KATY Perry’s controversial, chart-topping tracks turned her into a global superstar – but the singer’s forthcoming marriage to Russell Brand has propelled her into a league of her own. Tim Jeager put a face to the name on everybody’s lips…
Katy Perry is a real contradiction. Who, for example, would expect her to have “Jesus” tattooed on her left wrist in bold looping letters?
The recent addition to her right arm – a Sanskrit saying, meaning “go with the flow” – seems a far more likely marking for the single-minded, provocative pop star.
Smart, sassy and undeniably beautiful, Katy has built a career on controversy.
The talented 25 year old caused round-the-world ripples back in 2008 with her risqué hit I Kissed a Girl, and acquired some pretty hard-to-please fans along the way (acerbic celebrity blogger Perez Hilton immediately championed the star and Madonna has cited Katy’s contentious hit Ur So Gay as an iPod favourite). From day one I have been open to someone who would challenge me emotionally, spiritually and mentally – and Russell really covers all those bases.
And with her upcoming album Teenage Dream already ruffling feathers, the Katy Perry effect is clearly far from wearing off.
“Every once in a while I like to make things a little bit more naughty than they should be,” smiles Katy. “But I’m going to get away with this one.”
Despite their sometimes gritty content, Katy’s latest hook-laden songs – from Last Friday Night, a “fun and silly” anthem to binge drinking, to Circle the Drain, a dark look at drug addiction – sound like sure-fire hits. But the album cover alone should ruffle a few feathers.
“I discovered Will Cotton, the artist behind it, and I was just so excited by his work,” enthuses Katy, who posed nude for the cover’s painting – among clouds of strategically placed candyfloss.
“I loved the idea that he can put beautiful, sensual women into this almost innocent, childlike imagery and make it sexy, but chic and fun and subtle.
Well I mean, everything is tastefully covered – it’s the art of ‘tease’.”
Turn the clock back 10 years and Katy concedes that her younger self would be blushing at her behaviour today.
Born in 1984 to strict Presbyterian minister parents, middle child Katy was banned from listening to “secular” music in the family home.
She was always a singer, though – her dad would encourage her to perform at church and family functions – so it was no surprise that her career kicked off with an album of sincere Christian rock songs.
It only sold a few hundred copies and the record label folded soon afterwards.
That’s when 17-year-old Katy moved to Los Angeles, where she began work with Glen Ballard, the man behind Alanis Morissette’s seminal LP Jagged Little Pill, and discovered a whole world of rock and pop in the process.
“I grew up with not a lot of music in my life,” Katy recalls.
“But once I had the ability, I listened to everything I could. I was like a sponge. I soaked up so many different types of genres and they became the soundtrack to my life – even when I was going through hard times.”
By 2007, Katy had begun to give up hope that she’d break the industry and had fallen into A&R work for an independent label.
But Capitol Records discovered her demo and decided to invest in her singular song-writing talents. And a global superstar was born.
Much has been made of the conflict between Katy’s religious background and her risqué pop persona, but the singer insists that, despite their differences, she has her family’s full support.
“My parents know I’ve always had a wild streak,” she says. “So they’re not shocked. They also know I have a good head on my shoulders.”
Now that she’s marrying legendary bad boy Russell Brand, Katy’s wild side is unlikely to abate any time soon. But in spite of his reputation, she reckons that Russell has mellowed – “We all start to slow down. I think he was ready for a change.”
Katy first came across the whimsical comic at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards (she threw an empty water bottle at his head to get his attention).
“I think he’s the funniest man in the world,” she said at the time. But as the couple got to know each other, it proved to be a meeting of minds.
“His eye for detail was so impeccable,” smiles Katy.
“I realised he was listening and understanding me completely and wanted to jump into my world. And from day one, I have always been open to someone who would challenge me emotionally, spiritually and mentally – and Russell really covers all those bases.”
They are yet to set a date for the wedding, but Katy hopes it will be some time this year.
“I am constantly planning,” says the star, who reveals that their big day will be a relatively small affair by celebrity standards. But in the unpredictable world of Brand and Perry, you can bet there will be a fun twist to proceedings.
“We both have a sense of humour,” smiles Katy. “We make each other laugh and that’s what keeps us connected.”
With Russell, 35, starring as a wayward rocker in Hollywood hits Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to The Greek, and Katy keen to pursue acting alongside her music, the couple’s career interests are showing a real overlap of late. So could some kind of collaboration be on the cards?
“I don’t know,” says Katy carefully. “I think that there is a place to be professional and a place to be intimate, and sometimes they can’t co-exist.”
Katy certainly seems to know where to draw the line. With huge green eyes and a saucy retro style (her colourful vintage clothes conjure up a cross between Jessica Rabbit and Betty Boop) there’s something of the cartoon character about her.
And you get the feeling that, with her ready wit and brazen, devil-may-care attitude, the singer seldom lets her mask slip. Which is why her latest single is such a surprise.
As with most of her music, Perry penned the lyrics herself, and with an up-close-and-personal video and lines that could have been lifted from a private diary entry, Teenage Dream looks and sounds like the real thing.
“It’s a song that can really evoke raw emotion,” says Katy. “It’s about someone making you feel like you’re a teenager again – like you’re falling in love for the first time.”
“I wanted it to be really intimate,’ she continues. “Sometimes music videos can be very glossy and almost cartoon-like. And this one definitely isn’t. It is probably the most intimate you will see me.”
As well as Katy, who’s wearing next to no make-up, the video features “a hunk” who the singer hand-picked from 40 hopefuls.
“He just exudes that kind of raw sexiness that can make a woman melt – not for me personally,” Katy clarifies, adding that she’s more than happy with her “charming Englishman”.
Many of the songs on her second album are said to refer to Russell, and Katy has high hopes for the record.
“Hopefully it’s going to be a success, and people will connect with me again, musically and emotionally. I think that’s very important,” she says.
Katy’s career is her top priority right now and she has no plans to play the dutiful housewife – or become a young mum – in the immediate future.
“I see myself as a professional right now and I think that I have to devote myself to that,” she says.
“Hopefully, when I decide it’s time for children, I will be able to devote myself to that, too.”
She clearly has no problem with commitment. Katy is currently working 13-hour days, sometimes six days a week, and she’s yet to lose any of that bring-it-on-attitude to her “light-speed” success.
“I don’t know if it will always be this pace,” she says. “But I hope it will continue to be a roller-coaster ride. I love it. I am always trying to take the next step forward.”
The album and single Teenage Dream are out on August 30.
Source: Express UK