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Katy Perry @ Marcus Amphitheater, Summerfest

July 7, 2011

Jul. 8, 2011
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When Katy Perry last played Milwaukee, three years ago, the singer was playing up her tomboy image, proving her grit by touring on the punk-leaning Warped Tour while promoting an album bluntly titled One of the Boys. But boys don't really buy records by pop singers—even by singers who so perfectly play into the teenage male fantasy of the foul-mouthed best friend who also happens to be a busty, beautiful woman who might sleep with you when she's not punching you in the arm and laughing at your jokes—so Perry's current "California Dreams" tour was designed with her true audience in mind. On a stage decorated with giant lollipops and cupcakes, with the bright pink and pastel color scheme of a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper, Perry performed Thursday night at the Marcus Amphitheater for a full crowd of mostly women, including thousands of young girls.

Her two-hour concert was part burlesque show, part High School Musical production, part bachelorette party. Although Perry said she was playing through a bout of food sickness—in her words, "The kind where they put you in the bathtub because it's coming out both ends"; the next morning she canceled her following concerts in Chicago and Minneapolis—her voice was strong and her spirits were high. If she occasionally seemed less than fully committed to her material, it was probably more of a reflection of stage persona than any illness. Perry has cast herself as a more self-aware breed of pop star, and she performs with a knowing wink as if to excuse the perkiness of hits like "California Gurls" and "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)."

Because of that ironic detachment, though, it can be difficult to tell when the audience is in on the joke and when it's the butt of it, and there were moments Thursday when her sardonic asides came across as harsh. She mocked Wisconsin accents for a bit too long, and referenced cheeseheads and cheese curds a few times too many. And by the third time she referred to a redheaded boy she picked from the audience to join her onstage as "a ginger," it just seemed mean.

The number of young girls in the crowd accentuated the show's occasionally queasy feel, especially during Perry's bawdier numbers, like "Ur So Gay," where she emasculates a sensitive boyfriend, singing "I hope you hang yourself with your H&M scarf while jacking off listening to Mozart." It's easy to see why little girls are drawn to Perry. She looks like a Disney princess, and she tied her show together with Candy Land imagery and a fairy-tale narrative, but that she so cynically markets an adult product to a young audience can make her feel like the pop equivalent of a cartoon pony on a cigarette package.


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