Katy Perry’s the kid in the candy shop
BY EDNA GUNDERSON August 11, 2011 4:58PM
Katy Perry performs at a Duluth, Ga., concert on the California Dreams tour in June. In shaping her shows, she’s “looking for what’s beyond the trend. I have a nose for things like that.” | Frank Micelotta~PictureGroup
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim, Rosemont
Tickets: Sold out
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:34AM
CULVER CITY, Calif. — On the road since February with her California Dreams world tour, Katy Perry isn’t just fine-tuning this fanciful feast of pop hits, whimsical costumes, dancing gingerbread men, fireworks, confectionery sets and candy smell-o-vision.
She’s revamping it.
“A typical tour is three months, but we’re going to November,” she says. “It’s nice to be able to get out of the same same same. That’s the fun thing about success. Now I can say, ‘I want a machine that simulates the whipped-cream boobs from the “California Gurls” video.’ I just want to keep things fresh and keep myself excited.”
Perry, 26, brings the tour to the Allstate Arena on Aug. 21 for a show originally scheduled last month but postponed when she was floored by food poisoning.
That she wants to recalibrate a box-office smash is testament to Perry’s moxie and enterprise. She compares it to the drive that went into last year’s “Teenage Dream,” which sold 1.5 million copies, spawned sales of 10.2 million digital tracks and ended debate that 2008 debut “One of the Boys” was a fluke driven by the sassy single “I Kissed a Girl.”
“The focus now is the live show and making it as big an event as the album has been,” Perry says. “I’m looking for what’s beyond the trend. I have a nose for things like that.”
With no makeup and her dark hair pulled back, the blue-eyed pop star appears strikingly pretty, albeit more fragile than the saucy sex kitten in her kaleidoscopic videos. Known for her extravagantly kooky fashions, she’s low-key today in a striped hoodie, knee-length sweatpants and sneakers.
“It does get a bit grueling,” she says of life on the road. “You just have to carry on. I tell myself these people haven’t seen the show six times. It may be their first and only impression.”
Reasonable prices and pent-up demand (Perry last toured in 2009) are fueling ticket sales, says Pollstar editor Gary Bongiovanni.
“This is her moment in the sun,” he says, noting her ambitious gamble of moving up to arenas in an economic downturn. “There’s a lot of color and flash onstage, and the music has gotten a lot of exposure.”
To help shape her “candy on crack” vision of California Dreams, Perry enlisted Baz Halpin, who directed Pink’s Funhouse tour. “Pink’s show had such a great balance of fun and heart,” Perry says. “It was above and beyond any pop show I’d ever seen.
“Halfway through production of my show, I changed everything and developed a story line and symbolism. I gave it a soft narrative that anyone around the world could understand, and I still did the candy overload, even made the place smell like candy.”
Perry’s visual flights of fancy crib from Alice in Wonderland, Snow White, The Wizard of Oz and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. She draws much inspiration from Japan’s kawaii subculture of “cuteness.”
“When I went to Japan [at 19], it peeled back a layer in my brain,” she says. “Everything was so sweet and cute and petite and feminine. Dancing cheeseburgers with faces make me happy.”
Perry’s solid base of hits prevents the show’s visual barrage from swamping the music. She’s mindful to keep the focus on tunes, creating an acoustic interlude that re-creates her pre-superstar days as a guitar-strumming songbird at Hollywood’s Hotel Cafe.
That was before her global takeover. In the past three years, Perry has sold 50 million downloads. With “E.T.’s” ascent in May, she became the first artist to spend an entire year in the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. It began with last summer’s ubiquitous “California Gurls,” which spent six weeks at No. 1 and sold 4.8 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. If her current hit “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” tops the chart, it will be the fifth No. 1 from her album, tying a record.
After dismissing Perry as a one-hit wonder, “people have been surprised at the staying power of this new record and her ability to spin off hit after hit,” says Joe Levy, chief content officer of Maxim magazine, which placed the singer atop its Hot 100 last year.
“She’s great at creating a sensation,” Levy says. “She does both naughty and nice very well. She has a modern way of doing old-school glamour. . . . Lady Gaga and Rihanna bring a lot of darkness to the table. Katy is interested in provocation, but she wants you to be dazzled and smiling the entire time. She gets her message across with more than one spoonful of sugar.”
The sugar high of success brought a single buzz kill: media scrutiny. Goofy, winsome, self-effacing, perpetually optimistic and enthusiastic, Perry tends to confound, but not deter, a tabloid machine that feeds on celebrity dirt.
“The press side of the entertainment business is a disgusting monster,” she says, suddenly somber. “There’s nothing seriously wrong in my world. I’m showing up for my concerts. I’m not on drugs. I’m not going through a divorce. I’m working as hard as I can. People sometimes can’t handle the truth.”
So they invent it. Breathless descriptions of her October wedding in India to actor/comedian Russell Brand “are absolutely false,” Perry says.
Determined to duck upsetting distortions, Perry made a New Year’s resolution to stop Googling herself. She tends to her website and tweets to 9 million followers but avoids lurking on gossip sites.
“With success comes a bull’s-eye on your back,” she says. “Everybody is looking for you to crack. People are nitpicking left and right to see what’s going to be my boiling point.”
In fame’s spotlight, Perry in fact has grown more serene and secure thanks to the stabilizing forces of family, friends and marriage. Her tour bus is equipped with multiple bunks to accommodate close pals. There’s no bitter chasm between the pop tart and her parents, evangelical pastors who nixed music, TV, movies and magazines.
“I’ve stopped trying to change my parents,” Perry says. “Maybe six years ago, I thought: ‘You’re happy. I’m going to let you be.’ The same thing is happening with them toward me and my siblings.”
And married life? “It’s beautiful to have a teammate,” she says. “When you’re single, you use so much energy looking for The One. When you find him, it’s whew, you can turn that radar off and breathe.”
After a high-profile engagement, the couple are less visible. Perry’s mum on relationship specifics, reasoning, “If you let the outside in, it’s like having 10,000 horrible in-laws.”
While smitten with Brand, she’s less infatuated with his film universe. Perry boosters consider her a natural for the big screen. She’s leery, though she eagerly agreed to voice Smurfette in “The Smurfs” after the director and producer heard a charming cuteness in tapes of her speaking voice.
“I feel like a walking cartoon most of the time, anyway,” Perry says. “I want to do more animation. I cry in those movies all the time. It’s my go-to for a feel-good time.”
She’s intrigued by the idea of her own fashion line, but not yet.
“If I were to juggle another ball, I might end up losing all the balls,” she says. “I don’t feel like there’s a ticking bomb on my career. I don’t have to get everything done yesterday.”
That’s a savvy strategy, says Maxim chief Levy.
“Anybody who puts together a career right now that’s longer than 140 characters on Twitter deserves our respect and admiration,” Levy says. “Katy’s got cultural juice. How she chooses to use it in the future remains to be seen.”
After the tour, “I’m going to take a moment to reassess everything and to create and to live and to experience, so the stories I tell on my third record are connected and honest,” Perry says.
Possibilities brewing in her imagination are an acoustic record in the vein of Patty Griffin’s 1998 “Flaming Red.”
“I’d love to work with great songwriters like Patty Griffin, Jonatha Brooke, maybe even Paul Simon,” Perry says. “But I don’t know if that’s going to come next. Maybe I’m not finished dancing it out.”
Gannett News Service