Katy Perry is among the world's biggest pop artists, but her fans know her current career is actually a second take. She first tried her hand in the music world as a teenager, making Christian music as Katy Hudson. She released an album in 2001, which failed to break through.
"I wanted it to be like Amy Grant, but it didn't pan out that way," Perry says with a laugh. "My label actually went bankrupt, and I was left without a home. And I went back home to Santa Barbara with my Taylor guitar I got for my 16th birthday and started working at an antique shop."
By now we know the downed star would rise again. One of the Boys, her 2008 debut as Katy Perry, put her on the map. But her shift away from church music raises a question: Is she now singing the kind of songs she was once told she couldn't listen to?
"Well, yeah, in some terms. I was raised in a super-sheltered atmosphere where we didn't watch anything besides Trinity Broadcasting Network — which was called TBN — or the Fox News channel. I was never allowed to call deviled eggs 'deviled eggs'; I called them 'angel eggs,' " Perry says. "I think that parents grow up with an idea of what they want their kids to be like — and then their kids grow up to be people of themselves, of their own."
NPR's Scott Simon spoke with Katy Perry on what happens to be the singer's 29th birthday, discussing her new album, Prism, its ubiquitous lead single, "Roar," as well as passing on some questions from younger listeners. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
I don't get to say this a lot on NPR: we're joined now by maybe the biggest pop star in the world.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROAR")
KATY PERRY: (Singing) I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire, 'cause I am a champion, and you're gonna hear me roar...
SIMON: OK. Is there a corner of the world where they're not listening to this song right now? Katy Perry, "Roar," from her new album "Prism." And Katy Perry joins us on what happens to be her birthday. Happy birthday, Ms. Perry. Thanks for being with us.
PERRY: Oh, well, you're very welcome. I'm excited to share it with you guys. I'm a huge fan of NPR.
SIMON: Well, thank you. Let me get you to talk about "Roar." This is a song that, I mean, it's become an anthem already just over the past couple of weeks for people really all over the world. What were you thinking when you wrote it?
PERRY: I was living in a little bit of fear. And I just kind of just listened to myself and I thought, you know what, I need to kind of find that inner strength again 'cause I had just been through a real, a little bit of a self-confidence shattering in my own personal life. And so I was just looking for my voice again, and that came out as a roar.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROAR")
PERRY: (Singing) You held me down, but I got up, already brushing off the dust. You hear my voice, you hear that sound, like thunder gonna shake the ground. You held me down, but I got up, get ready 'cause I've had enough. I see it all, I see it now. I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter...
SIMON: You've been singing, what, all your life really.
PERRY: Since I was nine years old, yes.
SIMON: You began singing as, of course, in church, gospel. And you signed as a Christian artist, right, actually?
PERRY: I did. So, at nine years old, I started singing. I picked up my guitar at 13, which really helped me find myself as an artist. And then from 13 to 16 I started taking these monthly trips to Nashville to be around really fantastic songwriters who helped me kind of figure out my songwriting skills. And even though they were essentially about, you know, my relationship with God at the time, they were ambiguous enough that they could still sound like love songs or what have you.
But that's how I really learned how to carve out a great song was in Nashville, and then I recorded and wrote a Christian album, which I wanted to be very successful. I wanted it to be like Amy Grant, but it didn't pan out that way. And my label actually went bankrupt and I was left without a home, and I went back home to Santa Barbara with my Taylor guitar I got for my 16th birthday and started working at an antique shop.
And then I just had a couple of, like, connections left over from those days in the Christian music industry that I would be, like, taking little trips to Nashville to do background vocals on other people's songs, or - I was always hustling, you know. I was always, like, ready to drop whatever I was doing to meet a producer or a songwriter or an opportunity. But there's, of course, there was a lot more ups and downs in that story 'cause things didn't really kick off until I was 23.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I KISSED A GIRL")
PERRY: (Singing) I kissed a girl and I liked it. The taste of her cherry Chapstick. I kissed a girl just to try it. I hope my boyfriend don't mind it.
SIMON: As I've read, you've had some years of struggle. I mean...
PERRY: Some years of character development.
PERRY: A hard humility process, one that I totally resisted for a very long time. But if I would have gotten what I wanted at 17, I probably would be, God, who knows, I'd be dead or somewhere else with no career.
SIMON: What's the craziest thing you ever sold in an antique shop?
