Monday, November 12, 2012

Under 250: Katy Perry: Part of Me

Like What to Expect When You're Expecting, I decided to watch Katy Perry's big bright piece of propaganda as a means of getting through yet another tedious project (there seem to be a lot of those these days).  While I have my share of problems with Perry's candy burlesque, do not understand her apparent obsession with firing various substances from her breasts (whipped cream, fireworks, etc), find her overtly girly Barbie femininity difficult, and am frankly annoyed she's basically been living off the same album for the past two years, my great love of camp, kitsch, and artifice forces me to secretly relish elements of her act. Well, that and I'm becoming increasingly interested in pop music's very different ideas on what it means to be feminine/a feminist. So, I've paid attention to Katy Perry. I get it. Fuck it, sometimes I'll even play along (let's be real here: that's some well constructed bubble gum music).

If you have the slightest bit of interest in pop music as artifact, Part of Me is innocuous enough and very much in keeping with Perry's branding. While it pretends to be a backstage documentary, it's a fairly clear confection. Here, Perry seems to be attempting to publicly reconcile the disparate parts of her persona: she is a sex symbol and an innocent, a bubbly personality from a very Christian upbringing who made a mark exploiting an act of intoxicated lesbianism ("I Kissed a Girl"), her songs promote horrific acts of self destruction (listen closely to "Last Friday Night") and yet she's a hardworking woman, she's an overgrown child who married (and divorced) one of the most notorious personalities in comedy. She is a paradox: in control and yet perhaps not aware. Where Gaga plays with her fame to make herself a benevolent, protective mother monster and Rihanna explores a 'don't give a damn' aggressive sexuality, Katy Perry seems to just want to play. Part of Me cuts through the pin-up image and shows us a construction of Perry as girl  The concert footage is boring as hell, but the backstage cuts between Katy out of makeup and Katy in character offer a fascinating contrast. When she tries to prove that she's sincere, she comes off as phony, when she isn't trying, she seems completely sincere.  The quiet moments away from tabloid fodder are the most revealing, and while the film talks a big game about living your dreams, what I saw was a woman who has done just that and discovered that her dreams are much more complicated than she imagined.  There's sadness hiding in the ebullience. Katy Perry is unsure, she acknowledges that she is still growing, she admits that she does not see herself as an adult (though she's 28). And while the preteens may fall harder for the pop idol projection, I found myself liking the girl behind the cartoon, the personality committing to making these decisions.

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