Katy Perry: Confessions of a Pop Princess
This story first appeared in the June 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
"Nobody knows what really happened except the two people who are in it." It's June 6, and Katy Perry is talking about Kim Kardashian's 72-day marriage to NBA up-and-comer Kris Humphries, unsure where her empathy lies with regard to the media-saturated spectacle of the split -- or whether she feels any at all.
As the survivor of her own short-lived whirlwind romance gone wrong with British comedian-turned-movie star Russell Brand (after marrying in India in October 2010, the couple's divorce became official in July 2011), which the celebrity press has chronicled religiously, touting such headlines as "Katy Humiliated!" and "Married to a Crazy Man," she knows all too well the price one pays when taking your private life public (of note: blogger Perez Hilton is a member of her inner circle). And there's certainly no shortage of speculation as to the reasons for their breakup: from his sobriety to her "monster schedule" (Perry's words), culture clashes and differences of intellect.
Yet here she is, pop's reigning princess, guarded in some respects but also about to put her story out to the world, warts and all, in Paramount's Katy Perry: Part of Me (out July 5). Perry helped finance the feature herself -- to the tune of $2 million of "my own cashola," as the doe-eyed 27-year old likes to call it. Most of the money went toward shooting her November 2011 concert at L.A.'s Staples Center in 3D (AEG Live loaned her additional funds to be part of the production). "My frugal business manager [Bernie Gudvi of GSO Business Management], God bless him, was sweating," recalls Perry, "and I was like, 'Please trust me.' That's kind of been the mantra I've said to everyone my whole life: 'Trust me, I have a vision.' "
Part of that vision was her considered decision to document her relationship with Brand as it crumbled simultaneous to her own meteoric rise -- and in defiance of her ex's own reported protests. Perry says the exercise in filmmaking was from the heart, "like how I write songs" (six of which topped the charts in the past two years, all from her megahit album Teenage Dream). "Honesty has always worked for me," she says. "So if it ain't broke, why f--ing fix it?"
That transparency includes candid moments in the movie, which, two years ago, Perry readily admits she "wouldn't feel completely comfortable with people seeing -- me crying or looking like a hot mess." One key scene shows an emotional meltdown and Perry's professional duties colliding backstage: "What was going on in my personal life was so overwhelming that I had to bend over to let those tears fall straight out of my eye sockets and not my false lashes just as I'm about to go up on that ramp and sing 'Teenage Dream,' " she recalls. "I had to smack myself across the face and say, 'These problems are my problems, they are not my audience's problems, learn to separate that.'"
Indeed, Perry's fans, who range in age from "4 to however old," she says, see mostly what's on the surface: a filthy rich pop star who, according to one report, raked in $44 million last year and hangs out with the likes of Rihanna and Nicki Minaj; a Barbie doll in 18-inch-waist peppermint-swirl dresses with perfect cherry lips who gleefully "kissed a girl," as her 2008 breakout hit boasted; a kitten-obsessed showgirl whose sold-out concerts dazzle with cupcakes, confetti and Candyland themes. In fact, according to Billboard BoxScore, Perry's California Dreams tour ranks in the top 15 of the most-profitable treks of 2011, ahead of Lil Wayne and just behind The Eagles.
Among the other eyebrow-raising achievements of her short but incredibly fruitful career: tying Michael Jackson's record for number of chart-topping singles from one album (his Bad had five), eight Grammy nominations, a stupefying 74.6 million tracks and 9.1 million full-lengths sold, more than 1 billion YouTube views, a successful line of perfumes (Meow and Purr), her line of Eylure false eyelashes, endorsements for ProActiv and OPI nail polish and, now, her second entree into the movies, following the role of Smurfette that Perry voiced for the 2011 animated flick The Smurfs. There also are rumors of Perry being cast in the upcoming Freddie Mercury biopic as the bisexual frontman's girlfriend Mary Austin (Sacha Baron Cohen nabbed the lead) -- a fitting role considering Queen was her introduction to rock music as a sheltered teen growing up in Santa Barbara. (Says a rep for the singer, "There's no truth to that.")
