Like all twenty-nine-year-old heavily-tattooed males, I harbour an obsession for pop sensation Katy Perry. Hear me out and try and work this
out. When driving, I exclusively listen to her immortal Teenage Dream album. Now, I’m not alone in my love of it, that self-same album placed Perry in the record books in being the only female, ever, to have five tracks go to No.1 on the Hot 100 which means that there must be hordes upon hordes of fanatically loyal fans, all of them operating under the KatyCats moniker and that furthermore, conceivably, some of them, a infinitesimally small amount to be sure, but a portion nevertheless, most look and act exactly like me. They the intrepid and unlikely Perry fans, that stand tall and unflappable in the face of public jeering and ridicule.
I know that I’ve copped more than my fair share, yet they occasionally sneer or snide comment is bearable in exchange for a collection of tracks that have allayed many of my misgivings about the concept of falling in love and brightened my mood whenever the black dog has materialised and nipped at my heels. I cannot pinpoint exactly when I became a fan, or when that gestated into a super-fan status, like any obsession it seemed to have been for the entirety of my life.
I do remember her meteoric rise to fame, with Hot And Cold and I Kissed A Girl, neither of which particularly caught my notice then, nor have they ever become a favourite of mine over the years. But rather, Teenage Dream was what penetrated my ears and ignited my cold, cold heart. Perhaps much of that could be attributed to the grim situation I was embroiled in at the time, working in a soul-crushing retail job with a despotic boss throwing their weight around and only stopping short of dispensing corporate punishment for the many imagined slights and infractions they perceived I committed on an hourly basis. This was the tempestuous era that was my 2010 and I was toiling away in the retail trenches, when over the radio came an announcement that Katy Perry was appearing on a famous (not sure what deemed it to be famous) rooftop in inner-city Sydney, a stone’s throw away from where I was toiling and suffering in mute lament. That was when I heard Teenage Dream, Perry’s upbeat lyrics were as sweet as they were scintillating, reflecting from the speakers and blinding me with their brilliance, turning my dark, maudlin mood aglow with the joy of what is and what could be. I quit the job shortly thereafter, but I retained an ever-burgeoning passion for the pop-star, who was, by this stage, steadfastly ascending to pop royalty. This was before the Russell Brand era, before she would virulently clash with Taylor Swift, or make some remarks about Britney Spears that were construed as a callous swipe at those plagued with mental illness. My love of Perry was no secret, I spoke of her in great detail, much to the collective bewilderment and wry amusement of my friends and outright condescension of others, yet I remained unfazed. Thus, when the pop-pundit announced her California Dreams tour, which promptly sold-out before I had time to amass the cash, I paid an obscene amount of money on eBay to procure tickets thereafter.
I’ll take the exact price I paid for those two nose-bleed tickets to the grave, but I’ll gladly disclose the highlight of the night, which occurred some twenty minutes into the concert. My companion for the evening was a mate from work, who looked as glaringly incongruous as me, with tattoo-sleeves that drew the eyes and ire of every pram battering-ram parent trundling along. Perry strode out on the gilded and glittery stage, announcing herself and playing several songs, all the while undergoing radical costume changes throughout. At the penultimate moment of greatness I noticed my opportunity was upon me and caught my mate’s attention.
‘Get the camera, get the camera.’
He did so and notified me he was recording.
I leapt to my feet, cupping my hands to form a perfect makeshift amplifier I bellowed at the top of my lungs. ‘I love you Katy!’
If this rings faulse to you, or otherwise embellished, there’s a video that rests in the pool room of my Facebook account to provide the incontrovertible proof that I am telling the truth, videos can be doctored I suppose, but would I not then improve the grainy quality, perhaps crop me onstage with the performer?
The crowd, clearly capable of distinguishing that the individual who had shouted was a baritone-voiced male, laughed riotously until they were quietened by Perry herself.
‘Wow,’ she said, followed by more of a stunned silence as she composed what she believed to be a fitting response. ‘That’s the most interesting tasting comment I’ve ever had. Thanks man.’
Words would never do justice to describe even a tenth of the exultation I felt then, and still do, now nigh on a decade later. Furthermore, it was the only time I’ve interacted with her, however obliquely it was.
That wasn’t for lack of trying on my part.
I would’ve gotten a photo when she strutted the red (pink) carpet at the Sydney premiere of Part Of Me (the film documenting Perry’s worldwide tour, including the decidedly less glamorous phase of the breakdown of her marriage). George Street had been reduced to a state of unchecked upheaval as fans flocked to the site in their best collective imitation of walkers shuffling and jostling as a dissonant mass searching for human flesh in the ANC show.
