The gossipy morsel dominating conversation over Katy Perry’s Witness on the day of its release is about not Perry but Taylor Swift—as so many gossipy morsels in the contemporary music world are. Swift chose this day, of all days, to finally put her mega-smash 2014 album 1989 on non-Apple streaming services like Spotify. Perry and Swift’s rivalry is legend, and Swift’s move may draw not only publicity but listeners from Perry, threatening Witness’s debut sales numbers.
But the more interesting story regarding the relationship between Witness and 1989 is about music. As its name suggested, Swift’s last album saw the one-time country crooner adopting sounds of the late Cold War era, specifically with synth-pop and a hint of Springsteen. In doing so, a long-burbling ’80s revival in pop culture hit full boil, with music’s most powerful producer (Max Martin) and one of its most powerful singer-songwriters (Swift) going full John Hughes soundtrack.
Three years later, Witness announces that the thresher of big-business pop has advanced in its harvest of history by, well, about three years. Perry’s album could be called 1992, given how much it owes to the early house craze in pop. Collaging handclaps, high-hats, gospel choruses, and jittery pianos for a series of three-minute raves, the album sounds like the aftermath of absorbing C+C Music Factory, “Show Me Love,” Milli Vanilli, “Freedom! 90,” Annie Lennox, “Vogue,” and other work by Gen-Xers with highly stylized haircuts and androgynous jackets.