Last weekend, Katy Perry appeared on ESPN’s College GameDay looking not unlike Grimes circa Visions. Not that the bulk of ESPN’s core demographic knows who Grimes is, but the broader message was there: Katy Perry will appear alongside alpha-male sports commentators and make college football picks, but she’s gonna put her own little twist on it. In this particular case, that translated to a ’90s-inspired Tumblr-kid look, complete with a tattoo necklace, bright red mini-buns, and a fuzzy pink sweater made to resemble a sports jersey (how “go team!” of her). At some point, she was gesticulating with a corn dog and an oversize pencil, all while rooting for Ole Miss and commenting on the Gators’ abysmal chances (“I mean, I like Florida boys, but we’re talking a game here,” she said, affecting a Paula Deen-esque Southern drawl). It was convincing, even if she looked and sounded like an alien to unassuming college football fans. But more than that, it was entertaining.
The point I’m trying to make here is that Katy Perry has the ability to successfully take the shape of whatever container she’s in — be it an Obama rally or an episode of CMT Crossroads — while still performing whatever version of herself she’s selling this month. That’s exactly what she’s going to do this February during her Super Bowl Halftime Show, which was confirmed (via “inside sources”) just last night. During her appearance on College GameDay, Perry stoked the rumors, but made it clear she wouldn’t be paying the NFL to perform, as they had previously suggested. “We have had some conversations, and I would be honored, of course,” she said. “But I have let them know that I’m not the kind of girl who would pay to play the Super Bowl. The ball is in their field.”
Perry’s appearance is not all that shocking, considering she was on the NFL’s previously announced shortlist alongside Rihanna and Coldplay. Rihanna rightfully burned her bridges with the NFL when she told them to fuck off amidst the Ray Rice domestic abuse debacle, when they canceled her performance of “Run This Town,” the season’s official anthem. So to follow up last year’s Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers trying to out-funk each other, the NFL went with a more feminine touch. As the most up-voted commenter on ESPN’s news story on Perry’s performance put it, “Praying for Janet Jackson part 2.” The most up-voted response to this misogynistic comment? “Yeah, and this time with a young, full rack, not Janet’s little floppers.” Sigh. If there ever was a reminder of the Super Bowl’s mass appeal…
Katy Perry has her work cut out of her, indeed. But as I said before, she has the keen ability to meet the basic expectations of whatever arena she’s occupying. She’s far from the most vocally talented singer, the most powerful entertainer, or the biggest personality. She’s not the Best, Biggest, or Most of anything. Except adaptability, as evidenced by her career arc, from Warped Tour singer-songwriter tomboy to candy-coated sex symbol to pop’s trying-too-hard meme queen, each phase featuring its own set of No. 1 hits. (Perry has nine No. 1 singles on the Hot 100 to date).
That said, Perry’s current schtick will likely needed to be toned down for the Super Bowl audience. A description of Perry’s Prismatic Tour is the stuff of standout Stefon sketches on SNL‘s “Weekend Update”: the emoji turd balloons, the smiley-face and neon-seashell bras worn as tops, the homage to Broadway’s Cats (look, I know your fans are called KatyCats, but come on). While sometimes hokey, all of that makes going to a Katy Perry show fun, but it’s mostly just window dressing. The big appeal is in her hits — and that’s enough to satisfy Super Bowl viewers.