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Will Katy Perry Ever Not Be Problematic?

13/06/2017 17:49 BST | Updated 13/06/2017 17:49 BST
Jo Hale via Getty Images

Katy Perry has a new album out, which means the obligatory promo tour. Instead of doing the usual talk show circuit, Perry and her people have been savvy enough to identify where her young fans actually watch content; YouTube. The result is the #WitnessWorldWide live-stream. Lasting 96 hours this week, the real-time video saw Perry perform live versions of her hits while hanging out with pop culture beloveds like RuPaul and Anna Kendrick.

One segment in particular captured the attention of fans and critics alike; an interview with Deray McKesson, during which Perry owned up to some of her previous "problematic" behaviour, specifically the accusations of cultural appropriation in her music videos and live shows.

Perry has often cited her sheltered upbringing by strict religious parents as the reason for her delayed journey to wokeness, claiming to still be "unlearning" habits and biases. And that excuse might hold some weight when we're talking about the garbage heteronormative views expressed in 'I Kissed A Girl' and 'UR So Gay', the two most wilfully attention-grabbing songs from her debut album (although it does beg the question, what excuse does the average pop music consumer of 2008 have for giving such tacky homophobia a pass?).

That was nearly a decade ago. Since then we've seen Katy in Egyptian drag, Katy in cornrows, Katy as a geisha -- all to add colour, flair and kitsch value to her material. "I didn't know that I did it wrong until I heard people saying that I did it wrong," she says, softly, in her interview with Deray, "I may never understand... but I can educate myself, and that's what I'm trying to do along the way."

In the live-stream, Perry speaks about the friends, or "empowered angels" as she calls them, who hold her accountable and continually help her to broaden her understanding of the world. One such angel, she recalls, took her to one side after she publicly claimed she wasn't a feminist, and showed her the dictionary definition of feminism. To be clear; Katy Perry needed somebody to help her look up a word in the dictionary.

"It takes someone to say, out of compassion, out of love, 'Hey, this is what the origin is'" she says. It is our responsibility, she believes, to speak to her with "love" when educating her in the ways she is erasing black women, or perpetuating homophobia. "It's hard to hear those clap backs sometimes," she continues, "your ego just wants to turn from them." So in a conversation about a famous white woman's appropriation of other cultures, apparently it is her ego we should be concerned with protecting.

Let's put to one side for a moment the fact that this "apology," praised by Perry's fans, doesn't appear to feature an actual apology. Her contrition would ring so much truer if it weren't doled out during an elaborate promotional campaign for her new album. Here's hoping that, once she's recovered from the ordeal of living in a Big Brother-style bubble for four whole days, one of Perry's "empowered angels" will take her to one side and help her look up the word "sorry" in the dictionary.

To her credit, Perry seems to have made attempts to walk the woke walk lately, putting on a Saturday Night Live performance that was inclusive to drag queens and LGBTQ people of colour -- but even that was met with criticism due to her collaboration with rapper Migos, whose public comments on homophobia seemed to taint Perry by association, and led to all kinds of conflicting rumours that the queer performers were treated badly on-set.

Moving forward, all Perry can do is make a visible effort to listen to her marginalised fans. Because after ten years of borrowed goodwill, she really can't afford another strike.