After blessing us with “Never Really Over” earlier this year and releasing the less-than-stellar “Small Talk,” Katy Perry has returned with her latest single, “Harleys in Hawaii.” The sultry midtempo is easily one of Katy’s best songs and one of the best pop songs of the year. No, I’m not exaggerating.
Part of Katy’s recent career struggles, which I’ll further discuss in an upcoming piece, is that she has struggled to find the most effective way to mature her bubblegum pop sound. She got it right at times on 2017’s Witness, but the missteps were far too frequent to hold the general public’s attention. On “Harleys in Hawaii,” Katy sings over a guitar-accented and trap-influenced beat that is completed with soft background synths. For most of the verses, she floats in and out of a breathy falsetto that presents a genius contrast between the lower range that she exhibits in the chorus. There are elements of quiet storm and funk in the production (no surprise here; Charlie Puth is on the credits), and they blend very well with Katy’s rich and slightly smoky tone.
“Never Really Over” had an explosive chorus and even more bombastic post-chorus while “Small Talk” had a more plucky upbeat chorus. “Harleys in Hawaii,” however, is a lesson in patience and teasing. The slight crescendo of the pre-chorus hints at a “bigger” pre-chorus, but Katy subverts that expectation and delivers a more subdued chorus instead. Structurally, this choice really pays off because it allows the bridge to be the real star of the show. Recently, songs have become much shorter, and to do so a lot of artists are sacrificing the bridge. The bridge on “Harleys” is preceded by atmospheric ad-libs and motorcycle sound effects. And then Katy belts. It’s easy to forget that behind the crazy visuals and costumes, Katy Perry has a pretty great voice. On “Harleys” she shows off her strength not only as a songwriter, but also as a vocalist.
“Harleys in Hawaii” is a hit. With the proper push and dedication, this could be the turn around that we all wanted “Never Really Over” to be.