Katy Perry: the Beatweek interview
August 25, 2010 by Bill Palmer
Her new album Teenage Dream just debuted at #1 – here’s what Katy told us back before she had an album at all…
Beatweek classic interview with Katy Perry from June 2008
“Tell me where you’re from,” Katy Perry asks me just after we sit down together at the bar of the Mercury Lounge in New York City, two months before her debut album One Of The Boys is to be released. By the time she’s hit me with a couple of follow-up questions, it’s no matter that I’m the journalist and she’s the one with the number one song on the iTunes pop chart – it’s clear that she is in fact interviewing me and not the other way around. I never do end up figuring out whether it’s simply curiosity on her part or if she’s savvy enough to play upon a journalist’s ego (no pop star ever asks a journalist such humanizing questions during an interview), but either way it seems to do the trick and leaves her coming off as remarkably down to earth for someone who’s been tagged as the next “it girl” by everyone from Madonna to Perez Hilton.
Alright, time for me to do my job and work a few questions in myself. “Both my parents are traveling ministers,” Katy tells me of her upbringing. “I grew up in a very strict kind of religious household, although my family is very funny and infused with humor. A lot of people, especially my boyfriends, when they are about to meet my father they are freaked out because they think oh, he looks like a priest, he has a collar, and he’s gonna say I’m going straight to hell in handbasket. Not true. My dad has tattoos.”
Then comes the revelation. “Before they were into the Jesus movement, my dad was a drug dealer for Timothy Leary and my mom was a pot-smoking debutante from Santa Barbara. I mean they had their days, they just knew that they were at the end of them and they needed God,” she says with a laugh. “They aren’t very conservative but they’re very founded in faith.”
But are they open-minded enough to accept the songs on One Of The Boys, her debut album released today, whose first two hit songs are the equally provocatively-titled UR So Gay and I Kissed a Girl? As she puts it, “Twenty-three years ago when they popped me out, they probably didn’t paint this picture for me. But this is who I am, and so be it.”
As we move down to the other end of the bar to put some space between us and the band that’s just begun its sound-check, the discussion turns to UR So Gay, a song that’s that’s stirred up quite a bit of curiosity if not necessarily controversy. “We never released that song as a single,” she says of the song that first shotgunned her into the public consciousness. “It was just a song on my EP that came out in November of 2007. It was kind of a forewarning of the wrath of Katy Perry that is about to drop.”
Then she states the obvious. “With a title like that, everybody’s like, what the fuck is this song about? So it did get some views, and the label gave us like a couple of pennies to make a music video. They said let’s see if you can make a music video with a dollar, basically. And we were like well fine, let’s go, we’ll try. So we made this music video and we had a million hits in one week on it,” she says of the video which features a barbie doll made up to look suspiciously like a member of an emo band.
“This is a real person but it isn’t necessarily just about him,” she says of the guyliner-wearing target of the song’s lyrics. “It’s a concoction of things I put all into one pot, which was basically taking the piss out of those emo guys who wear the guyliner and use the straight irons and wear their girlfriends’ jeans, which is cool and all but, like, are you sure you’re really straight? No, it’s just funny, it’s like in 2008 it’s so common to have the boyfriend crying on the girlfriend’s shoulder rather than the girlfriend crying on the boyfriend’s shoulder. And I asked myself, where are all those jocks and footballers and and those men of chivalry that existed years ago? Come on, where are you, bro?”
So is she trying to single-handedly kill off the emo scene with this song? “Not necessarily the scene, because I really appreciate the music that comes out of that scene, but like, the fashion that it generates is, to me it’s like the hair band phase of of the 1980′s, that you see these men that look like total drag queens in skin-tight tights and showing their bellies and, like, the biggest hair in the world. I mean at that time everybody thought it was cool as shit and now we look back and we’re like what the fuck?”
Is there any worry that guys who are actually gay might be offended by the song? “I haven’t gotten that, actually, because you know, you listen to the song and you have to hear the whole song to realize the story. I mean there’s so many songs you could just take out bits and pieces of one song and get really offended by it. Because you know, a lot of girls, they come up to me and they say oh my god, thank you so much for writing that. Here’s a picture of my ex-boyfriend in clothes. You wrote this song about him. Thank you.”
“Us girls, you know, we live in a very metrosexual world and sometimes we’re thrown into a pot of boys and we don’t know who’s gay and who’s not. Which is fine cause I have a lot of gay friends and I am a big pro-gay everything, as a person and politically, even though I come from a very fucked household that doesn’t believe so.”
One of Katy’s early backers has been Perez Hilton, the openly gay celebrity blogger who’s been promoting her music at every turn and appeared alongside her on the Carson Daly show. “He’s definitely just one of those guys that has that ability to throw something up on the internet and it’s like boom, you know? The reaction is instant in very large numbers. So he’s cool.”
When I was given an advance copy of One Of The Boys, I was immediately curious to hear what Katy’s cover version of the Jill Sobule classic “I Kissed a Girl” sounded like, only to quickly realize that it’s not a cover song at all. Aside from the title lyric, the two songs don’t share so much as a single line or note. “The fourteen and fifteen year old girls don’t know who Jill Sobule is, but I’m sure Jill Sobule is gonna make some money this year in iTunes,” Katy says of the fact that the two songs share the same name. “I was thinking about should I name it, like, ‘Cherry Chapstick’ or something? And I was just like no, it is what it is.”
While Sobule’s I Kissed A Girl was cheeky and folksy, Katy’s is a brash tale set to a club beat, offering up the simple summation “I kissed a girl and I liked it.” While the song has shot to the top of the iTunes pop charts in advance of the album’s release, it runs the danger of being ultimately shown up by another potential single entitled Waking Up In Vegas, the sunny track that immediately follows it on the album. Another catchy track, Hot N Cold, has disco overtones. With each song on the album having its own style, where are the influences coming from?
While comparisons have been drawn that have matched Katy’s music against everyone from Avril Lavigne to Pink, she’s turned to quite different sources of inspiration. “I wanted to channel the essence of what Freddie Mercury, basically. To me he was just an amazing songwriter, always told a story,” she says of the late Queen frontman. “The way he talked to his audience, his audience was his friends. It’s not like, I mean these pop stars need to get over themselves. These girl pop stars are just amazing, I mean I feel like sometimes a lot of them are so afraid to make a move or say anything about their lives. I guess maybe I wear my heart on my sleeve right now because I haven’t had any reason to hide it.”
Now that the album has been released, summer beckons and the Warped Tour has come calling. “When I first got the call that said I was gonna do it, I was like oh my god, I’m so scared because I’ve had friends that have been on it and after they get off of that tour they’re physically exhausted, emotionally and mentally exhausted. I mean they need to go detox somewhere. So I know that it’s going to be strenuous but I’ve been gearing up for it.”
Seeing as how One Of The Boys is likely to debut in the iTunes top five today, I walked away from our interview impressed by just how down to earth and accessible Katy Perry is in real life. But at the same time I suspect she’s not one to be messed with. Or as she puts it, “Just don’t dump me, I’ll write a song about you and the whole world’s gonna fucking sing along.”