new single, “When I’m Gone,” with DJ Alesso, and it’s proof she’s still the charismatically cartoonish and skilled pop star we first fell in love with over 13 years ago. As pop music stans would say, Perry is once again performing at her most legendary, meaning she’s back to being a “main pop girl.”
While the single dropped on Dec. 29, Perry and Alesso premiered the music video during the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 11. This was preceded by Perry’s appearance on CNN’s New Year’s Eve special. She performed a mashup of “When I’m Gone” and her underrated 2013 dance track “Walking On Air.” According to a press release, the New Year’s Eve performance was filmed during Perry’s Vegas Residency.
As Vulture’s Justin Curto noted, “When I’m Gone” is thematically reminiscent of Perry’s 2019 single about lovelorn indecisiveness, “Never Really Over.” It’s a classic EDM track highlighting Perry’s breathy vocals and anthemic lyrics. With her (light) choreography and cadre of backup dancers, alongside her signature black hair, Perry appears to embrace her status as a household pop star in her latest music video.
This hasn’t always been the case. Perry’s been on a public journey of self-discovery since 2017 when her fifth album Witness underwhelmed critically and commercially. She’d been riding off three ubiquitous albums: One of the Boys, Teenage Dream, and Prism. Prior to 2017, she became the first woman to garner five Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 singles on one album with Teenage Dream in 2010 and headlined the most-watched Super Bowl Halftime Show in 2015.
However, in 2017, she shifted her image away from inspirational anthems like “Roar” and “Firework.” She cut and dyed her black hair into a blonde pixie cut and opened up about her ongoing political awakening. It didn’t quite vibe with audiences. Though it topped the Billboard 200 charts, Witness received a mixed critical reception. As Perry later told the Canadian radio show Q on CBC in 2020, she was consumed by her “own sadness” following the album’s release while simultaneously broken up with Orlando Bloom, her now-fiancé.
After a string of one-off singles, Perry officially followed up Witness with the 2020 album, Smile. For this album released during the pandemic, Perry kept to a rigorous promo cycle, which is all the more impressive and praiseworthy given she did so while pregnant. While Smile features critically adored tracks like “Harleys In Hawaii” and “Never Really Over,” it didn’t reach the commercial heights of Teenage Dream or Prism.
Over a year later, Katy’s back again. She’s returned to her classic look, sound, and personality. She even opens the “When I’m Gone” music video saying, “I just think it’s time to give them everything they want.”
Perry started her career with hits about carefree fun like “Waking Up In Vegas,” so all these years later it’s nice to see Katy Perry is confidently back to embracing the catharsis of safely goofing off. (She sings next to a larger-than-life face mask and — there’s no easy way to say this — a singing piece of poop in her Vegas residency.) Her serious pursuit of silliness might just be the right anecdote in a heavy world.