Her Best Defense
By Jason Lamphier
W e've been on Katy Perry's case since her breakout song, 'Ur So Gay,' dropped in late 2007. She told us then that 'there's a little gay man trapped inside' and that what made her different than other pop starlets was her sense of humor. After One of the Boys (Capitol Records) blew up, in no small part thanks to the controversy of No. 1 single 'I Kissed a Girl,' we tracked Perry to this summer's Vans Warped Tour. 'I'm not an abomination,' she said then in response to growing right-wing criticism.
After being named Musician of the Year in this year's Out 100, we spoke to Perry again. Read on for the extended transcript, in which we discuss reactions to her songs in Europe versus the United States, her childhood dreams of being the next Amy Grant, and her acoustic fantasies.
Out: Hello again.
Katy Perry: We should know each other's life histories by now.
We really should. Where are you now?
I'm in Paris. It's beautiful of course. I'm doing promo for the record. It came out here in September.
So you're right in the thick of it then.
Yeah, I've been hopping around [Europe] for about three and a half weeks. And then I get to go home tomorrow for like three days.
Thanks for making the shoot'
Yeah, thank you for having me! I haven't seen how it's come out, but I'm excited!
They put you in some absolutely stunning dresses.
[Her phone cuts out] I'm in the bathroom because there's other people in the room and I'm just sitting here and I hear 'boo, boo, boo.' [She makes crying noises.]
Last time we chatted you were in line for the shower during Warped Tour. I think I've become your bathroom buddy. But the first time we spoke was roughly a year ago. So much has changed, I'm sure.
Kind of. Not really.
Did you achieve everything you set out to already?
I never expected to be here. The single for 'I Kissed a Girl' is now just slowly edging off the charts, which is fine. But we never knew it would last for six months. [Pause] Hold on one second, I'm sorry. [Pause] Sorry, my boyfriend [Gym Class Heroes' Travis McCoy] is leaving from Paris right now. He's flying home, so he had to give me a kiss goodbye. But anyways! I had no idea that I would be in fucking Paris. The kids in Europe have been amazing, waiting outside and knowing all the words even when the record hasn't been out! You think maybe that you might have success in the States and be a hometown hero, but you never realize that the whole world would actually sing along, you know?
Are you surprised that they're singing along to a song that has been considered so controversial?
No. I mean, it's pop music. I think maybe it is a little bit provocative, but it's really innocent at the same time. And if you look at pop music, from Elvis Presley on, you see that some of their subject matter has been provocative. I think that people like singing along to something so universal. And, you know, the song is catchy. If you took out the words, you would still have catchy music. That's why kids do parodies like 'I kissed a dog,' 'I kissed your mom' -- you know, all these really strange parodies, amazing parodies, that are online! The subject matter is one that some people had thought about but never said out loud, and they maybe are happy to finally be living vicariously through this song. There's not really that big of an agenda about it.
What about the success of 'Hot N Cold'? Did you fear being pigeonholed?
'Ur So Gay' was a phenomenon that caught on the Internet -- unbeknownst to me and everybody. We were going to go with 'Hot N Cold' as the first single, hands down. I'm just happy to have any kind of #1 song, to have any kind of success. Nothing should ever be thought of as deserved because there are so many amazing musicians that have never had #1 songs. After all this time, especially this year, Madonna has become more of an icon to me. If you look at her catalogue, sure, a lot of it was 'Like a Virgin' and 'Like a Prayer.' But she also did 'Get Into the Groove.' Of course, I'd like to have a career like hers, but I'm not so sure I could last until 50.
Well, that's to be decided by time.
Yeah, well, if I take more vitamins'
What's next for you, musically?
I want to show off different songs. I'm excited to release 'Thinking of You' as a single, because I can do that by myself on my acoustic guitar. My dream, like my ultimate dream -- and I shouldn't say this, I don't want to jinx myself -- [is to] play 'Thinking of You' acoustically on the Grammys. I would love just to be able to strip it all away and not have anything besides me, my voice, my guitar. I think people don't expect pop girls to be like that, and I would love to give them more dimensions. For right now I'm focusing on this record and next year's big world tour, making that more theatrical. You know sometimes when you go to a show and it's just a show and that's it? I want it to be more visual and artistic.
Have you found it easier to defend yourself?
I never feel like I'm actually defending myself. I always just feel like I'm answering the question, because other people are the ones who make it controversial. I just look at it as a part of my life, as flirtatious and very tongue-in-cheek. I get a lot of journalists in Europe who are like, 'What's the big deal? People are OK with hip-hop videos where there are strippers and drugs and gangs and guns, when you're singing about an innocent kiss?' When news people do headlines about it, I'm like, 'You guys are obviously a) not getting the tongue-in-cheek side of it, and b) you're stupid, because we have a war and an election going on and you're helping me sell records, dumbass.'