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.
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?
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.