Fate intervened, much to my chagrin, causing me to be stuck on a call with a disgruntled and incredibly foul-mouthed customer when I was imprisoned in the squalid catacombs of a call-centre. When I finally did manage to arrive at the cinema a short while later, a security guard gleefully informed me that I had missed Perry strolling through the maelstrom of flashing-bulbs and deafening entreaties by a mere few minutes.
That sucked big time.
Imagine the long journey home, a storm cloud localised only to over my head like an anti-halo, following me the whole way, guaranteeing every footstep was marred with being trapped in a deluge while the world around me remained blissfully sun-burnished.
The cloak of anguish dissipated with the passage of time and eventually Perry’s next trip to Australia rolled around, that of her Prismatic tour in 2014, which became both the first appearance of the “new” Katy, a demarcation forever marked as an end to the glory years.
Not that I knew that at the time.
The first immediate difference from her previous tour I noted was that I was no longer in the far-flung, interstellar section of the seriously dated, possibly asbestos-ridden Entertainment Centre. I was ensconced within the General Admission (G.A.) area of the comparatively palatial ANZ Stadium, standing a good two foot taller and decade advanced to the average teen-folk milling around and pressing in. I was with my nonplussed girlfriend at the time, who made no attempt at concealing either her contempt for the concert in general, or her utter disdain for Perry the performer specifically. I bore her barrage of snide comments with aplomb, barely hearing them if I’m being honest, for I was singularly fixated on the stage, waiting for Perry to emerge.
She did so, in typical extravagant fashion, ever the consummate performer, shimmering in her gown, revelling in the attention squarely lavished upon her. She went on to give a resoundingly memorable performance, one that plainly benefited from being endowed with an even larger budget allocated for the stage show aspect. For all its new awe-inspiring opulence and no-expense-spared production values, I confess I preferred the California Dreams tour, due in part to Perry largely sticking to performing tracks from her Prism album and also her insistence on spending an inordinate amount of time with one (admittedly cute) kid singled out from the crowed and brought onstage.
On a related note, Perry could’ve selected someone presumably less-affluent, someone from one of the sections far away from the Diamond (aptly named due to the related outrageous cost) section flanking either side of the stage. Ed Sheeran reserves the first two rows of his concerts for the more disadvantaged and I hope that other superstars, including Perry, will one day adopt such an altruistic policy – as unlikely as that seems.
Anyway, I don’t begrudge Perry for her choices as to how the evening progressed, given that audience members of this juvenile ilk comprise one of the larger demographics of her fans. I am the rarity (and possible aberration) in that I’m a twenty-nine year old tattooed hoodlum who, if you were to cross on a hypothetical street and give a cursory glance, you’d probably surmise that I would have a penchant strictly for heavy-metal or perhaps a splatter-core subgenre of rap.
That concert was the last time I saw Perry (not counting her onscreen counterpart, Smurfette) and now with her Witness tour looming on the horizon, I am yet to purchase my tickets. Unlike before where the issue was simply the lacking of finances, at the time of writing, I have no-one to accompany me for the evening, which would at least give a morsel of credence to the façade that I was on a date – a doting boyfriend indulging a sweetheart’s rampant KatyKat needs.
I would endure going on my lonesome if pressed, but do not relish the prospect of cutting a swathe through the crowds of judgemental parentals eyeing me with looks of naked revulsion and horror. Though, those aren’t valid excuses.
The main reason that I have neglected to secure my tickets thus far is because I have, for some time now, not enjoyed Perry’s latest work. Since the much-hyped release of the single, Chained To The Rhythm which was swiftly proceeded with Bon Appetit (both deliberately released as a marketing ploy to whet the combined appetites of the buying public prior to Witness dropped). I have found Perry’s decisive shift in direction has not netted sterling, career-defining results, or tracks that are even passingly enjoyable to listen to. This could perhaps be attributed to her newfound, or relatively newfound, image, in that it seems to have swung decidedly to one that is purely and aggressively sexual, conforming to that bland salacious one that is the norm now, exemplified by a dozen other artists that lack the accomplishments and lustre of Perry whom they have hitherto emulated.
Gone is that charming All-American girl that would meet any disparaging comments with her sweet (but searing) rejoinders and continue powering along life in her sure, enduringly positive way. An identity and persona established during her fledgling years when she was yet to ascend from the dilettante status. Ironically, it was during this period when Perry was grasping for traits and eccentricities that would see her stand apart from the mediocre crop of other fresh-faced budding talents emerging at the time, that she inadvertently found herself and produced a persona instantly identifiable and relatable to listeners of this much maligned genre of music.