It's all part of "a modern-day fairy tale," as Part of Me co-director and Magical Elves Productions executive producer Jane Lipsitz describes the film's narrative. "One that has a happy ending but doesn't require the prince on the horse." Instead, the movie likely will tap into a certain you-go-girl cheerleading among Perry's fans thanks to its themes of confidence, resilience, tenacity and especially faith -- a narrative heavily promoted in Justin Bieber's smash 3D release Never Say Never, in 2011, which also was produced with Magical Elves and released by Paramount. For Never, Paramount turned a $13 million budget into $97 million in box-office receipts to date. As such, the film's production partners, which include Imagine Entertainment, Pulse Films, AEG Live and MTV Films, along with executive producer Craig Brewer, have high expectations for Part of Me. Lipsitz says she and co-director Dan Cutforth hope to see the July 4 holiday take top Bieber's $30 million opening thanks to Perry's "larger international following" (a performance as part of the Macy's annual fireworks spectacular should provide a healthy boost), not to mention the long weekend.
Still, Perry, raised by born-again evangelical ministers, departs from Bieber in that she confesses she's "no poster child for Christianity." Her stage costumes include breasts that shoot whipped cream and, sometimes, no clothes at all (witness her Teenage Dream album cover, which features Perry butt-naked in a cloud of cotton candy). Then there are the lyrics. Among them: "Let you put your hands on me in my skin-tight jeans" from "Teenage Dream"; "Word on the street, you got something to show me/I wanna see your peacock, cock, cock" from "Peacock"; she also enlisted Kanye West to rap, "I'ma disrobe you/Then I'ma probe you" on her radio smash "E.T." With a wink and a knowing smirk, Perry oozes sexuality as one might imagine a Hollywood starlet from the '40s or Joan Holloway on Mad Men -- hardly the qualities of a girl raised in the church (not that it has stopped Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus or any number of her pop-star peers).
"People love the idea of a good girl gone bad, thinking that my parents were so strict and disowned me, but that actually wasn't the case," she defends. "Even though they don't necessarily agree with some of the things I do, they love me as their daughter. That's always been their perspective."
Likely, she might not always agree with their point of view, either. Although her parents certainly love the attention their daughter's name has brought to the other family business of spreading the gospel, it's important to point out that sermons by Keith Hudson have not only drawn standing-room-only crowds but criticism as well.
In January, Perry's father was accused by two prominent Jewish groups of espousing anti-Semitic remarks during a church tour stop in Westlake, Ohio. His remarks -- which allegedly included the jab: "You know how to make the Jew jealous? Have some money, honey" -- promptly made the news cycle and again shined a harsh light onto Perry's life beyond the stage. Her reaction? "The media tried to destroy my parents and has taken things completely out of context, but there's not a whole lot you can do in terms of fighting back," says Perry. "You have to hope that it passes, which it always does. But they have to be careful. They didn't necessarily sign up for this."
About her own religious views, she asserts: "I still have a spiritual base and a spiritual foundation," symbolized by a Jesus tattoo on her left wrist. "And my conversation with God is very open-ended. I pray for humility, honestly, because it's very easy to be caught up in this world."
As the story goes, and Part of Me shows, Perry, born Katheryn Hudson, was raised in an ultrareligious home alongside younger brother David and older sister Angela where so-called "secular music" was verboten by her traveling preacher parents Keith and Mary. She found her voice at church and, at 16, recorded an album of Christian music that failed to gain traction. A year later, she had dropped out of high school and headed 90 miles south to L.A., where the pop and rock scenes beckoned.
What followed was a series of false starts and stalled attempts at stardom, the sort of hurdles that to most might seem insurmountable. Signed almost immediately to Universal's Island Records (Bieber's label) while tough-talking Israeli executive Lyor Cohen ruled the roost, Perry recalls one meeting at the record company where she, along with three other pop-star hopefuls, were told in no uncertain terms that only one of them would actually see their album come out. Her reaction "Then what's the point?" led to Perry being unceremoniously dropped.