There’s an aspirational thread throughout all of Katy Perry’s best songs: the candy-coated nostalgia of “Teenage Dream,” the fizzy, life-affirming “Firework,” the empowering “Roar.” During the 2017 Witness album cycle, that playful, hopeful energy was shrouded by Perry’s fixation on personal maturity, as she traded her signature soaring vocals and anthemic choruses for an amalgamation of experimental R&B, house and “woke” reggae. Witness was largely viewed by critics as a creative misstep, but for Perry, personally, it seemed to be a necessary transformative period. Release week for the record was supplemented with a 72-hour YouTube livestream in which Perry participated in a therapy session, opening up about suicidal thoughts and her battle with alcohol and sitting down with activist DeRay Mckesson to discuss her past issues with cultural appropriation. She wanted fans to see who she really was, flaws and all. However the absence of the lighter fare caused her star to dim, despite her good intentions.
With the release of her latest Dreamlab and Zedd-produced single “Never Really Over,” Perry is hitting the reset button and leaving the Witness era behind. The song sees Perry returning to her roots by setting propulsive electro-pop to a bubblegum beat—a sonic throughline in all of Perry’s hits. With a pulsating chorus that samples Norwegian pop singer Dagny’s 2017 single “Love You Like That,” Perry ruminates over questionable romantic decisions in her past: “Two years, and just like that / My head still takes me back / Thought it was done / But I guess it’s never really over.” With the sound of ticking clocks, a disruptive drumline and the return of her hypnotic vocals, Perry gives fans the bombastic comeback they’ve been yearning for. “Never Really Over” puts Perry back where she belongs: on Sugar Mountain.