Fireworks and cotton candy
Katy Perry talks 10 to the dozen – in different accents – and has plenty to say about the kooky-indie-sparky image that has made her one of the most successful female acts of late. TONY CLAYTON-LEAmeets the girl in pink ahead of her Dublin shows
SO HERE WE ARE, just after midnight, in Katy Perry’s dressing room at Belfast Odyssey. Dressed in her sparkly pink costume, she has just completed a shake’n’ hug’n’meet’n’greet with several troops of her fans, and lets out a whoop and a holler: “It’s my birthday! Glass of wine?”
Well, it’d be rude to say no, wouldn’t it? Apart from turning 27, and celebrating one year of marriage to Russell Brand (they married on October 23rd, 2010), the birthday girl has other reasons to celebrate. She has, in the space of three years, become one of the most successful female pop stars on planet Earth. Between multi-nomination this and multi-award-winning that, she has eased her way into the VIP corner where the likes of Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Britney and Beyoncé reside. And here we are with the birthday girl and a glass of wine, trading chat and quips as if it’s Monday morning around the water cooler. If you ever think that hugely successful pop stars lose the run of themselves, then Perry is one example of how wrong you are.
She talks 10 to the dozen, often interrupting herself, in different accents – the Irish one is not good, the British one is spot-on. Yes, she’s sipping wine, but aside from the bottle on the table and few cakes here and there, there are no obviously silly pop star extravagances. Yes, she has a scar on her leg that is evidence of an imperfect Wonder Woman twirl undertaken at a music awards aftershow party over a year ago, but we’re all of us allowed one fall (literally) from grace, aren’t we?
She might say that her concerts are “a break from reality, because reality is a pain in the ass”, but the impression here is of a pop star who has a grounding in assessing real life issues. “The [awards] ones that mean the most are the fan voted-ones. They’re nice gestures, but my favourite gesture is when they come and see me, and I get to have a year-long sold out tour. That feels like commitment to me.”
The awards, says Perry, “are extra, a bonus. I got into music because it was my outlet. Some people are painters, some are writers, and music is how I express myself. It makes me feel very good expressing myself through that outlet. But, also, I love the reaction I can get; it’s almost like I’m a magician and have my trick – levitation or disappearing – and everyone goes ‘ooohh!’ You get everyone’s attention for, like, a hot second [clicks fingers]. That feels really good. Besides, I was always a show-off when I was growing up. Still am, kind of. That’s wearing off a little, though.”
And here’s the dichotomy: she is perceived, if not clearly defined, as kooky, wholesome and impish, yet her songs don’t have fireworks behind them all the time. She’s sparky so often the shading gets lost, is that not the case? “Well, I’m not all pink champagne, that’s for sure. I have different sides to my character and personality, and I just play them whenever I feel like playing them, you know? And I couldn’t be all cotton candy and fluff, anyway, because that would be too sweet – you can’t have cake for dinner all the time, can you?
“Every once in a while you gotta have the rest of the food groups or else you’ll just rot. So, I like to keep it balanced, and it’s nice to show that side because it surprises people, I guess. Not many people are aware that I started out playing acoustic guitar and singing in cafés, and the like. I didn’t always have the crazy outfits.”
Born in Santa Barbara, California, as Katheryn Hudson, the daughter of two Christian pastors (whose pre-Christian life was enmeshed in West Coast psychedelia), Perry (her mother’s maiden name was taken to avoid confusion with the actress, Kate Hudson) released her self-titled, gospel/rock debut album at the age of 17. It sold very little, but for Perry the bug had bitten. From this point on she toiled her way through a few record labels, collaborating, recording albums, being dropped, going nowhere fast. Exactly four years ago, however – with a new record label on board – came the first buzzy single, Ur So Gay. The follow up, I Kissed a Girl, nailed her mainstream success to the mast.
“In the very beginning, I think, it was really easy to peg me as being the kooky type. I knew that, for sure, but I was going for the home run; I love independent music, I love that whole hipster indie vibe thing, but I know I’m not pop star lame, either. When I Kissed a Girl came out, I knew I was going to have a lot of opinions coming towards me, but also I knew I couldn’t have put out that song first without having so many other different things to follow it up with.”
Sometimes, she says, she forgets to ground herself. “I appreciate my success and I’m very grateful for the opportunities I get, but sometimes I have to smack myself into that mindset – when I’m tired, or whatever. And sometimes I have to keep telling myself that this is my fucking job, dude . . . so be grateful, you little snot. But, yes, I have my days like anyone else. I’m not superhuman – I bruise, I bleed, I vomit, I shit.The whole thing.”
No grandstanding for Perry, then. What she does – she is at pains to clarify – is entertain. “My main thing is to make people happy and smile. I’m not a Maharishi! I reckon sometimes people think they’re the second coming.
°What I do is fun; it’s like anything else that is entertaining and exciting. We have so much of that these days, though, that it goes so fast. But I will always create through the medium of music, and whether I’m really successful at that kinda isn’t the point. I do it myself, try to come to it from an honest place, and I think that’s why it works. You have to take all of it at face value.”
There’s another reason why Perry is so appealing: she’s risqué but not overtly raunchy. She’s arty, too (the film inserts that act as scene changes throughout her show are as much Jean-Pierre Jeunet as Walt Disney), but not in a way that makes you want to laugh for all the wrong reasons.
“I enjoy walking that line,” Perry says, “because I think that if you’re too much of anything it can get old really fast. You also don’t have the opportunity to change as much if you make yourself ‘Oh, I’m so artistic, fuck you’, or ‘I’m so sexy’. Besides, when someone is so overtly sexy, you can’t really take them seriously. It’s nice walking in the middle of that because it gives me so many different options on where I want to go. I love evolving, trying new things, challenging myself. I don’t have a huge attention span for myself, either, so that’s what keeps me moving.”
So what happens next, Katy? “When I come off this tour, I will take a breath, assess my situation, reconnect with my core, put my finger on the pulse of where the world is at and try to connect all of those things to the next album. That’s the way I’ll go.”
Big, perky bubble of pop
THINK SHOCKING pink, feast on delirious day-glo, glare at fruit-laden skirts, get caught kissing on the Smooch Cam before the show starts, and when it ends breathe a sigh of relief that there is, finally, a high-end female pop star who does so much more (and with more humour) with her talent than throw it in your face in a flurry of conceptual art (ala Lady Gaga) and crude sex (ala Rihanna and Britney).
The Belfast show is full of wholesome, cheeky, kooky pop, the songs performed amidst a swirl of bright and garish Willy Wonka madness.
Ultimately? A big perky bubble of a pop show from a big-hearted star that performs her duties with a risqué sense of purpose. Beg, borrow or (whisper it) steal a ticket for two hours of uncomplicated F-U-N.
Katy Perry performs at the MTV European Music Awards in Belfast this weekend. She also performs at Dublin’s O2, on November 7 and 8. Her album, Teenage Dreams, is out now through EMI