I have to admit I wasn’t much of a Katy Perry fan. At first, I judged her as just another teen queen coming down the pike. Her first hit, “I Kissed a Girl,” I felt was not shocking in the least, with it’s revelations about the taste of cherry lip balm and anyway, quirky 90’s balladeer, Jill Sobule, already covered that territory. “Been there done that, ” I thought.
But then Katy started showing up at awards shows dressed so retro-gurly cute (I know it sounds vapid — I swear I’m a feminist!) that I just couldn’t look away. I loved her sense of style and her tongue-in-cheek behavior. Her videos had that same feel, a return to glamor with a touch of Lucille Ball and a heap of ball-breaker Bust gal mentality. Still, living in a ultra-feminist city (Portland, OR) home of the last non-profit feminist bookstore in the country, surrounded by Rosie the Riveter wannabes, I couldn’t help but feel like I would be shunned. I kept my curiosity about Ms. Perry on the DL, as they say. Then came “California Gurls.”
I first heard it on the radio and honestly, at first blush, I didn’t think much of it but then I saw the video. I was both kind of horrified (at the cherry topped cupcake bras and whip cream canisters bazzooms) and thrilled by it. But as I found myself sneaking off to YouTube to watch the video again, like a late night raid of the fridge, I realized I wasn’t really horrified at all — I was sort of counter-culturally programmed to detest anything that objectified the female form. But this was different — I finally relented to my inner girlie pop goddess and “got it.” And while I’m sure someone like Camille Paglia is off writing a book about why and how Katy Perry is corrupting the girls of today — I have this to say, Bravo Katy Perry.
Katy’s videos, persona and outfits are a sort of a Shangri-la for foodies, a feast for the eyes and in a culture obsessed with dieting yet trapped in a cycle of fast and fake foods, just looking at this stuff can, well, frankly, turn you on.
Herein lies Katy Perry’s genius — she is a cultural lightening rod. Her songs are catchy pop perfection laced with saccharin sweet vocals, urging you further with ripe innuendo, stunningly luscious visuals and bubbly beats. She “gets it,” and she lets you in on the joke with sly grin and wink. Sure, we gals are still objectified, even in this day and age, but Katy’s pulling the strings here with something for everyone. The whip cream canistered bazzooms may be a thrill for the men at home but the farce of it all cannot be missed either. By owning and taking it to over-the-top heights, she somehow manages to rescue female sexuality from the everyday drab of jeans and t-shirts.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love jeans and a t-shirt (I practically live in them) but I also love to dress up in my knee-length, A-line cherry-print dress with matching cardigan, roll my hair, glue on the false eyelashes and punctuate it all with bright red lipstick and my vintage candy-apple-red purse. I also like to be taken seriously, even if I’m showing some cleavage.
I guess that’s what speaks to me about Perry’s style and music, the ability to have choice. Isn’t that what our foremothers fought for? For women to be able to choose what they wanted whether it’s to stay home with the kids or work in the world (or both), to be taken seriously in the boardroom and objectified in the bedroom, to map your own destiny based on your own unique tastes for life?
To top it all off, Perry is unabashed about flaunting her love of food, especially the sweet stuff. She wears it, eats it, dives into it — not always considered ladylike behavior folks. But there are close ties between sensuality, food and sexuality and Katy doesn’t miss that.
Visuals aside, I still would not laud her, if I thought her music was garbage. Her latest album Teenage Dream, in which Perry lies beautifully nude, atop a bed of fluffy pink cotton candy, looking every bit the 1950’s pin-up, is a stellar pop work.
On the title track, she sings of going, “all the way tonight, no regrets, just love,” shedding both the old puritanical baggage of “good girls don’t do it” and the overly sexed-up, “girls can do this casual sex thang too,” leaving her younger listeners with a pendulum that is clearly wavering in the middle. Because casual sex may seem exciting but as anyone who’s ever been in love can tell you, it’s so much better when you’re in love.
Though some have criticized Perry’s work as just a rehash of others that came before her, overall the album does something that few other albums of late have done for me, it brings me back to my youth. A youth spent in John Hughes painted, bubble gum belly of the 80’s, wearing neon-colored t-shirts, a slew of rubber bracelets up my arms and candy-colored jelly shoes on my feet, bouncing to the jitterbug of Wham and collecting sugary scented Hello Kitty erasers and pencils. Teenage Dream has obvious influences from the likes of Madonna and even evokes thoughts of Pat Benatar on grittier ball-buster songs like, Circle the Drain.
The cheeky, “you show me yours,” anthem of Peacock flips the roles in the pressure-for-sex dynamic and Perry’s staccato chant of, “Peacock-cock-cock,” sounds reminiscently of Tony Basil’s Mickey.
Perry’s album is chock-o-block with delectable treats that will leave even the most ardent foodie satiated. Perry, in the centerfold of the album’s sleeve, is adorned as Princess Cupcake and looking a bit like a naughty Glinda the Good Witch, surrounded by teetering stacks of brightly buttercream frosted cakes and YES! just like Kitty, My Melody and the Little Twin Stars, the jacket is scented like cotton candy.