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COVER STORY: Inside the Colorful Creative World of Katy Perry

The American pop star on her upcoming Mumbai show at OnePlus Music Festival, topping charts and dealing with the pressures of showbiz

Nov 07, 2019

Our November cover star Katy Perry will headline the first edition of the OnePlus Music Festival in Mumbai on November 16th. Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

It’s been a good seven years since we last had American pop star Katy Perry perform on our shores at the opening ceremony of the Indian Premier League in 2012 in Chennai. So when the “I Kissed A Girl” hitmaker tweeted this past August that she would be headlining the first edition of the OnePlus Music Festival on November 16th at Mumbai’s D.Y. Patil Stadium she sent her Indian fans into a frenzy. Perry tweeted at the time, “I am so happy to be returning to India and excited to headline my first-ever performance in Mumbai. I am looking forward to seeing and singing with all of my Indian KatyCats at the OnePlus Music Festival.”

Katy Perry on the cover of the November 2019 issue of Rolling Stone India. Photo: Rony Alwin

When we asked Perry in this exclusive interview for Rolling Stone India what made her want to be a part of the OnePlus Music Festival, she says, “I’m always looking for opportunities to see fans around the world, especially in places that I don’t get to tour regularly.” Perry adds, “When OnePlus came to me with the idea for this festival, it was an easy yes, and about time I got back to India.”

Although we now know Perry as a mega superstar who has had tremendous success in record sales, sold-out shows and countless accolades, her career began as a Christian rock artist. Perry’s 2001 debut album Katy Hudson was filled with songs about her childhood and faith but didn’t garner much mainstream attention. She says, “I grew up in church where gospel music was played, which has a lot of emotion and soul in it. To this day, I’m drawn to writing these types of emotional songs. My early years also involved a lot of guitar playing and songwriting. That’s the foundation on which I built my entire career. You have to write your own songs to truly tell your story.”

That story truly began to take shape when Perry started to become heavily influenced by Canadian singer Alanis Morissette, especially her 1995 critically acclaimed album Jagged Little Pill. The record which houses an alternative rock sound was more aggressive than the Christian rock Perry was working on. “At the time, Jagged Little Pill was the most honest, soul-baring, relatable female record that encompassed a medley of emotions. She [Morissette] was a powerful female voice when there wasn’t a lot of that around, and as a young artist, that really inspired me to speak my truth as well.”

Perry performing at Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival on April 14th, 2019 in Indio, California. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Perry would drop the Christian rock image and change her persona to a more animated, colorful look and plot her way to pop music domination. In 2008, Perry released the pop-rock leaning One of the Boys which included chart-topping songs such as “I Kissed A Girl,” “Hot N Cold,” “Ur So Gay” and more. When we ask Perry what it was like to hear her songs on the radio for the first time, she directs us to a four-minute clip on video platform Vimeo of her in a hotel room in Dallas, Texas listening to “I Kissed A Girl” for the first time playing on a local radio station from 11 years ago. Perry – who cannot contain her excitement – is seen jumping, dancing, screaming with enthusiasm and saying, “I’ve never heard my song on the radio!”

Since then, Perry has been unstoppable, churning out one hit after another and even going on to match the highest of pop music standards in 2010. She became the second artist after the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, to have five Number One songs (“California Gurls ,” “Teenage Dream,” “Firework,” “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” and “E.T.”) from the same album (Teenage Dream). She tells us that the Teenage Dream era moved so fast for her that she was barely able to understand it. Perry says, “When I first heard that news, I was so overwhelmed I had to double-check with my team that, that was a big deal, to be honest. I’m incredibly proud of that chapter of my career. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of feat — difficult to be replicated never mind doing it once at all!”

“I keep a long list of [song] titles with me at all times, and I know the story behind each one. When I get into the studio, I paint the picture of what the song is going to be about.”

Through the years, the musician has also gone on to become a role model for young people, especially girls. Ask her what message she has for the youth in these times we live in and she responds, “My biggest advice would be to take time for yourself. We live in an increasingly fast-paced world, and while it’s inevitable that you’re on your phones to stay connected, it’s equally important to have in-person social contact and unplug.” Perry adds, “Look after your mental health, and set boundaries in love, in work, and in social media.”

