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Perry's catchy putdowns put flash over substance

Katy Perry opened the set to the prerecorded strains of Queen’s “Killer Queen” and covered that band’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” as an encore.

During her 75-minute homecoming set Saturday night at the Wiltern Perry revealed that she’s also royalty of some sort: She’s the queen of putdown pop.

Pop music’s It Girl sang of boys who aren’t men but “manikins,” run “hot and cold” and are “so gay.. but don’t even like boys.” The young sold-out crowd ate it up, thinking it was not only catchy but also edgy pop with an attitude. Those with a bit more experience, however, had to think of similar sentiments expressed by one-hit-wonders from decades of yore, such as Jill Sobule ‘s “I Kissed a Girl” from 1995, Josie Cotton ‘s “Johnny Are You Queer?” from 1981 and Toni Basil ‘s “Mickey” from 1982. Perry can’t just be dismissed as a one-hit-wonder — she’s already had two with her “I Kissed a Girl” and “Hot N Cold” — but you have to wonder why she’s managed to create such a buzz while those others were only blips on the pop radar screen. Are her songs better? Has the culture shifted so much that such concepts are more acceptable? Or is Perry just such a dynamic performer that she can’t be ignored?

At the Wiltern, Perry was a serviceable showgirl with plenty of flash and props. She performed in a sparkly, low-cut party dress in front of a backdrop with a cat with glowing eyes, while the stage was littered with inflatable fruit and balloons. She played the big hits and threw in a few covers, including the Outfield’s ’80s schmaltz-rocker “Your Love.” Yet Perry only hinted that she’s an artist with more than shock-and-awe hits during a foray into singer-songwriter territory with the back-to-back confessionals “Lost” and “Thinking of You.”

Her big hit, “I Kissed a Girl,” was the climactic closer, with Perry cavorting around the stage with an inflatable cherry ChapStick. By the song’s end, she was getting up-close-and-personal with fans in the pit but had an army of bouncers to keep her away from any real danger. In all, Perry’s show was a lot like the inflatable fruit on the stage: bouncy and fun, but ultimately empty.

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