Katy Perry’s MTV Movie Awards performance of “California Gurls” was just the first nibble of what’s undoubtedly one of the most anticipated releases of the summer, not just for her fans, but label execs seeing dollar signs in a follow-up to 2008’s platinum One of the Boys. “Of course, with the music business being in trouble, EMI is thinking I’m gonna make a billion dollars in two months — or that’s what they’re hoping,” Perry told Rolling Stone while recording Teenage Dream (out August 24th). “But as much as I want to play that Top 40 game, like the Ke$has, Rihannas and Gagas, I’ve gotta have more than just a club banger… I think people are wondering, ‘What’s she gonna say next? What story will she tell?’ Not just, ‘What’s her next hit?’ ”
While cooing about popsicles and daisy dukes isn’t exactly mining deep emotional territory, Perry insists her second effort reflects a maturity she’s found since becoming a successful songwriter for the likes of Kelly Clarkson (“I Do Not Hook Up”), finding a fiancé (actor Russell Brand) and becoming an international superstar. What was deemed “cute” in the “I Kissed a Girl” days is now “sexy.” “I liken it to an evolution,” Perry explains. “It may not be about periods, boys and shaving my legs. Fuck it, I don’t even shave my legs anymore!” As for the visual component? Perry likens it to “going from Shirley Temple, Betty Boop to more of a Betty Paige, pop art-sarcastic-fun-Lichtenstein picture: still bright, but the colors are more saturated, and it’s more metallic fuchsia or purple than bubblegum pink.”
While working on the album over the span of several months, Perry says her life felt a lot like the movie Groundhog Day. “I’d wake up, go to the gym, go home, go to the studio, come home, wake up and do it all over again. I’d do that every day besides Sunday, the Lord’s day — day of rest.” During that time, she also immersed herself in seemingly diverging musical references, from “Little Red Corvette”-era Prince to Ace of Bass’ “I Saw the Sign,” hearing — and envisioning — “a record you’d roller skate to.” Along for the knee-highed ride: seasoned hitmakers Dr. Luke, Max Martin, Greg Wells, The-Dream and Christopher “Tricky” Stewart.
So where does Perry, who says her backup career was to be an A&R executive, see herself in today’s girl-heavy pop landscape? Quite simply, somewhere in the middle. “You have Gaga who’s, like, from the future; You have Ke$ha, who relates to all the underage kids that drink beer; You have Rihanna, who’s cool and urban and is like our Grace Jones but with pop hits; And I think there’s still room for a girl that has something to say but does it in her own, sassy style.”
To that end, she has one big advantage: the lyrical prowess, whether intentional or not, of her beloved Brand, who’s currently on the cover of Rolling Stone . “Oh my God, I’m marrying him for his vocabulary,” Perry says. “He says the most genius things all the time! I’ll be, like, ‘Can I use that?’ And he’s, like, ‘It’s all yours, sweetheart.’ ” For instance: “I’ll have these convictions for days — obviously my mother is praying a lot, so I still feel it — and one day he said, ‘Heavy is the head that wears the crown.’ Meaning, when you are meant to do something great, it’s not going to be easy. So I put that lyric in a song called ‘What I’m Living For.’ ” This, of course, begs the question: will Brand have a co-writing credit on the album, entitling him to future royalties? Perry pauses for a moment to consider, then says, “I’ll fuck him. That’ll be enough.”