When Katy Perry was a fourth grader, her teacher asked the class to make a “vision board” — a collage of images cut out from magazines that represents the dreams and aspirations you hope to manifest in life. The year was 1993 and Selena had just won a Grammy Award, so nine-year-old Katy chose a photo of the young Latin pop singer holding her golden statuette. Fifteen years later, Perry has been nominated for her first Grammy Award in the “Best Female Pop Vocal Performance” category for her ubiquitous No. 1 single, “I Kissed a Girl,” from her platinum Top 10 album One of the Boys, and has been chosen as this year’s My GRAMMY® Moment artist. Current sales check in at over 2 million albums and more than 13 million tracks, singles and mobile product globally.
“I found my vision board when I moved apartments recently,” says Perry, now 24. “I knew where I wanted to be even as a young kid. I just didn’t know that if I put one foot in front of the other, I would actually get there someday.”
Perry’s willful determination, not to mention her songwriting and vocal talent and larger-than-life charisma, have led to an astonishing year for the saucer-eyed, raven-haired pop starlet, who, with her cheeky sense of humor and sexy pin-up girl style, was “the breakthrough star of 2008” as Blender magazine put it in the issue that featured Perry on the cover.
You could say it all started in April 2008 when Madonna told Ryan Seacrest that Perry’s “Ur So Gay” (off her November 2007 EP of the same name) — a withering kiss-off to a metrosexual ex — was her favorite song. “It may have been a small comment on her behalf, but it was a large comment in my world,” Perry recalls. “It was like a big boat leaving the dock and getting a champagne send-off.” Shortly after being anointed by the Queen of Pop, Perry released her debut single “I Kissed A Girl” — a provocative ode to the beauty of women that ruled radio over the summer of 2008, becoming an all-format hit and shooting to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 where it stayed put for seven straight weeks and tied The Beatles’ Capitol Records record for weeks at No. 1. The video was nominated for five MTV Video Music Awards, including a nod for Perry for “Best New Artist” and became the No. 1 most viewed music video of 2008 on MySpace. A No. 1 airplay smash in 22 countries and the 2009 People’s Choice award winner for “Favorite Pop Song,” “I Kissed A Girl” has sold more than six million tracks worldwide. Its popularity also made Perry a ripe target for Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly, who convened a panel of hand-wringing analysts to discuss the effect of the song on America’s impressionable youth. Perry was also voted “Best New Artist” by readers of Rolling Stone and PerezHilton.com
On June 17, 2008, EMI Music released One of the Boys, a witty romp through Perry’s brightly colored world that showcases her sharp, candid lyrics, big voice, and feisty, girl-power swagger, as well as her appealing vulnerability on songs like her latest single, “Thinking Of You.” “I think people can appreciate a songwriter who shows different sides,” she says. “The whole angst thing is cool, but if that’s all you’ve got, it’s just boring. Everything I write, whether it’s happy or sad, has a sense of humor to it.” Case in point: the album’s spunky, high-voltage second single “Hot N Cold,” which became Perry’s second No. 1 single and international hit, selling nearly three million digital tracks since its release. The eye-popping video, with its hilarious wedding theme, became the No. 2 most-viewed premiere of all time on MySpace, proving to armchair critics and naysayers that the success of this irrepressible young woman in the satin onesie and fishnets was no fluke. When Saturday Night Live spoofed her, it was official: Katy Perry was a bonafide cultural phenomenon.
So why does Perry think that she’s connected with a mass audience when the road to stardom is littered with the failed dreams of aspiring wannabes? “Because I’m just myself,” she says, “and that’s all people want. People want to hear artists who are themselves, but who do interesting things and sing about them in an interesting way that maybe they have tried to conceive but couldn’t. I get a lot of girls who come up to me and say, ‘When I heard ‘Thinking of You,’ I felt that way to a T, but I never knew anyone who could put my feelings into words.’ I think that’s why people find me relatable. Plus, anybody can meet me. I’m not distant. I’m very much the same person I was before the hit singles. I just have a schedule for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
Fans do seem to respond to Perry’s approachable girl-next-door quality (if the girl next door were a self-described “glamour ninja”), perhaps because it’s not an act. The middle child of two pastors, Perry grew up singing in church. “My dad would give me ten dollars, which is a lot of money when you’re nine, to sing at church, on tables at restaurants, at family functions, just about anywhere,” she says. Perry was raised on a strict diet of church music; “secular music,” as her mother called it, was “not allowed.” But one night during a slumber party, Perry happened upon a Queen record “and the heavens opened and saved me,” she says. “From then on, they have been my biggest influence. Their musicality and lyrics were so flamboyant and real. I’d never heard anything like it.”
By the time she was 15, Perry was determined to pursue a path in music. She spent some time in Nashville working with professional songwriters — “these seasoned country music vets who had been writing songs for forever” — and honing her own songwriting skills. “Every single one of my songs is drawn 100 percent directly from my life.” At 17, Perry met legendary producer and songwriter Glen Ballard, who spent years guiding and developing her talent and songwriting. The strength of the songs and Perry’s full-throated voice captured the attention of Capitol Music Group, which signed her in Spring 2007. “I’ve been through a lot of highs and a lot of lows in this business,” Perry says. “Before I got signed, it was tough. I’d write a check for my rent and next to it, I’d write, ‘Please, God, please.’ But I didn’t jump off the Hollywood sign. Everything always works out for the best.”
It’s a long way from being broke to stealing the show at the MTV Latin America “Los Premios Awards” (where Perry face-planted into a large pink cake) and hosting and performing at the MTV Europe Music Awards in Liverpool, England, which she did in November 2008, picking up the award for “Best New Act” in the process. Now Perry is gearing up for her first-ever international headlining tour, something she’s ready to tackle after spending a grueling summer on the Vans Warped Tour — a multi-band circus that one critic likened “the running of the bulls in Pamplona…minus the bulls, or the quaint Basque scenery.” “Warped was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Perry admits. “It was like being in the army, like GI Jane getting my ass kicked every single day, but now I know how to deal with any situation.”