VIDEO: Katy Perry, "I Kissed a Girl"
Katy Perry is munching on cheese puffs on a day off from the Warped Tour when I ask how she hooked up with the army of hot-shot producers and hitmakers who’ve helped push her debut album, One of the Boys (Capitol), to the top. “Glen [Ballard] found me when I was 17, brought me to Los Angeles, and kind of put me under his wing. He told me, ‘Write a song a day so you can, you know, get that muscle flexed.’ And I did — I wrote 65 to 75 songs for my record over the course of five years, with different people, producers, by myself. I tried everything.”
The album does sound like the product of trying everything: an almost unholy mash-up of Alanis and Britney, the former’s trashy candor mixed with the latter’s dance-floor whoomp. And it can’t be an accident. In addition to Alanis guru Ballard, Perry, now 23, worked with writer/producer Max Martin (Britney’s “Baby One More Time”), whose grubby Europrints are all over the smash #1 single “I Kissed a Girl.” Even with all this heavy-handed production artillery, the song and the album still rock hard enough for Perry to straddle both the pop charts and a boys’ club like the Warped Tour (thanks in part to the guitar-army production of pop-punk vet Butch Walker).
“I am the pink in a sea of darkness,” she points out. “There’s all those screamo bands and metal bands, and it’s all just kind of dark with black merchandise and T-shirts, and I’m coming out with like pink amplifiers and pink Les Pauls and SGs. It’s pretty funny. I think that as much as I’m a pop girl, I put on a rock show. I try to jump around as much as any of the other bands. I have bruises on my legs — the female physique on the Warped Tour basically gets thrown around, it gets dented.
“I’ve been to Warped Tour many times, and I consider it almost my family — although I’m the black sheep of the family. Of course, I’m the black sheep of my family in real life, too.”
Perry, who grew up the daughter of two pastors and wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music, began her career with a 2001 Christian album under the name Katy Hudson. “When you grow up from 15 to 23, you do change a little bit, and I changed a lot. I’m very happy to be where I came from, and I’m glad I have that foundation and I still have faith. But I’m out on my own now, and I make decisions on my own. Hopefully those are successful decisions.”
So what was the epiphany that led her to embark on a career of heathen music? “I remember hearing the song ‘Killer Queen’ by Queen when I was 15 and it was just an influential musical moment in my life where I realized, ‘Okay, I finally have somebody that I look up to that is someone that I want to base a career on.’ His [Freddie Mercury’s] lyrics, to me, are so colorful and they are such a different perspective on life that makes you broaden your general perspective.”
Unlikely as it might seem, Katy Perry is a polarizing figure in the pop world, where “I Kissed a Girl” and 2007’s “UR So Gay” could be seen as exploitational examples of everything that’s wrong with pop culture or as encapsulations of post-millennial neuroses set to a Gary Glitteresque thump and flamboyantly catchy choruses. “I’m very sassy with my lyrics, and I really appreciate humor in songwriting. I’m still growing up, you know, I’m not conclusive about anything I believe in. I’m just experiencing life. All of my songs are about my life.”
KATY PERRY + BOUNCING SOULS at Warped Tour | Comcast Center, 885 South Main St, Mansfield | July 23 at noon | $26 |www.livenation.com