'Witness' has long been regarded a very difficult album to love, and “Bon Appetit” is perhaps the best example of why.
“Bon Appétit” is a decidedly left-field choice for a single that eschews the candy-coated formula of prior Perry eras. However, that’s precisely why the track deserved more than its lukewarm response, and also why Witness remains one of Katy’s strongest albums. Let’s be clear: the era was a mess and Katy made some truly ridiculous missteps during the promotion, but don’t get it twisted—despite the few duds it encloses, Witness is an album stacked with capital-b BOPS, among them this oft-neglected flop—by Katy’s standards, of course.
The track has recently been making waves on streaming services, though. UMG gave “Bon Appétit” an inexplicable marketing push and YouTube’s mercurial algorithms have also favored it as recommended viewing, insofar that it jumped into the top-15 videos on YouTube with almost 5 million daily views. It’s collected almost 700 million now, a stupefying fact given the collective shrug most pop fans offered in response to the track and Witness two years ago. The song’s disarmingly fetish-filled music video is decked with user comments reflecting on how well the song aged, and for once they’re right: “Bon Appétit” is an overlooked gem in Katy’s history of bombastic pop singles, both more experimental than her prior work and less bizarre than Witness’s more fearless deep cuts. Underneath the echo-chamber acoustics of the track’s minimalist electronic instrumental lies a killer earworm hook and one of the more noteworthy music videos in Perry’s videography.
As had already become custom for Perry in 2017, the clip for “Bon Appétit” juxtaposes the ludicrous with the provocative, the ridiculous with the erotic. Food, fittingly enough, becomes the medium in which Perry communicates the song’s flirtation with tropes of aphrodisiacs and sexual consumption, expanding on the more simplistic symbolism of her phallic breasts squirting whipped cream in “California Gurls.” Here, there’s a marked juxtaposition between desire and lunacy, readily apparent via the opening shot of red liquid that suggestively squirts out the title, only to be followed by the illumination of a neon sign indicating that what follows is “NSFW.” The cinematography of the clip follows up this dualism, marrying tongue-in-cheek close-ups of Perry’s face mugging with orgasmic pleasure and the more objectifying wide angles showing various parts of Perry’s voluptuous curves covered in flour and being kneaded like dough or tenderized like meat.
The message is clear: Katy Perry is a fancy feast, but she willingly objectifies herself only to emphasize that she exists as much to devour as to be devoured. Perry eats throughout the video, often from the garnishes she is literally being served with, plucking berries and oysters from the triangular serving dish between her legs. She’s shrink-wrapped to a bed like pre-packaged meat in the video’s first shot of her, but she wakes up before the chefs puncture the plastic, smiling as if to invite what’s to come. Whatever the frivolity of the song’s lyrics, the video thus becomes a definitive commentary on agency: throughout the meal-prep sequences of the first half of the video, Perry’s character enjoys and participates in the processes preparing her for consumption, anticipating the video’s final twist: she is the one who will be consuming. Perry after all is the one sitting down to eat at the close of the video, while body parts protrude from the beastly pie steaming in front of her.
Just as there’s more to take from the video than the surface themes of foodie fetishes, the track warrants a closer look, especially given that one of the biggest complaints against “Bon Appétit” was that it never goes anywhere as a song. While prior Perry singles often served as blueprints for instantly-memorable hooks and radio-ready pop-chorus belting, “Bon Appétit” is a more subtle beast. It opens with a primary synthesizer theme, heavy on the treble, which evokes early 90s house music, a la Perry’s own “Walking On Air” and Erotica-era Madonna. A second synth theme begins at 0:44, and its chirp-like sparkles usher in the track’s reverb effect and its delicious use of percussion. After the track goes quiet for the bridge, the percussion returns for the second verse, which builds in intensity as the tempo gradually accelerates. By the 2:15 mark, the track at last blooms into a holistic menagerie of the various elements at work: there are two basslines, the twinkly synths, the 90s house keyboard line, and the reverb effect all working to create a downright hypnotic banger subtler and more controlled than virtually anything on the radio in 2017, let alone now when trap has all but usurped the glory days of dance-pop of the early 2010s.
Where the track most surprisingly shines, however, is on the feature. (Who would have thought? But let me explain.) As each member of Migos takes a turn in the spotlight, the music not only adjusts, it progresses. Initially it sounds like the energy of the track disappears at the first rap verse when the trap bassline appears, but as each member of Migos takes over, the prior elements of the song slowly creep back in, most notably increasing at 2:45, until the slinky bass of the last rap verse signals the calm before the storm at 3:12 when all the prior elements raucously return. By that point, the track has less than a minute to wrap up, and when it does, my immediate reaction is always to play it again. It’s by far the most experimental single Katy has ever released, and as such it’s an ideal catalyst to re-explore Witness, which sees Perry exploring far more than she’s given credit for doing. Get beyond the laughable singles “Swish Swish” *facepalm* and “Hey Hey Hey” (really, Sia? f**king really?) and there are many tracks equally beguiling that unfold much like “Bon Appétit.” The album, like the song, rewards repeat listening.
The song’s recent success is a welcome reminder that even the most formidable of pop stars is not immune from the cruel counterpoint to stan culture: fans and the general public alike turned on Katy at a moment’s notice at the very moment it was most important for her to try something new. It wasn’t enough to chastise her for daring to have a political opinion when we apparently preferred her as the vapid songstress providing the bubblegum soundtracks to our summers from 2009-2012. We also were encouraged to write off the album without any serious engagement. Given the track’s history, it’s hardly surprising that Perry’s visual, with Zedd, for recent collaboration “365” unfolds the way it does: cyborg Katy is created to please and devoted to doing so, but Zedd, who stands in for the general public, is unmoved and regards her disposable precisely at the moment when she is most vulnerable. She is disposed of and a replacement is brought in from the assembly line of newer, fresher, less emotionally vulnerable pop-stars in waiting, “fresh out the oven.”
“Bon Appetit” foreshadows this narrative: while the clip ends with Perry about to devour a pie stuffed with the body parts of the men who had been preparing to eat her, a more compelling interpretation might be found in observing that Katy does not entirely escape becoming collateral damage down the line, as we see in “365”’s visual. The same process that empowered her has been used against her, and the song itself reflects the same principle. The success of Katy’s standardized pop format from One of the Boys through Prism was seriously challenged in Witness, despite that formula being the one with enough commercial success that she was empowered to experiment more. Fortunately, although it took a few years, the song has earned a second glance and closer consideration. “Bon appétit, baby!”
By Thomas Simpson