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Music CD/DVD Review: Katy Perry – MTV Unplugged

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There are many starlets nowadays gracing the covers of fashion and entertainment magazines, who are getting airplay that is disproportionate to the quality of music they offer.

I know, starlets are actresses, not singers, but what with all the acting they have to do in their video clips and during interviews (and, some might argue, in every aspect of their lives), I think I can pull off calling them starlets.

Semantics aside, it’s quite refreshing when a starlet reveals herself to be worthy of the airplay time she gets. Christina Aguilera, with her amazing voice, is one of them. She broke out early on from the teen pop princess image she had been told to emulate to become the more mature artist she is today. Mandy Moore is another such starlet. While she, too, started as a teen pop princess, her great voice and her down to earth attitude helped her break way from it and turn towards singing what she wants, rather than what sells (speaking of which, this is quite unfortunate, as her latest album is amazing). And Katy Perry may be the latest; she might be the it, cool, rock girl of the day, but perhaps it doesn’t only have to do with her label’s drive to make more money, but rather by something else.

How so? Well, we have come to learn more about her ever since "I Kissed a Girl" came out, and as the stories leaked and interviews were given and performances televised and YouTubed around the world, it seemed that this young girl with the good voice is also the main creative drive behind her music. This would mean that – gasp – she actually is behind the songs on her CD. And now, courtesy of MTV Unplugged, we find out that yes, she is actually talented and doesn’t need for her voice to be either digitally manipulated before being burned on a CD nor drowned by the music during a concert.
Isn’t that refreshing (somewhat shockingly so)?

To some, MTV’s Unplugged sessions seem like a cheap ploy to make easy money off already existing songs, but I have come to really appreciate them. And so I was looking forward to see how Katy Perry was going to perform her high energy tunes in such an intimate and simple environment. This type of setting seems a lot more appropriate for someone like Mandy Moore, whose cover of Rihanna’s "Umbrella" sealed the deal for many (including myself). While some of Katy’s slower tunes were obvious choices for this session of Unplugged, I couldn’t imagine her doing "I kissed a Girl" or "Waking up in Vegas" in such a setting.

But Katy pulled it off quite well. While she isn’t the best singer out there (sorry, but compared Joss Stone & Mandy Moore? I don’t think so), she makes up for it in catchiness and just plain adorableness. She also interacts extremely well with the crowd. She starts off the session by walking in, grabbing her guitar and announcing in the microphone: “Well first, we’re going to start with 'Kumbaya,' since we’re all sitting on the floor”, to the delight of her giggling audience.

It was also an interesting experience in that Katy seemed a little self-conscious; her body language seemed more withdrawn that usual, she would lift her eyes to meet those of someone in the public then would quickly avert her gaze, and even her jokes were delivered in a soft voice. This was a refreshing surprise, considering her rather flamboyant outfits and goofy pictures that made the rounds on the Internet. It seems that Katy, like many other artists (I’m thinking about Michael Jackson and Beyoncé right now), has an on stage and off stage persona that are radically different from one another.

Most of the songs (five) featured on MTV Unplugged by Katy Perry are taken off her album One of the Boys; another one is a cover of a Fountains of Wayne song, and the last one is a song Katy wrote herself and that can only be found on this CD. I have to be brutally honest: I really didn’t really like the Unplugged version of "I kissed a Girl". At all. Katy tells us that she went a little cabaret & jazz on this piece, but she didn’t manage to blend the song into those styles; rather, it feels like she tried unsuccessfully to mash jazz and cabaret with the original version of the song. I do need to point out that the experiment was great in itself, in that Katy tried something new. I greatly admire that.

However do not despair, for the rest of the songs are great. "Ur so Gay" was brilliantly performed, as were "Thinking of You" and "Lost". Katy presented her unplugged version of "Waking up in Vegas" as being pretty wild, but it definitely wasn’t. While still maintaining its high tempo, this version of the song is a mellow, toned down version of the original, and a pleasure to listen to.

"Brick by Brick", the song featured exclusively on this CD, is a fantastic new song Katy Perry fans are going to love. It’s a good thing, since this song will have to tide them over until she releases her new album (which, according to MTV news, is going to be a more mature affair reflecting Katy’s current age rather than being a reflection of her earlier teen years). You can already see how Katy’s new CD is going to go; the subject matter is more mature, the song, while catchy, is more reflective – and one can’t help but wonder what Katy is going to bring us next.

Her cover of "Hackensack" by Fountains of Wayne (featured in the 2005 movie Just Friends) is amazing. The original is a sweet and catchy ballad and her cover is just as catchy and extremely well performed. She shares with us how she thinks this song is one of the most perfect pop songs out there, and her love for this song shines through every note sung. See what I meant earlier, that Katy Perry just might be in it for the love of music after all?

The MTV Unplugged session with Katy Perry was both filmed and recorded. I would recommend starting with the DVD, which I definitely preferred to the CD. In all honesty, I listen to the CD while thinking of the actual performance; there is something about Katy’s stage presence that left a mark on me.

My one big problem with not only this particular session of MTV Unplugged but rather the entire concept is the way it’s done. These sessions are meant for audiences to see who the artist really is, to get behind the sometimes larger than life persona we see in video clips, on stage, and on TV. For example, it’s obvious in between songs that there is a lot more that happened during this unplugged session with Katy Perry, as songs are interspaced with fade outs and fade ins, with very different lightings and a guitar that appears and disappears.
Unless they are filmed at Hogwarts.

In any case, fans know what Katy Perry is like during interviews, as they have probably watched every single interview available online. So it was rather sad that this interview was yet another typical one, rather than it pushing the envelope like MTV used to be known for. Why put her on a chair and ask her to talk? What I’d like to have seen is for MTV to make Katy Perry enter into an unscripted dialog with the fans that are there, film the whole thing and put that on a DVD – then you will really have something unplugged. For how can you truly know an artist if we don’t see such interactions? We humans are by definition social creatures, therefore a large part of our personality is reflected through our interactions with others.

So MTV, please consider this: set up the room, roll the cameras, cue the artist and then just let it go. Stop micromanaging, and let the real magic happen: let us really see the person behind the music rather than yet another filtered version that you label ‘Unplugged’.

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