It was a slow burn, my coming to love singer Katy Perry, to be sure. Her first big single, “I Kissed A Girl,” had too much of a novelty-pop, one-hit-wonder ring to it for my liking. A year or so later, when I heard her 2010 hit “Teenage Dream,” I still easily brushed her off as just another one a long line of pretty-but-empty singers, pop confections concocted by the music industry specifically to appeal to a demographic I was about three decades too old for. Not for me.
Or so I thought.
But then I heard another single from the same album, “Firework.” And something in me started to give way, slowly, upon each repeat listening, until the moment finally came when I heard the chorus and it brought tears to my eyes. The genuine sweetness, and jubilant encouragement and empathy embedded in the tune was, I finally recognized, wholly irresistible.
At some point in listening to that chorus – in the heart-crunching, awe-filled exclamation, “Oh! Oh! Oh!” to be exact – I released my preconceived notions about Perry, and became interested in what she was doing musically.
But it really wasn’t until I watched Perry’s 2012 tour documentary, Part Of Me, that I became something like a true fan. The movie, which follows Perry on her 2011 California Dreams tour, provides a glimpse into her upbringing and family roots (her parents are Christian ministers), as well as into her long, frustrated career in the music industry pre-“I Kissed A Girl.” There are some incredibly touching moments in the film as well, most notably those involving her break-up with then husband Russell Brand. In one scene, backstage just before a concert in Rio De Janiero, Perry breaks down in full body sobs in front of the camera after finding a long-lost necklace Brand had given her for her birthday. We then watch as she somehow manages to gather herself together, don an outrageously comic costume, and force enough of a smile to walk out on stage and perform in front of thousands, despite her obvious pain. It’s equal parts heart wrenching and inspirational.
Later, talking about the failure of her marriage in the film, Perry comes off as so grounded and sincere and genuinely heartbroken, you just want to reach through he screen and hug her:
I know, I’m kind of stupidly gushing, right? Did I mention yet that after renting Part Of Me three times back-to-back I just went ahead and bought the thing, and now watch it more frequently and regularly than is probably seemly for a woman of my advanced age? Or that just yesterday, after my best friend asked me to attend a Lady Gaga concert with her later this month, I agreed to do so ONLY with a promise from her that we’d take my daughter to go see Perry whenever she’s next on tour? And that moments after this conversation I then sent her a gift certificate in the *exact amount* it costs to stream Part Of Me on amazon video?
It’s like I’m a frickin’ pusher or something. A Perry Pusher, as it were. COUGH.
But that’s what happens when something – whether it’s music or a movie or a book – really hooks its claws into your heart, right? You want everyone you know, but especially those you know and love, to see what you see in the thing. Because it’s like some piece of you, of who YOU are, is buried within it that you want seen and known.
Can you guys even believe I’m saying all of this about KATY PERRY? GAH, I know, I know. And trust me, I’m really the girl least likely to. I was born and raised on hard guitar rock, and was a complete butthole of an indie/post-punk rock snob through most of my twenties and thirties. So I don’t know what to make of my feelings about Perry, honestly. Is it growth, or regression? Am I losing my edge, or just losing my old, tired pretensions?
Does it even matter? Probably not.
What matters, at bottom, is just what you like – justifications and explanations aside. And this song?
Well, my daughter and I listen to it every single day together on the ride home from her school, each of us singing along, each connecting in wholly different – but related – ways to the lyrics:
Throw your sticks and stones
Throw your bombs and your blows
But you’re not gonna break my soul
This is the part of me that you’re never gonna ever take away from me, no
We jokingly call it our “Girl Power Anthem.” But joking aside, that’s not far from the truth. And what girl – age 10 or (ahem) 40-something – couldn’t use another empowering anthem in her arsenal, right?
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