A few years ago, after bringing our daughters to see the Katy Perry movie “Part of Me” in 3D, a 40-ish friend said to me, “I want to be Katy Perry! Look at her eyelashes!” What struck me as ridiculous and childish (does she secretly want to strut around a stage in a tasseled silver number?) turned out to be pretty Zen. Had my friend reached a higher level of self-awareness after witnessing spinning tassels? I didn’t remember Buddha making a cameo, but he would rock the tassels. The movie on the surface: a bubbly sparkly fluttery mess of confetti, a self-indulgent tour movie to squeeze another $10 from each loyal fan. Yet, woven throughout is an optimistic and positive message to young girls, and all humans, that you can be whomever you choose. Don’t worry about what others think of you!
I dreaded going. 3D glasses give me a headache, and I still think of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as a “new” band. Could someone whose first concerts were the Kinks and Black Sabbath be entertained in a cloud of bubblegum, hair extensions and sequins? Despite my readiness to toss Katy into the “shallow” category, I found myself admiring her for the effort she makes to reach young people. Tweens, gays, and middle agers all appreciate her style. Katy’s reach isn’t limited to the tween girl demographic. You can’t help but like her, dammit.
When I first heard her earworm-style pop songs a few years back, I assumed she would resemble every other record company extrusion: plastic, predictable, and cookie cutter; on the charts for a few years til the reality show and then the dramatic tabloid downfall. I didn’t expect to hear she grew up in a very religious Pentecostal household, but that explains the teenage angst she drew upon while writing songs. Nothing like a bit of dogma to push you into craving an exit strategy. Her sole musical exposure was Gospel, until she got an earful of Alanis Morissette. Ok, I thought, I can get behind someone who is inspired by Alanis—she’s got a great voice and she’s edgy, artsy, and sometimes angry!
Katy famously sang to bring awareness to the issue of domestic violence at this year’s Grammys. Her career often contains highlights which bring attention to serious issues. I remember catching “Night of Too Many Stars” hosted by Jon Stewart in 2012. Katy sang a very moving duet of “Firework” with an 11-year old autistic girl. Stewart claimed to have a little dust in his eye when he returned to the stage to emcee.
When tragedy hit the SABIS International Charter School in Springfield, Massachusetts in February of 2015, Katy Perry’s message suddenly became something real, not some superstar cause-of-the-day. Kathryn Mauke, age 17, was allegedly killed in her home by an ex-boyfriend. She was a Senior and star student who had just received many awards and scholarships, and was known for her love of all things Katy. Her family and friends have created a social media campaign to try to get Katy’s attention to the story. Their goal is twofold: to increase awareness of dating violence, and to give Kathryn’s sister Mariah an opportunity to meet Katy Perry in person. The family feels a strong connection to their sister through Katy Perry’s music. On the Friends of Kathryn Rose Mauke Facebook page, a post reads, “Katy’s Grammy performance which brought awareness of domestic violence came just 3 days before Kathryn’s murder. Katy is so respected and admired by the younger generation. Her voice would speak so loudly to bring awareness to dating violence with teens. Deaths like Kathryn do not have to happen and could have been avoided with more education on how to identify the signs. More education is needed so that our youth can protect themselves. We need something good to come out of Kathryn’s death and it would be a fitting tribute.”
So, I encouraged my friend to “embrace her weirdness”, as Katy would say. Nothing wrong with finding a little Katy Perry sparkle in your day to help get you through it.