KATY Perry is a record-breaking pop star.
She’s the first female to have five number one Billboard number one songs from a single album, a record she shares with Michael Jackson. She’s the most popular Twitter user in the world and manages it all while also being staunchly political and bubblegum sweet.
But Katy Perry came from a repressive Christian family, with parents who thought the Lord was inside them. She has said she had no childhood, that she was denied access to books and has claimed she had no formal education.
Psychedelic parents turn super-strict
Katy Perry was raised in Santa Barbara, California by two religious pastors, Keith and Mary Hudson. A self-described, “dynamic couple” of “prophet/evangelists” who claim “The Lord spoke to them during a Pat and Buddy Harrison conference in 1979”, the pair are born again, with a party hard history.
In the sixties, Keith and Mary were wild — they did drugs, partied with rock stars and celebrities and were part of the counterculture movement. Perry’s mother dated Jimi Hendrix.
“My parents have stories. They probably have better stories than I do,” she told Katie Couric in 2009.
“My dad was a part of Strawberry Fields Forever and hung out with Timothy Leary.”
Timothy Leary was a Harvard psychologist, who was fired for his experimentation with LSD in the college in 1963. He became an antihero of youth in the sixties, promoting a countercultural movement that encouraged illicit drug use, his catchphrase being, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”
In 2009 Perry told a Scottish newspaper that her father was involved in the manufacturing and dealing of LSD with Leary. Perry’s father now describes himself as a vessel for the Lord, to turn people away from sin, among other things.
Early career controversy
In 2017 Perry came out of the closet about her own sexuality and experiences growing up in a strict evangelical household.
She was speaking as the recipient of the National Equality Award at the Human Rights Campaign Gala. She claimed her own lyrics in I Kissed A Girl were a way of painting her “fantasies” into “bite sized pop songs”.
“I did more than that. How was I gonna reconcile that with the gospel singing girl that was raised in youth groups, that were [actually] pro-conversion camps?
“So for most of my unconscious youth, I prayed the gay away at my Jesus camps.”
She credits singing as being the ‘gift’ that introduced her to people outside her bubble.
Perry has previously been harshly criticised for her demeaning lyricism and flippant minstrelising of gay culture, which is most famed in her mega hit I Kissed A Girl, which continues: ‘And I liked it, I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it.
But it didn’t quite start there.
Her first single, entitled, UR So Gay, is arguably up for lyrical interpretation. The song describes Perry at her wits’ end with a boyfriend who is self-obsessed and overly sensitive — a vegetarian, MySpace-using, scarf-wearing fashionista. What Perry is probably describing is a metrosexual — a term that was popular in 2007.
Retrospective reflections on the song, however, do Perry no favours — few people remember the ‘metrosexual’, or that the song wasn’t really criticised at the time. The people she skewers most in the song are the gay community — a community she has gone to great lengths to embrace through philanthropy and activism.
Peter Tatchell, a gay rights campaigner, told the Guardian he found the lyrics implicitly demeaning to gay people. “I am sure Katy would get a critical reception if she expressed comparable sentiments in a song called ‘UR so black, Jewish or disabled.’”
“When I was growing up homosexuality was synonymous with the word ‘abomination’,” she said, while accepting her National Equality Award.
A difficult upbringing
As a child, Perry was only allowed to listen to gospel music. Her mother read to her from the Bible and denied her access to any other books.
She was forbidden to use the phrase ‘devilled eggs’ and has described generational racism, saying education “was not the first priority. My education started in my 20s”.
They picketed rock concerts as a family, including a Marilyn Manson concert, where they handed out pamphlets entitled “How to find God”. In an interview with US Vogue, Perry said she found entering the concert “really interesting and weird — I got it.”
She said her childhood was about conditioning with layers continually “dropping off of me by the day.”
“I didn’t have a childhood,” she told Vanity Fair in 2011, going on to say she was given a warped view of Planned Parenthood, thinking it was an abortion clinic where she was likely to get bombed.
Perry said her cultural experience was shallow, with Christian singers taking the place of pop stars in her upbringing. Her first career incarnation was as Katy Hudson (her real name) where she released a gospel record for the failing label Red Hill Records. The Christian magazine Cross Rhythms gave the album nine stars out of ten.
Turning her back on tradition
A 2011 NY Post article, titled “Katy Perry’s parents condemn her lifestyle while cashing in on her eternal damnation”, slammed her parents’ ministry. It details long sermons by Keith Hudson which are watched on by his wife, where he describes his daughter as being “lured away by Satan.”
Her first hit single, I Kissed a Girl, was publicly disavowed by her parents, her mother saying, “I hate the song. It clearly promotes homosexuality and its message is shameful and disgusting.”
Skewering their daughter on many levels, her mother went on to say she refused to listen to the song, only bowing her head to pray when it came on.
“What she is doing and the message she is promoting regarding homosexuality which the Bible clearly states is a sin.”
