John Caramanica wrote a piece for Times the other day, about the effect Lady Gaga has had on the landscape of female pop music in the past few years. He argues that she’s awakened her peers to the joys of the absurd, made them a bit more daring when it comes to their wardrobes, if not their records. It’s insightful and generally well-reasoned, but this one part about—who else?—Katy Perry is a bit off, I think.
In this Lady Gaga has an unlikely analogue in Katy Perry, who spent most of her first album in coy tugs-of-war with boys and girls. “California Gurls” is the first single from her new album, “Teenage Dream” (Capitol), which is to be released this month. Its video finds Ms. Perry frolicking in a candy fantasyland, pinup-girl style. But toward the end she’s shown dancing with cupcakes on her breasts, quickly followed by a scene in which she attaches a pair of whipped cream dispensers to her bra and fires away, leveling an army of Gummi Bear rapscallions. What it means is anyone’s guess, but the license to create such absurdist, post-sexual theater feels particularly Gaga-esque.
I’m not sure we should be calling Katy Perry’s recent Candy Land phase post-sexual. On the contrary, it comes off as blatant (though, admittedly, perhaps tongue-in-cheek) riffing on the well-established pop music practice of infantilizing its female stars. It’s not post-sexual—it’s just predictably meta, self-inflicted and completely over the top, and thus it’s supposed to seem above it all—like commentary on a thing rather than just the thing itself. It’s a dubious implication given how little her music supports it.