It was so easy to be a parent concerned with what music your kids listened to 25 years ago. Back then pop stars like Madonna, Janet Jackson and Prince sold sex as song to kids on MTV in the most overt way possible. Mom and dad were outraged, but at least it was easy to identify who the offenders were.
Friday at Toyota Center lite-pop icon du jour (no disrespect, Lady Gaga but you're a little darker than lite pop) Katy Perry brought her highly-stylized, visually-stunning California Dreams Tour to Houston and set a new standard for turning three-minute songs into imaginative cohesive theater. She also offered parents a whole new layer of terror: Foreplay presented as fairytale.
"Where are all my sexy ladies at?" asked Perry during a break in her 18-song, two-hour show of hit singles, covers and songs from her two multi-platinum albums. Two excited elementary school age girls enjoying popcorn and glow sticks eagerly started shouting their response.
At first I thought, "How cute." Then a part of me couldn't help but think, "Am I OK with these youngsters responding to the word "sexy?"
Such is the conundrum of Perry and the Candyfornia world she introduced in her chart-topping "California Gurls" video last year and which she has now brought brilliantly to life on a multi-faceted stage.
Perry demonstrated that a strong mid-range and a helplessly likeable personality trumps vocal gymnastics and snooty diva-dom.
On the surface, Perry has created the ultimate 12 year-old girl's bedroom complete with lollipops, unicorns, fluffy pink clouds and furry mascots. Her video screens are lined in pink neon and her band and dancers dress like Barbie and Dr. Seuss characters.
But pay attention to the song lyrics, peek-a-boo fashions and thinly-veiled innuendo and it's clear that there is a lot of heavy flirtation mixed in with Perry's innocent sugar. She is definitely walking a delicate tightrope between PG and a strong PG-13.
I hate that this is an issue, because aside from those moments of discomfort, the show rivaled some of the best and most historic pop concerts of the last several decades. 'N Sync's No Strings Attached Tour and Madonna's Blonde Ambition Tour are the shows it's on par with.
Weaving a tale about an Alice in Wonderland-type girl who flees an evil butcher to be with her beloved Baker Boy, Perry demonstrated that a strong mid-range and a helplessly likeable personality trumps vocal gymnastics and snooty diva-dom.
Live renditions of hits like "E.T." and "Waking Up In Vegas," take on new dimensions when you can see her party girl vision played out as she sings. A powerful vocal on "Firework" and soulful reworking of "Hot N Cold" affirmed that Perry's voice doesn't get the credit it deserves while lesser-known torch songs like "Pearl" offer glimpses about some other artistic tricks she has up her sleeve.
But all that vocal energy was muted by visuals so stunning that the eyes couldn't catch it all. From a multi-colored Lego-inspired staircase to illuminated keyboards, Glee-worthy dance choreography and a stunning 17 wardrobe changes (the seven mid-stride, on-stage outfit changes during "Hot n Cold," is one of the coolest tricks I have ever seen) Perry set the bar very high for how she could possibly top this wonderland in the future.
Perhaps she might design a stage that is as adult as her music.
If Katy Perry has mastered anything over her lady-pop peers it's an ability to appeal to children and adults in equal — but very different ways. For the young girls she has filled her albums and videos with visions of unicorns, fluffy pink clouds and light-as-air choruses that are harder to shake than a debt collector. For her more mature fans there is an undercurrent of lust and physicality in her music that is helplessly magnetic because of its innocent hard candy coating.
The genius is that each individual listener takes what suits them when listening to Katy Perry.