By Jon Bream
SAN DIEGO — Uh-oh! Katy Perry’s born-again minister parents were in the house. How would pop’s new poster child for sexual experimentation deal with it?
As usual, she went straight to the point. After her second song at the sold-out House of Blues, she announced: “I’m so nervous. My parents are in the audience tonight. God bless them. They made me.”
She explained how her parents didn’t allow boys — or sugar — during her preteen years. Then Perry, still proudly naughty at age 24, confessed about her forbidden first crush: a boy at a Christian ice-skating night when she was 12.
The decade’s most colorful and refreshing American pop star with the No. 1 hits “I Kissed a Girl” and “Hot N Cold,” Perry oozes unabashed bubble-gum fun while provocatively pushing buttons. She’s been called the new Madonna, the next Gwen Stefani, even “the love child of Zooey Deschanel and an anime character.”
She is famous for having no filter when she speaks, though she felt compelled to apologize last year after describing herself as a “skinnier Lily Allen.” After her San Diego show, she pulled up her skirt for a male reporter to show the bruises on her leg from four hours of dance rehearsal for that weekend’s Grammy Awards. But she did censor herself a bit for her parents’ sake.
“Usually, I kiss a girl after every single show,” she said. “Tonight I made sure it was on the cheek. Plus, I didn’t know if the girl was over 18, and I didn’t want to get into that kind of mess.” She giggled girlishly. “My parents liked it. They fully love and support me.”
Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson was the middle child born to two pastors in Santa Barbara, Calif. At 9, she began singing in church as part of her parents’ ministry, and at 15 recorded a gospel album in Nashville. Two years later she moved to Los Angeles and signed a pop deal with Island Def Jam, only to be dropped after making an album with producer Glen Ballard. Then came another near-miss: Columbia let her go after she had almost completed an album with the Matrix production team.
She became Katy Perry (it’s her mom’s maiden name) to avoid confusion with actress Kate Hudson after signing with Capitol Records in 2007. That fall the sharp-tongued lyricist released the single “Ur So Gay,” the most vicious pop putdown of an ex-boyfriend since Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” That sassy ditty set up “I Kissed a Girl,” last year’s bi-curious sing-along anthem of the summer from her “One of the Boys” CD.
The song was sparked by an “unspoken spoken-of curiosity,” she said. “I’ve always been the girl who said exactly what I thought. I’m not shy at all. As I grew into myself, I realized the one friendship that I had in my early teenage years was actually a huge crush. I was always kind of curious about what it would be like kissing someone like myself. I went ahead and tried it. It was an amazing life experience. I think a lot of people, girls especially, you get them into a group and they say, SSLqOf course I’ve kissed my best friend.’”
“Jesus” is tattooed on Perry’s wrist. “There’s not really an eraser for that,” she said. She hasn’t gone to church recently because she’s been on tour for eight months. “I haven’t been home for anything, not even to hang curtains,” she said without sounding whiny. “But I have my moments with God on my own, by myself. Hopefully every day.”
No doubt, Perry has her serious moments. She’s a driven, hard-working careerist who can craft songs for stars such as Kelly Clarkson when she’s not cutting up like a flamboyant cartoon, as she did on the Grammys, descending from the ceiling in a gigantic banana.
She has a fruit fixation, decorating the stage at her concerts with giant inflatable fruit.
“It started with my obsession with the 1940s and cherry charm bracelets and strawberry-and-cherry pattern baskets on women’s dresses,” she explained. “Then my obsession got really big when I went to Japan and I’d see dancing bananas with faces on them. So I decided to take it to a whole ’nother level. It’s fun, it’s kitsch, it’s cute. Some of it is phallic. Some of it is playful. I have no idea.”