Katy Perry – born Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson – has, in less than three years, established herself as one of the pop scene’s hottest stars and one of the most controversial among gay music fans.
The 25 year old Santa Barbara, California, native first made a minor splash with the 2007 track Ur So Gay, but it wasn’t until the massive follow-up hit I Kissed A Girl (topping charts in 30 countries) that she really became a household name. The album One of the Boys went on to sell five million copies and she was soon performing around the globe and even hosting the MTV Europe Music Awards.
Many may not know that Katy actually released her first album at the age of 15 in 2001; an unsuccessful Gospel-rock album. It took some growing up and a frustrating number of unreleased albums and failed record deals before she released Ur So Gay.
Despite immediately striking a chord with many gay fans – thanks to her pop sensibility, witty lyrics and wacky antics and outfits – it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the singer. While her Christian pastor parents apparently weren’t too impressed about her gay-themed songs, some gays and lesbians also questioned Katy’s motives.
Openly lesbian British singer Beth Ditto from the band Gossip was very vocal about Katy’s I Kissed a Girl song. Speaking to Attitude magazine she described the track as “offensive” and a “boner dyke anthem for straight girls who like to turn guys on by making out or, like, faking gay.” She went on to add: “She’s just riding on the backs of our culture, without having to pay any of the dues and not being actually lesbian or anything at all.”
Katy replied: “I don’t want to get into a slanging war with anybody so I don’t want to say anything bad about her. But I’m not impressed.”
There were also questions about the appropriateness of Ur So Gay, which some said could be seen to be perpetuating stereotypes about being gay. “I can’t believe I fell in love with someone that wears more makeup than me”, Katy sings, although she goes on to add “you’re so gay and you don’t even like boys…”
Katy responded to the controversy in an interview with thenewgay.net by commenting that “it wasn’t stereotyping anyone in particular, I was talking about ex-boyfriends…. It’s not a negative connotation. It’s not, ‘you’re so gay,’ like, ‘you’re so lame,’ but the fact of the matter is that this boy should’ve been gay”.
Katy added that, “I know gay men that are more of a man than some of the men I slept with”. She went on to explain that she grew up in “a strict, suppressed household where that was wrong. Now I’ve been in LA for seven years and realising there’s nothing wrong, there’s nothing wrong with anybody. If you love someone and you’re a good person that’s what counts.”
Despite the controversy, many appreciated the politically incorrect humour in her music and Katy appears to only be growing her gay fan base. She’s expressed her support for same-sex marriage, performed at New York gay nightclub Splash and she recently appeared on the Scissor Sisters website in a spoof video in which she looks on jealously as the band’s lead singer Jake Shears smooches Adam Lambert.
With her new album, Teenage Dream, which was released last month, Katy is showing the world that she’s no one-hit wonder. The first single California Gurls has already set the US chart record for the quickest ascent to the top spot since Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl in May 2005 and made the biggest leap to No. 1 since Mariah Carey’s Shake It Off in September 2005.
Katy says that Teenage Dream “is an evolvement” from One Of The Boys. “I guess this record is a bit less what I would say cute; the first record was really cute and was very spot on for how old I was then…”
She adds that despite now being engaged to British comedian Russell Brand “ this record is even more honest than the last and it’s even more of an open book. When I write a song, I put my heart and soul into it. I put everything that I have been feeling”.
The coming year is set to be a wild trip for Katy (who is, incidentally, a fan of South Africa’s Die Antwoord). Apart from promoting the new album, she’s got a wedding in the pipeline, the upcoming release of her own fragrance “Purr” and her film dÃ©but, playing Smurfette in next year’s The Smurfs.
When asked by New York Times journalist Melena Ryzik what her 15-year-old-gospel-singing-self, would think of her life now, the singer-songwriter replied: “I think the 15-year-old me would be excited and flabbergasted… and also say, ‘Put on some clothes'”.
With her quirky way with words and camp pop styling, combined with a growing maturity, Katy Perry is likely to continue to entertain, impress and perhaps even cheekily outrage us for years to come.