She went on to criticise her outfits as “too revealing” and described her career as a “period of rebellion.”
Following the announcement of Perry’s divorce from Russell Brand, her mother gave a
sermon where she reflected on the media interest in her daughter’s failed marriage, labelling it a divine gift to bring them more followers.
“I’m sure Katy is trending on the internet just to get you to church tonight,” she said.
Her father joined in, reassuring the congregation, “God has given us a platform to go in and meet people — and they like us because we are cool.”
In January 2012 following her split from Brand, Perry tweeted: “Concerning the gossip, I want to be clear that NO ONE speaks for me. Not a blog, magazine, ‘close sources’ or my family.
A controversial marriage
“Russell Brand is into Hinduism, and I’m not [really] involved in it,” said Perry. “I come from a very non-accepting family, but I’m very accepting.”
“Russell has made very blasphemous jokes in the past, but he’s making fewer all the time because he knows that I am very sensitive about this subject.”
The two wed in India 2010 in a traditional Hindu ceremony.
Rumours have swirled about what ended the 14-month marriage, including conflicting schedules, Brand mocking Perry’s parents’ blind religiosity and Brand’s ultimate disillusionment with his wife’s pursuance of her pop career.
A 2015 documentary on Russell Brand, Brand: A Second Coming, fleetingly touches on his failed marriage to Perry, including an interview between the pair. Brand has just taken a charity trip to Nairobi where he struggles while watching young children forage for food through rubbish littered with hypodermic needles.
He returns home to attend lavish parties with his pop star wife and struggles to cope with the dissonance in his life.
Brand becomes upset, stating: “Oh my f**king God. I’m living like this life … the very thing I detest. A vapid, vacuous celebrity.”
The film goes on to document his transformation from the aforementioned in a political activist and self-appointed spokesman for the underserved minorities in Britain and larger spheres of the Western world. His marriage, however, still exists.
Confronting his wife about the dilemma of wealth and guilt, an awkward conversation ensues. “I don’t want to give this up,” Perry says, of the monumental fame and success she’s worked so hard to build.
She walks out of the interview, grabbing Brand’s hand and dragging him with her.
“This is stupid!,” she says in her incandescent, babyish voice, in a puffy A-line skirt.
Later in the documentary, Brand says, “I cut people out of my life if I think things aren’t functioning.”
The two infamously broke up over a text message Brand sent while Perry was on tour.
As her fame grew, the star embraced being outspoken
She has consistently described her role within her family as being “the black sheep.” Perry has not shied away from striking out on her own and standing up for what she believes in.
Perry aligned herself with the US democratic party at the last election, performing at the Democratic National Convention in a stars and stripes choker.
“Both of my parents are pastors and staunch Republicans,” she said.
“I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton. I don’t have a formal education, but I do have an open mind and a voice.
“Misogyny and sexism were in my childhood: I have an issue with suppressive males and not being seen as equal.” she told Vogue in May 2017, reflecting on the election of Donald Trump.
“I think you have to stand for something,” she added, possibly digging at her stubbornly apolitical feuding partner Taylor Swift.
“And if you’re not standing for anything, you’re really just serving yourself, period, end of story.”
Swift and Perry have traded barbs over the years, which Swift attributed to Perry “stealing” (or rehiring) three dancers for a tour, requiring them to abandon Taylor’s Red tour halfway through its run.
“We weren’t really dancing in Taylor’s tour anyway, so I had got a little bored,” Lockhart Brownlie, one of the dancers, told The Daily Examiner.
Swift described the event as, “so horrible,” claiming in a Rolling Stone interview. the situation was Perry trying to “sabotage an entire arena tour. She tried to hire a bunch of people out from under me.”
Signalling a possible end to the years-long bitter feud, Perry recently sent Swift a literal olive branch with a letter that begins, “Hey old friend, I’ve been doing some reflecting on past miscommunications and the feelings between us. I really want to clear the air …”
Perry claims to have reconciled her faith and friendship with her parents
“The Lord told us when I was pregnant with her that she would do this,” her mother told Vanity Fair in 2011, of Perry’s fame.
Hinting at a return to religion in February, Perry said that to deal with childhood trauma, she was planning a “soul overhaul” in preparation for starting her own family. “This last year has been about killing my ego … I’m nervous, but I don’t think I have a choice anymore.”
Two months later, Perry and her partner Orlando Bloom met the Pope, whom she lovingly described as being “a rebel. A rebel for Jesus”; likely traits the self-described black sheep could align herself with.
She loves that he named himself after her favourite saint (Saint Francis of Assisi, who took a vow of poverty and rejected all material possessions) and that he is often depicted with woodland creatures, reminding her of Snow White, her favourite Disney character.
Perry says of her twenties, “I was just a little bit secular.
“I was more materialistic and more career-driven.”
This April, Perry shared a photo of her wrist with a large “Jesus” tattoo across her wrist, coloured by a rainbow shard of light in April this year.
“My mum has prayed for me my entire life.”