Pop

Katy Perry's Muted Chart Return: What Does '365' Tell Us About The Superstar's Current Place in Pop?

Katy Perry
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images 

Katy Perry attends MusiCares Person of the Year honoring Dolly Parton at Los Angeles Convention Center on Feb. 8, 2019 in Los Angeles. 

The Zedd collaboration debuts on this week's Hot 100, but may lack the momentum to return Perry to the top of the chart.

Here’s something you may have missed on this week’s Hot 100: the return of one of the most dominant pop stars of the past decade.   

Katy Perry has made her way back onto the chart with “365,” a collaboration with dance-pop mastermind Zedd. Outside of a Dear Evan Hansen song that Perry re-recorded and an Amazon-exclusive holiday track released last year, the single is Perry’s first new music since the 2017 Witness era, and Zedd’s first A-list collaboration since the world-conquering, Grammy-nominated song “The Middle” with Maren Morris and Grey.  

Zedd has proven adaptable to modern pop trends, updating his sound since breaking through a half-decade ago in order to survive the EDM bubble bursting, and scoring his biggest hit to date last year. Meanwhile, Perry returns as a judge on American Idol this weekend, with “365” presumably teed up for a performance on this season of the revitalized show. Throw in a gaudy sci-fi music video that coincided with the song’s release, and we should have a high-profile pop track designed to rule the spring!  

Except “365” just debuted at No. 86 on the Hot 100, a notably quiet start given the star power involved. Maybe the single needs time to catch on at radio, gradually becomes a hit and sends Perry back to the top tier of the Hot 100. Or maybe it becomes one of the lowest-charting singles of Perry’s career. 

For other pop artists, the underperformance of a stopgap single in between album eras would not be a cause for alarm. But for Perry, the low debut continues a somewhat worrisome trend. The arrival of and initial reception to “365” have been so muted that it’s worth wondering what the single, with its seemingly low stakes but high production value, signals about Perry’s next proper full-length. Following the tepid reception to Witness, with its political overtones and thinly veiled swipes at a certain pop rival, Perry could use a win. Based on early returns, “365” might not be it.

At the beginning of this decade, Perry was the most bankable pop singles artist in the country. The most memorable of her many statistical achievements: the five No. 1 Hot 100 singles achieved from one album, 2010’s Teenage Dream, matching the record set by Michael Jackson with his Bad album decades earlier. Yet Perry’s Top 40 radio popularity was not lightning in a bottle, and lasted well longer than one full-length: She scored two No. 1 singles before that Teenage Dream run, with her 2008 debut One of the Boys, and has had three more chart-toppers since Teenage Dream; every single released from its follow-up, 2013’s Prism, at least reached the Top 40. Witness was largely considered a misstep upon release, but still scored a No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200 chart, and featured a lead single, “Chained To The Rhythm,” that debuted at No. 4 on the Hot 100. 

In between, she’s headlined the Super Bowl halftime show, played arenas around the world and been the subject of one surprisingly moving tour documentary. Perry’s sound has not evolved a dramatic amount over the course of her career -- buoyant radio-pop, with detours into pop-rock and dance, and room for occasional melancholy and guest rap verses -- but it hasn’t needed to. With a knack for delivering rousing choruses that Top 40 radio can spin ad nauseam, Perry has watched her hit singles achieve a long-lasting ubiquity, and power her various album eras. To understand Perry’s run over her first four albums is to consider a type of pop culture omnipresence that never sags for too long; even when you’re not paying close attention to her, she’s often playing on the radio in the background.

So what happens when a hit streak like Perry’s faces a potential dry spell? “Chained to the Rhythm” may have cracked the Top 10, but it plummeted shortly after, while the follow-up singles from Witness -- including “Bon Apetit” featuring Migos and the Nicki Minaj-assisted “Swish Swish" -- never took off, each missing the Top 40. As streaming has become ever more crucial to chart success over the past half-decade, dance-based pop, Perry's bread and butter, has had a more difficult time climbing to the upper reaches of the Hot 100, taking a backseat to hip-hop. On this week’s chart, for instance, “365” was outshone by the debuts of hip-hop artists like Cardi B (starting at No. 5 with her latest Bruno mars collaboration, “Please Me”), Juice WRLD (bowing at No. 27 with “Robbery”) and Offset (a No. 49 start with “Red Room”).

Here’s the silver lining for Perry: “365” is not the slam-dunk that necessarily would be expected to return the singer to her previous chart heights, anyway. Over a restrained collection of rhythms from Zedd, Perry unleashes a nondescript story of romantic devotion that culminates in a catchy, surprisingly downbeat hook. It’s a well-constructed single that wouldn’t crack either artist’s individual Top 5. On paper, “365” is a much-ballyhooed collaboration with a proven hitmaker, but the song never takes off in the way that made Perry’s biggest hits resonate for weeks on end.

Instead of focusing on the lackluster start for “365,” Perry fans should hope that another recent collaboration provide the starting point for her post-Witness era. “Feels,” the 2017 Calvin Harris track that featured Perry, Big Sean and Pharrell Williams and climbed to No. 20 on the Hot 100, found Perry at her most playful in recent memory, stretching out over an island-funk beat on the song’s chorus.

Granted, Big Sean and Williams provide the heavy lifting on “Feels,” but Perry’s breezy hook anchors the track, and undoubtedly turned it into a hit two years ago. In retrospect, the levity of “Feels” was curiously missing from Perry’s heavy-handed Witness album, which was released concurrently and, with its sporadic forays into political themes, didn’t particularly play to the singer’s natural strengths.

At this point, Perry’s legacy is safe if she never records another inescapable hit, regardless of how well “365” performs in the coming weeks. If Perry channels the chill vibes of “Feels” into the foundation of her next album, though, she may be able to end the current drought and pick up some new momentum. Enjoy “365,” move on from it if you’re so inclined, but don’t count out Perry’s ability to survive and thrive in the next decade.