This was an oneiric, glorious era where she was evolving, breaking free of the mould delineated by her provenance as a progeny of two strict pastors. The rebellion would’ve been ill-advised at the parental home, even if she had, has, Jesus’ name tattooed on her wrist. Still though, that subversion of familial rule, coupled with her inevitable flourishing into womanhood proved instrumental in becoming a star beyond imagining, that embodiment of the teenage dream, that not-so-fictional character she plays in the accompanying film-clip, riding in an open-top car with a suitably subdued Adonis driving. Perry’s puritanical parents surely wouldn’t have been fans of the graphic scenes featured, whereby a besotted Perry and unnamed muscular rig in a trucker hat are entangled in one another’s limbs and somehow stagger onto a cheap hotel bed for their passions to properly ignite and run unbound. But considering the sales of the single in the first month alone it could not be overstated that the world was.
Granted, the content of the song and the story depicted in the film clip are both undoubtedly sexual, but what is apparent is an element of love, of natural lust predicated by said pure love that makes it endearing and earnest, not cheapened or otherwise gratuitously staged purely for the benefit of a lecherous camera lens. An aural and visual expression of love that has enabled the song to sustain itself as one of Perry’s instantly-recognised tracks and at the forefront of my perennial (admittedly limited) playlist in my car.
Yet, for all its merit, it is a far cry to the packaged-to-supposed-perfection Perry that is set to appear in her Witness tour. The film clip of Bon Appetit actually, tellingly, serves to show the (wretched) state of affairs in camp Perry in that she “begins” as a lump of dough from the outset and transformed into a scantily-clad version at the end, strongly implying that that version of her is the best version according to the male gaze. Take note of the process in which she is subjected to, in order to reach this, being literally shaped by many a deft (virtually all male) hand, the array of shots includes many a gratuitous one of Perry’s scarcely-covered nether regions. I get the impression that the track itself is meant purely to serve as fodder, albeit some agreeable ambient sound of which the viewer is only to take note of, insofar as not being grossly offended by.
Watch Bon Apetit and then watch Teenage Dream immediately thereafter, or better yet if you have the technical prowess, watch both of them simultaneously inlaid over one another, like they did with The Shining in that doco that one time. You’ll be hard-pressed to try and reach the conclusion that both disparate tracks have come from the same person. Not that Perry has lost her shining façade of smiles and her rambunctious edge, she still plays pranks (check out her promotional prank video for Bon Apetit). She still retains much of now-iconic charm, she’s still heavily influenced by Japanese anima and Alice in Wonderland imagery and motifs, much like Gwen Stefani before her, she still looks like herself, radiantly gorgeous, rarely photographed without some sort of smile playing across her lips, she’s still there.
But she has reached a level synonymous with herself, almost a parody of herself. In the formative era, prior to Perry becoming a household name, she was heckled and harried by the luminaries insisting that she become the next Avril Lavinge, such demands were met with the emboldened, soon-to-be-superstar firing back – ‘Why do I have to be the next Avril Lavinge when I just want to be Katy Perry?’
No truer words spoken and as it transpired, Perry never needed to conform to, or retreat from, her true self into the clammy arms and cumbersome, antiquated pigeonhole crafted by the intransigent industry heavy-weights, in their sole quest to bolster record sales by bringing to the fore yet another bland, but relatable pop star.
Why then, does it feel like Perry has, at the arguable apex of her success, become that which she assiduously avoided up until now?
Perry’s work as judge on American Idol reportedly netted her a queenly sum of $25,000,000, so she’s certainly not worrying where her next meal is coming from, but with the lacklustre, to outright scathing reviews for Witness received thus far – she might be mildly concerned as to where her next review gushing with praise will emerge from.
The Witness tour will doubtless provide a cornucopia of stunning visuals, with magnificently realised sets and exquisite costumes, both for Perry and the dozens-strong band and backup dancers sharing the glitter-carpeted stage with her. But what of the former Perry? The Perry fans, albeit those old enough (was it even that long ago?) to have followed her as she catapulted to the forefront of the international music scene. What of her?
That young performer still barely out of her teens, still painfully self-conscious, still finding herself in an industry that worships flawless bodies and condemns those who don’t conform – when she was a paragon of talent precisely because she staunchly resisted their brow-beating?
Perhaps her next studio album, which she’ll probably won’t be able to start until completing the Witness tour, which consists of 83 individual shows spread out across 3 legs and encompasses pretty much the entirety of the free world, will be a return to form. Maybe while on this tour, she’ll have an epiphany that culminates in her stripping it back to the basics, casting off the slimy tentacles of those prodding her in this senselessly sexual and vapid direction, hearkening to what duly brought her into the limelight all those years ago. In the interim, I’ll await the revelatory new album by listening to what I deem the classics, regardless of whatever she produces, Katy Perry will always have a fan in me and my eternal gratitude for helping me through untold tough times.