PERRY: I don't remember. But, you know, I bought a lot of things. I bought a leopard coat that wasn't a real leopard coat, of course. I remember in Santa Barbara, which is a beach city that you don't wear fake leopard coats to school - and I went to a Christian school - I showed up after Christmas, you know the day back after Christmas where everybody's wearing all their new gifts? I mean, their shoes are so shiny? I was wearing this leopard coat and it was still really warm and everybody was making fun of me. But you know what I noticed, is that I noticed I had an individual sense of style when all of, like, the bougie(ph) Santa Barbara moms that were picking up the kids from the private school would be like, hey, honey, where did you get that coat? I was like, oh, maybe I'm onto something.
SIMON: So, may I ask: are you singing the kind of music now that once you were told you couldn't listen to?
PERRY: I think that I sing - well, yeah, I mean, in some terms 'cause I was raised in a super-sheltered atmosphere where, you know, we didn't watch anything besides Trinity Broadcasting Network, which is called TBN, and/or Fox News channel. I was never allowed to called deviled eggs deviled eggs. I called them angel eggs. So, to answer your question, I think that parents have an idea of what they want their kids to be like and then their kids grow up and be people of themselves, of their own.
SIMON: You're so big among kids. You are, you know, to the 10-, 17-year-olds, I guess, what Bob Dylan was doing to, you know, a previous generation.
PERRY: I'll take that comparison.
SIMON: Do you want to be something for them? Does it make you...
PERRY: Well, I think I like to be an inspiration. I think when you set out to be an artist, first and foremost - a musician, a rock 'n' roller - you don't come with this kind of, like, hey, I also want to be a role model that, obviously, will let you down because I'm a human being. And a lot of people see me as a role model but I'd like to kind of turn that around and say I appreciate that but I'd like to be seen as an inspiration. Because a role model, I think, will fail you. I mean, I couldn't tell kids when it's time for them to try things or do things. I mean, that's not my role. But, you know, it's funny. I do see myself becoming this, whatever, inspiration out of default right now, 'cause it's such a strange world. Like females in pop - everybody's getting naked. I mean, I've been naked before but I don't feel like I have to always get naked to be noticed. But it's interesting to see...
SIMON: Are you talking about anyone in particular or we can fill in the blank?
PERRY: I'm not talking about anyone in particular. I'm talking about all of them. I mean, it's like everybody's so naked. It's like put it away. We know you've got it. I got it too. I've taken it off for - I've taken it out here and there. And I'm not necessarily judging. I'm just saying sometimes it's nice to play that card but also it's nice to play other cards. And I know I have that sexy card in my deck but I don't always have to use that card. And especially like with this new song called "Unconditionally" that's on the record.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNCONDITIONALLY")
PERRY: (Singing) Oh no, did I get you close, oh, did I almost see what's really on the inside?
This song is about universal love. It's about this higher love or that love that hits you for the first time it feels like a car crash or maybe it's the love of a mother seeing, you know, her firstborn child. But it's almost like a spiritual level of love and acceptance.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNCONDITIONALLY")
PERRY: (Singing) Unconditionally, I will love you unconditionally. There ain't no fear now. Let's go and just be free. I will love you unconditionally.
SIMON: Can I give you some questions from some of your young admirers?
PERRY: Yeah. I'd love to answer 'em.
SIMON: And Danielle and Eden want to know do you have any rituals before you go onstage?
PERRY: Yes. Lately, I've been all ritualed up because I'm trying to build endurance for being back on stage, 'cause I was kind of off the stage for a year and ate a lot of fatty foods and, you know, got a little plump. And that was OK. But now it's time to get back in the game. Sometimes I do this thing called transcendental meditation that helps. So, that's kind of my ritual.
SIMON: Jayzen(ph) - hope I'm pronouncing that correctly - asks - I like this question a lot - what's it like being a pop star?
PERRY: What's it like being a pop star?
PERRY: It's a balancing act. It's like dancing and running and jumping and sleeping all on a balancing beam. But it's super fun and sometimes you get a great soundtrack to go along with that dance.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIMON: Katy Perry speaking from Los Angeles. Her new album is called "Prism" and it's out now. Thank you very much for being with us.
PERRY: Thank you for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIRTHDAY")
PERRY: (Singing) Why don't you let me stop by? The clock is ticking, running out of time, so we should party all night. So, cover your eyes, I have a surprise, I hope you got a healthy appetite...
SIMON: How do you expect you got to talk after that? For even more Katy Perry, you can go to npr.org and see two videos for her new album, "Prism." Prism, no longer just an NSA program. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.