I’ll be blunt: Katy Perry doesn’t do it for me.
In all fairness, I am not exactly her target audience—not quite old enough to be her mother, but apparently old enough for her to call me Mom, which is exactly what she called me when I met her a few weeks ago on the set of a recent video shoot for W. She was, of course, referring to me not as some middle-aged lady who will never grasp the nuances of a song like "Swish Swish," but as the mother of the seven-year-old who was about to interview her.
If there is anyone Katy Perry does do it for, it is my daughter Poppy. "Firework," "Roar," "Hot n Cold"… If I have heard these songs once, I have heard them 3,594 times. In a row. On a very (very) long drive to northwestern Connecticut in holiday weekend traffic. Katy Perry's hookups and breakups, her dalliance with lesbianism, her endless feud with Taylor Swift…. Give me "Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me!" Please.
And suddenly, my daughter, the adoring Katy Perry fan, was going to have the opportunity to speak to the actual, real, Katy Perry.
Right as their interview was about to start, the news from Manchester, where a bomb had gone off at the end of an Ariana Grande concert, was lighting up all the screens in our midst. It was reported that an 8-year-old girl who had attended the concert with her mother and her older sister was among the victims. The next day the media would be flooded with images of young women and girls, exiting the arena, still clutching the pink souvenir balloons that had showered down on the audience during Grande’s finale.
I hoped that Perry hadn’t heard about the incident just yet, but of course there was no chance of that. I tried to imagine what was going through her head right at that moment as she tapped away at her iPhone, whatever fear or sadness she might be feeling obscured by a mask of thick eyeliner and red lipstick, and the sparkle of her bubble gum pink, diamante-trimmed Gucci coat. Perry’s new album, Witness, drops tomorrow and this fall she will begin to tour with it. But Perry was visibly agitated. When she walked out into that cramped, cave like interview booth, and sat down on the metal stool, however, she Turned It On, in all her Katy Perryness.
I have read some of the commentary surrounding the release of Witness. The reviews are not glowing. Perry trying to be something she is not; her foray into “Purposeful Pop,”; her tone deaf cultural appropriation; her desperation for hip hop cred.
But for those 15 minutes, when she sat knee to knee with my seven year-old daughter, looked her in the eye, took everything she said so seriously, told her this was going to be her favorite interview ever, that nothing else mattered. Katy Perry was everything she was supposed to be. Engaging, funny, glamorous, incredibly generous. She was a Pop Star. As far as a meeting with an idol goes, this one was flawless. I would even go so far as to say that in that moment when Katy Perry was speaking to my daughter, she spoke to me too. Just a little.
And yes, you could argue that she was giving a performance for the cameras like any other, strategically orchestrated to garner buzz (I watched Perry do a light check on her makeup—that woman is a pro). A performance—with frosting and a cherry, and all the Katy Perry bells and whistles—for a devoted fan who dances with joy and wild abandon to "Chained to the Rhythm" while eying her reflection in the sliding glass door. A devoted fan, I might add, who doesn’t read music reviews.
In his “What Up With Katy Perry?” piece on New York Magazine’s Vulture site, Ira Madison Ill commented that the only time Perry made him cry was during her 2012 documentary Katy Perry: Part of Me, citing the moment when she broke down before going on stage to perform. “I found myself emotionally struck by the lyrics: “This is the part of me that you’re never gonna ever take away from me.’” Madison wrote.
I know how he feels. Personally, I will never be able to listen to "Firework" again without getting a tear in my eye.