Katy Perry resides at the heart of America’s mainstream, where Leno chortles at typos, Oprah spreads uplift, and cleavage can’t be oversold. Her last album, Teenage Dream, spawned a record five No. 1 hits. Her even more robust new one, Prism, has already notched her eighth No. 1 with ”Roar.” It also proves that almost absurdly broad pop — free of Euro pretensions (bonjour, Gaga) and disruptive rabble-rousing (high five, Miley) — can still thrill.

Katy’s superpower, now more than ever, is minting songs so relatable that their insights quickly scale up to inspirational. ”I don’t negotiate with insecurities,” she sings on ”Love Me,” a luminous ballad in Prism‘s otherwise sluggish last third. Insecurities are sorta like personal terrorists, and she defeats them with nü-disco jams like ”International Smile,” an air kiss to a jet-setting DJ girlfriend.

Perry’s point of view isn’t completely universal, of course. She’s a white lady whose music — created largely with producers Max Martin and Dr. Luke, who together co-wrote more than half these songs with Perry — generally draws much less from hip-hop and R&B than her peers’. So it’s practically a revelation when she rides the bass-drenched beat on ”Dark Horse,” featuring Juicy J. And she even raps on the irresistibly bouncy ”This Is How We Do,” not to prove anything, but because her ode to partying till sunrise and ”sucking real bad at Mariah Carey-oke” seems to demand it. Katy Perry aims to please. But now she grasps that she’s making the mainstream, not just swimming in it. B+

For much more from Katy Perry, look for EW’s intimate all-access profile of the star on newsstands Nov. 1.

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