Of all her Top 40 peers — Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Britney, Beyoncé, Ke$ha — Katy Perry has always seemed like the pop star who knows precisely what she does best. She rarely stretches in her endless pursuit of a fabulous time, committed to making you feel good about yourself and the world at large. If you like what she does, no one does it with quite the same élan. Otherwise, she’s easy to dismiss.
To her credit, Perry is not preachy about her mission; she’s cheeky. Even her most heartfelt songs, like “Teenage Dream,” pulse with a carefree sense of joy. Sure, it helps that she’s the pin-up girl who lives next door and would probably be your best friend if you ran into her at the corner Starbucks.
Humor is at the heart of what Perry does. Just watch the video for “Roar,” the first single off her new album. It’s the 28-year-old singer at her most elemental: silly, sexy, empowered. The plot imagines her marooned in the jungle, but she’s Tarzan, not Jane. Soon enough she’s friends with the local wildlife (see Katy brush an alligator’s teeth) and swinging from vine to vine.
This is obviously a woman who has little use for pretension, which is why her new album, like those that preceded it, is such an unabashedly fun listen. A guilty pleasure, some will call it.
“Prism,” Perry’s fourth studio album (including her debut released under her given name, Katy Hudson), will be released on Tuesday, and it is Perry 101: heart-on-sleeve ballads, bouncy party anthems, and brawny odes to respecting yourself.
It’s her most varied effort yet, veering from buoyant (“Walking on Air,” an homage to 1990s house music) to brooding (“Dark Horse,” featuring rapper Juicy J). A warped sitar caroms like a pinball through “Legendary Lovers.” Co-written with boyfriend John Mayer, “Spiritual,” a bonus track on the album’s deluxe edition, harkens to ’90s female singer-songwriter fare such as Sarah McLachlan and Madonna circa “Ray of Light.”
Working with a stable of writers and producers, mainly hit gurus Dr. Luke and Max Martin, Perry buffers this collection to a lustrous sparkle. “Birthday” borrows from early Prince — its melody isn’t that removed from “I Wanna Be Your Lover” — and its chorus packs the album’s single most hilarious double-entendre: “Let me get you in your birthday suit/ It’s time to bring out the big balloons.”
Perry certainly knows her audience. On “This Is How We Do,” which feels like the prequel to the comical aftermath detailed in “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” she gives a shout-out to her diehards: “This one goes out to the ladies at breakfast . . . in last night’s dress,” Perry says. “Uh-huh. I see you.”
It’s not all sweetness and light, though. “By the Grace of God” addresses the emotional upheaval she endured after her divorce from Russell Brand. “Thought I wasn’t enough/ And I wasn’t so tough/ Laying on the bathroom floor,” she sings. But this being the unsinkable Katy Perry, she finds the silver lining: “By the grace of God/ There was no other way/ I picked myself back up/ I knew I had to stay.”
It’s one of the more revealing moments on “Prism,” which doesn’t push Perry forward, per se, but rather builds from her blueprint.