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Sex, God & Katy Perry

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Praising the Lord through song in church was normal to her too, but she never thought of it as a career—at least not until she was nine, when Angela came back from a trip to her godparents' with a new perm and a gospel demo tape. But singing was always Perry's "gift," at least that's the way her parents saw it, and they supported her once she decided she wanted to pursue it professionally. She began performing at the local farmers' market two days a week, collecting change, and proved to be gifted at impromptu speechifying too: In an old video of a performance that she shows me, she grabs a mic to inform the crowd, smiling from ear to ear, that "if you don't live your life for Christ—I'm just going to say it—life is pretty empty, and, well, there may be no reason to live at all."

By the time Katy was 13, her parents were chaperoning her to Nashville to pursue a gospel-singing career, and she managed to put out a record on a small label a couple of years later. One of her promotional posters, in which she seems to be screaming in ecstasy, features her in a spiky-haired "lesbian haircut"—at least that's the way she describes it today—with a lot of rubber-band bracelets on her wrists. "I was Christian but modern," she says. But Perry had a secret: She wanted to be a pop star, too. "Whenever I went to a friend's house, I would immediately turn on MTV," she says. "The other kids would say, 'Why are you watching this? Let's do something else,' and I would be like, 'No. I have to watch.' It was all about Gwen Stefani's 'Don't Speak' and 'Just a Girl,' Alanis Morissette and Shirley Manson for me."

Perry started to question the path she was on. Her Christian label shut down, and, she says, "My gospel career was going nowhere." She started to write songs about love—and boys—on her guitar. And those weren't gospel songs. "Letting go was a process," she says. "Meeting gay people, or Jewish people, and realizing that they were fine was a big part of it. Once I stopped being chaperoned, and realized I had a choice in life, I was like, 'Wow, there are a lot of choices.' I began to become a sponge for all that I had missed—the music, the movies. I was as curious as the cat." She smiles. "But I'm not dead yet."

Perry remains close with her parents. "In their prayers, they might wish that Katy was the next big Christian singer, like Crystal Lewis," says Angela. "There was a little moment of shock when she came out as a star a couple years ago, but they've handled everything really well." Her parents still proselytize against pop culture, and Perry tries not to throw her personal life in their faces, never talking to her mom about sex or anything like that. "I only told her I'd had sex when I played a game at my cousin's bridal shower at 21," says Perry. "I was like, 'Hey, I'm not a virgin anymore.' Then I said, 'Mom, can you pass the deviled eggs?'"

The next day, in a light blue sundress and free of makeup and heels, Perry looks so plain that I don't even recognize her when she walks into a mastering studio in Hollywood. She's also in a terrible mood. The­cotton-candy scent that's supposed to go in the Teenage Dream packaging isn't quite right, and she's just been informed that the Beach Boys have served notice that Snoop Dogg's line about wishing that all the girls could be California girls violates their copyright. She takes a seat on a red-velvet couch in the studio and waves a hand. "As much as I want a Beach Boys credit on my album, we have to take it out," she says. "You want a Brian Wilson credit, not a Mike Love credit," says one of her managers. "Well, you said it, not me," she says.

After a few hours, Perry jumps into her black Audi for the drive to her studio a few blocks away. "The AC smells like stinky pussy," she says, cranking it up. "Need to get that fixed. Sorry about that." Leonard Cohen's band seems to be practicing here today—"star-struck!"—and she thinks M.I.A. may be rehearsing across the hall. "I love M.I.A., but I don't think she likes me," she says, not so sotto voce. "I know how people who are anti-pop but are really pop feel about pop stars."

Perry roams around the rehearsal room giving orders to her tour manager, who has planned candy props for an upcoming show in the Bahamas instead of palm trees. "It's summery, so we need those trees," she says decisively. "I want glowing ones, like we had for the MTV awards, but really big ones!" She's pushier than one would expect, given her girlie persona and love of all things cute. Her longtime manager, Bradford Cobb, says that when they first met, she did cartwheels down the hall into his office, then finished off with a series of splits. "How else was I going to get him to listen to me?" says Perry, shrugging her shoulders.

When she jumps onstage, Perry seems almost punk, kicking her leg out here and there; Perry's live persona was crafted by a summer spent on the Warped Tour when her first album dropped. "I wanted to add Katy because I'd heard her rec­ord and knew she had some attitude," says Kevin Lyman, the founder of the tour. "When I saw her at the kickoff party, I was like, 'Hmm, I don't know,' because the stage presence wasn't there, but she worked hard every day and became a great live artist."

Perry's success is extremely hard-won, much more than other pop stars'. After her Katy Hudson gospel album, she was signed three times and dropped twice. At 16, she decided to become a pop star. She pursued Glen Ballard, Morissette's producer. Ballard was immediately smitten with her. "When Katy's father brought her to my studio, I thought she was just going to hand me some music to hear," says Ballard. "But she came in with her guitar, and sat right down to play me a song. At that moment, I thought she was extraordinary. She's never had any fear."

When she was 17, two years after she earned her GED, Perry moved to L.A. with a deal at Def Jam, rooming with a Christian singer who had her parents' approval. "I was in Beverly Hills with my new Jetta, thinking that my album was about to come out, and I was so excited," she said. "Then nothing happened. It was like, 'Wow, my car's getting repossessed, I have no money, and I'm living on Cahuenga, under the Hollywood sign." A couple of years later, Ballard took Perry with him to Columbia Records, where she recorded an entire album with the Matrix production team, but the plug was pulled at the last moment because the company didn't think the timing was right. A source close to Perry says that they were concerned over small details, like the fact that her haircut was too similar to Ashlee Simpson's, who was hot at that moment (and never again).

Perry was devastated. "To have a whole album recorded, and never have it come out," she says, then trails off and shakes her head. "But I really believe it's part of my destiny. Or the plan. Or whatever."

After marking out her Bahamas show, Perry gets back into her car and heads home for a late dinner. Brand is filming the Arthur remake in New York for three months, so she's alone in L.A. "I like long-distance relationships, actually," she says. "They work for me." She pulls into her small gated compound in Los Feliz, with Brand's Range Rover in the driveway, a pool and an enormous tepee filled with pillows on the front lawn, where she entertains guests when the nights are warm. "We had six guys here to put the tepee up," says Perry, twirling around. "I never thought I would own anything, let alone a house like this. Russell's old place in London is gothic and romantic, and in my old place, every room was painted a different Easter-egg color, so we tried to make this house neutral. He has really good taste, and I'm still learning." Their cats have moved in together too: Kitty Purry, with her fancy lion-cut hairdo, and Morrissey, black and white like a panda. In the basement, they circle each other warily, neither sure of the other's intentions.

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