2019 has been quite an eventful year for Perry who has released singles such as the electro-pop “Never Really Over,” the silky “Small Talk” and last month’s breezy “Harleys In Hawaii.” For the latter two tracks, Perry collaborated with American producer Charlie Puth. She says, “Both ‘Small Talk’ and ‘Harleys In Hawaii’ were co-written with a great team — Charlie, Johan Karlsson, and J. Kash. I keep a long list of [song] titles with me at all times, and I know the story behind each one. When I get into the studio, I paint the picture of what the song is going to be about, and then people like Charlie help me cobble it together with rhythm and rhyme. Charlie’s a real savant, and I loved being challenged musically.”

Although Perry has just presented us with new music, we’d still like to know if there is a follow-up album to 2017’s Witness. The vocalist explains, “I’m really enjoying putting out music as I’m inspired to go in the studio. It gives every song its own moment, which is what artists always want in the first place. I never distinguish between singles and album tracks because I love them all equally, and now I get a chance to highlight them individually.”

Perry released her latest single “Harleys in Hawaii” last month. Photo: Rony Alwin

Perry’s music over the years has included everything from mellifluous pop melodies with clever harmonies, to funk, R&B, rock, disco and more. How does she manage to make all these sonic elements fit so seamlessly into that Katy Perry sound while at the same time creating chart-toppers? Perry says, “I’m a lover of all genres and styles — it just has to be authentic and make you feel something strongly. I definitely have some of my collaborators and mentors to thank for continually pushing me to stay versatile in my songwriting. I’m not one to go with trends — I’d rather go the road less traveled musically to catch a different sonic wave.”

New artists such as American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish and rapper Lil Nas X have also taken that road recently and have gone on to become household names through their music. Check in with Perry for her thoughts about the latest music coming out and she says, “I love it all. I saw Billie Eilish at Coachella earlier this year, and she’s truly a phenomenon. Artists like her come once a decade.”

“Keep a good work-life balance because it’s always important to live after you’ve made a living.”

Like any job, the music business too can take a toll on a person, “It can definitely be emotionally taxing at times,” says Perry. She quotes legendary American jazz singer Tony Bennett by saying, “Life teaches you how to live it if you live long enough.” The reason why she’s managed to keep her head above the water and power through during those tough times she says is because “the most integral keys to my success have been having an honest team, an honest therapist, and [dog] Nugget.”

Last year Perry gave back to the music business when she joined American Idol as a judge alongside artists Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan. “It’s a really rewarding way to pay forward all the expertise and information I’ve worked for my whole life to these fresh-off-the-bus faces.” She adds, “I’m a tell-it-like-it-is type person, which I think helps find the real diamond in the rough through all the pressure.”

Perry with her ‘American Idol’ colleagues (from left) Lionel Richie, Ryan Seacrest and Luke Bryan. Photo: Courtesy of ‘American Idol’/ABC/Eric McCandless

Sharing the bill with Perry at the OnePlus Music Festival is English pop artist Dua Lipa as well as Indian talent such as Pune producer Ritviz, composer Amit Trivedi, New Delhi rock outfit The Local Train and post-rock band aswekeepsearching. “Love Dua, and the party will be even more fun with her,” she says.

Apart from high octane production and a banging band, Perry’s live set includes plenty of colors, dancers, as well as incredible energy from her. Without giving too much away, she tells us what her Indian fans can expect at the OnePlus Music Festival. “It’s been a moment since I’ve been there [India], so I’m excited to play some new songs, and bring some new magic to the stage, specifically for my Indian KatyCats on this night.” Perry adds, “I’m excited to put on a great show for my most patient Indian fans.”

Perry intends to make the most of her time in Mumbai and take in the city. She says, “I’ve always wanted to visit Mumbai, and I’m excited to spend some time exploring, immersing, and eating all things local.” 2020 looks just as bright for Perry who is keen to continue releasing new music as well as the start of American Idol in the spring. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another seven years until this pop sensation returns to India. But for now, Perry says she wants to “keep a good work-life balance because it’s always important to live after you’ve made a living.”


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