Katy Perry is one of the biggest pop stars in America, and no matter how many missteps she might make, she'll remain a household name for years to come. But her latest album, Witness, is having trouble making headlines that aren't related to Taylor Swift. It's doing OK, sales-wise—Billboard reports that it's on track for a number-one debut—but that doesn't mean it will end up feeling like a high note in Katy's career. (For comparison, Lady Gaga's Joanne also debuted at number one last year, but didn't make much of a cultural dent outside of circles that weren't predisposed to love all things Gaga.) Here, an examination of what went wrong.
1. The never-ending Taylor Swift feud.
I've already expressed my feelings on this subject, but it really cannot be said enough: Katy talked about this topic so much that it was hard to remember what she was even promoting in the first place. This kind of wall-to-wall coverage on one thing annoys everyone, whether it's about something as frivolous as a celebrity feud or something with (alleged) national import. Unless you're a hardcore Katy fan, there's no way seeing another headline about the feud did anything but enrage you, and enraged people aren't likely to listen to albums by the parties doing the enraging.
2. The political bent that never really materialized.
Back when she showed up at the Grammys wearing a "PERSIST" armband, Katy said her new album would be full of "purposeful pop." A skeptic might call this a blatant attempt to capitalize on Americans' growing interest in protest and political action, but an optimist would hope that Katy had gotten a little inspiration from her new friend Hillary Clinton. The skeptics were right, because after the slightly political "Chained to the Rhythm," Katy's other singles completely ignored protest. "Bon Appétit" was one big metaphor for sex, while "Swish Swish" was the requisite Taylor Swift diss track. The rest of Witness doesn't deliver on this front, either—it's really more of a breakup album than anything else.
3. The lack of a smash single.
Katy Perry knows singles better than maybe any other pop star working today. Teenage Dream produced five number-one singles, which makes it the second album in history after Michael Jackson's Bad to rack up so many number-ones on one album; Prism produced two. Witness has so far had trouble in this department, with "Chained to the Rhythm" stalling out at 4, "Bon Appétit" at 59, and "Swish Swish," the newest one, currently sitting at 46. No one could make an album that sustained the catchiness of "Roar" all the way through, but it would help if just one song could hit that bar.
4. Her reluctance (until recently) to admit to cultural appropriation.
Katy has a long history of causing controversy with her outfit choices; see "the time she dressed like a geisha" or the "This Is How We Do" video. She doesn't seem to have learned her lesson, either, because this album cycle, she (1) compared her new haircut to Barack Obama's and (2) hired a bunch of drag queens to dance for her on Saturday Night Live. During her Witness live stream, Katy copped to some "mistakes." But the damage is done already, and you have to wonder—if she really knew they were mistakes, why is she still making them?
5. That super-bizarre, weekend-long live stream.
Like the Taylor Swift talking points, this ended up being too much of a good thing. One quirky thing captured on camera might have been enough to sate the people's curiosity, but the therapy session, the massage, the ranking of the ex-boyfriends, and the cooking with Gordon Ramsay was more than anyone but a super-fan could take.
6. The average person's enhanced ability to smell a marketing ploy.
It's been less than four years since Katy released Prism, but even in that brief time period, pop culture consumers are a lot more attuned to the reality behind famous people's personas, and they don't like getting played. Even if Witness were a perfect album, you'd still know that Katy sold it to you by talking up her conflict with Taylor Swift, which ultimately only gets one song on the album. That kind of thing might not be a deal breaker the first time, but it could end up as one if it happens again with the Witness follow-up.
7. It's not nearly as good as her past work.
Like any human famous or otherwise, Katy has her flaws, but she is capable of producing truly incredible pop music, even for people who don't particularly care about Katy the individual. "Teenage Dream" came out way back in 2010, but I still believe you could make a convincing argument that it's the most perfect pop song of the decade. Nothing on Witness comes close to that level of effortless buoyancy, though; nothing sticks in your head longer than a few minutes. And if you're not a Katy fan, that last part is key—she needs a chorus so catchy that it lodges in your brain till you get worn down enough to admit that you like it. I wish that Witness had that, but it doesn't, and that, more than anything, is why it's not making much of an impact.
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.