When Katy Perry, the doe-eyed daughter of Christian pastors, chased her single “Ur So Gay” with “I Kissed a Girl,” gay activists accused her of trivializing lesbianism and reinforcing stereotypes. Has the former gospel singer’s summer chart topper, “California Gurls,” melted her hot-and-cold critics’ Popsicles for good? As the 25-year-old prepares to release her second mainstream album, Teenage Dream, and marry British comedian Russell Brand this fall, Perry promises she’s not changing her tune.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: You got off to a rocky start with gay fans in 2008 when some liberal groups labeled your lyrics as exploitative and even homophobic. What did you take away from that controversy?
Katy Perry: I always knew I wasn’t going to be everybody’s darling. I knew I was going to get a thumbs-up and a middle finger at the same time. Some people love you and some people hate you, but at least you’re on people’s minds. Everyone has an opinion about someone who gets popular, but I’m a strong enough character to take it all. Hopefully, after getting to know me and seeing all of the dimensions of that record, people know that I’m not a one-trick pony and that it was just part of the party.
Meanwhile, Out named you Musician of the Year and put you on the cover of its 2008 Out 100 issue. What did that honor mean to you?
It was fantastic, especially because it came so early. Sometimes you’re on a magazine cover just because you’ve got great style or when something goes wrong, so being a part of that Out cover really meant a lot to me — more than most other covers. I was never the girl to be involved in just one clique, so I love that anybody and everybody can enjoy my music and make it their own. I love when people adopt the music as their personal life stories, mottoes, or anthems. It’s a wonderful feeling.
Some blame the “I Kissed a Girl” phenomenon for creating a “lezploitation” monster in the music industry. When artists like Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, and Christina Aguilera play the bisexual or bi-curious card, do you feel it’s genuine or a marketing strategy?
I think it’s just something that everybody feels more comfortable talking about. It’s more out in the open. People are more comfortable in their own skin now because our culture is moving forward. Baby steps. Some people thought “I Kissed a Girl” was the stupidest fucking song ever, but to other people it was a cute adopted anthem that maybe helped someone in some way or said something for someone that was on the tip of their tongue.
Have you seen the gay parodies of “California Gurls” on YouTube?
I love them. I really love “California Gays.” It’s hysterical. I love it when they do the fight between the East Coast and the West Coast — I still don’t know how they made it look like the car ran those guys over. I mean, these are like actual filmmakers, so it’s awesome. For me, what signifies that a song works is when cheerleaders are making up cheers to it or when people are making parodies of it, putting in their own personal time and sometimes money to make a video and put it on YouTube. That’s when I really know a song is going to be of some value.
Did you have your gay audience in mind while working on the new record?
Of course, especially with a hilarious song called “Peacock” that has obvious innuendo. It’s like an anthem for the go-go bars that gay boys will be singing at the top of their lungs.
Didn’t you recently go to the Cock [a gay dive bar in New York]?
Yeah, and I had to take a Silkwood shower after my night at the Cock. [Laughs] I went with my stylist, Johnny Wujek. I like gay bars better than straight bars because you don’t feel like you have to trade a blow job for a drink; you just have to smile and do a twirl.
Your wigs and outfits have been campier than ever. Are you drawing from drag queen inspiration?
Well, I have watched every episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Sometimes I want to dress up like myself and go onstage as a drag queen to see if anyone knows the difference. I’m two degrees away from a drag queen anyways. I love a queen where you really have to question if it’s a guy or a girl — that magical mystery when you just don’t know.
Your recent topless photo shoot for Esquire U.K. certainly solved that mystery.
[Laughs] Yeah, I like to walk the line, and that was definitely a walk-the-line moment. But I feel a lot more comfortable in my skin these days. I’m 25 and I have a very supportive man, so I guess it’s given me an inner confidence that makes me want to take my clothes off.
As a woman about to walk down the aisle with Russell Brand, what’s your take on gay marriage?
It’s absurd that it’s not equality for all. The fact that we’re still dealing with it is stupid. It’s like, fuckin’ come on! It’s interesting because I come from a whole different world where I was raised with the idea that being gay was taboo and not right. Even though I love my parents and we can agree to disagree, I’m glad I’ve had my eyes opened.
When did you see the lavender light?
I went to Christian school and I was involved in church camp, so everything I did was related to the church. I just remember that gay people were looked down upon and never to be talked about — and that’s why I wanted to hang out with them. [Laughs] I didn’t know any openly gay people until I moved out on my own at 17, and I quickly saw that they were more fun than straight people. Plus I didn’t have to worry about the motives of some straight guys. I don’t really like hanging out with most straight guys because there’s too much drama behind it.
Are there gay people in your wedding party?
My best friend, Markus Molinari, is a bridesmaid, actually, just like he was in the “Hot N Cold” video. I’m making him wear one of those horrible Jessica McClintock dresses for sure.
You’ve mentioned Markus in interviews before. Does he like when you name-drop him in interviews?
Oh, he’s been riding my coattails from day one. He’s always been very upfront about it, and that’s why I love him. I also adore Ferras, a fantastic singer who’s gay. I introduced him to Markus, and now they’re best friends. Now we all just hang out and love each other.
You also got chummy with blogger Perez Hilton from the start, which was a pretty smart career move.
Nothing was necessarily calculated. I think he just heard my music and related to it. But I am happy there aren’t little white dots coming out of my nose on his site and that he’s not showing pictures of my cellulite, because every girl has it.
Does Russell get along with your gay friends?
Of course! He’s lovely to all human beings. There are a couple guys he will single out and mention — he loves my stylist, Johnny Wujek; my manager, Bradford; and William, who I call my big brother, in New York. Russell’s a good guy. He believes in the same things I believe.
When I first heard you and Russell were dating, I immediately thought, Man, that’s a sex tape just waiting to leak.
No, he’s actually very protective, in a way. We’re both pretty smart at living open lives but keeping the important parts private. We’re both very open people separately, and we don’t want our relationship to change that, so we give enough away and still feel like we have just us together.
After you tweeted, “Using blasphemy as entertainment is as cheap as a comedian telling a fart joke,” people assumed it was a pointed response to Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” video. You’ve since clarified that it wasn’t specifically directed toward Gaga. So to whom was that tweet directed?
Anyone. Whether it’s Madonna hanging on a cross or Russell using the Lord’s name in vain, it makes me feel… I guess I’m just sensitive to it. But the media loves to create these catfights with women — it’s almost a fetish. Sometimes you see it with bands like Blur and Oasis, but rarely you see it between anyone but girls because guys get off on the whole idea. I’m a huge fan of Lady Gaga, and hundreds of my tweets have been dedicated to her brilliance.
Have you had any direct communication with Gaga since the controversy?
She’s doing her thing and I’m doing my thing.
Twitter accounts are constantly getting celebrities in trouble. To prevent that drama and speculation, do you wish you could just take back the tweet?
I don’t feel like I get in trouble. People like me for who I am, the honesty that I bring, and the fact that I don’t censor what I do or say. Sometimes you get a big fat anvil by talking without a sifter, but sometimes it feels good to create a wave. I’ve never regretted anything I’ve said or done because it’s all a learning experience.
You’re voicing Smurfette in next summer’s The Smurfs. Is she the dirty blue slut I suspected?
Well, I think so, which is probably why my parents wouldn’t let me watch the cartoon. And now I am her. It’s funny how my world works.
What’s the best perk of being the only girl in a village?
You definitely won’t be caught wearing somebody else’s outfit.
That’s not the first perk that came to my mind.
[Laughs] Yeah, but it’s a good one too.
The Advocate, September 2010 issue; extended online version.