Right off the bat I have to confess that I only really know three Katy Perry songs. No, wait... four. I Kissed A Girl, E.T., Firework, and... huh, that other one. California Dreams? Dreamin? I might know five. I can’t count and I don’t know. I cheated and looked her up on iTunes. Wide Awake. Hot N Cold. Also it’s California Gurls. Spelled just like that. So that’s six! Six Katy Perry songs.
Katy’s movie opens with her stylist creating Candy Couture. Or whatever it is that you call spinning peppermint boobs, layer cake skirts, and candy floss tulle. Wonka Wear? Sugar Chic? “How could you ever be too cartoony?” Katy is truly like an anime thing. A live anime. Is that an oxymoron? “My dream has always been to be onstage in, like, a glittery costume.” Well I don’t even need to write. This can be a hands-free review.
Her stage is aggressively pastel. Aggressively. It’s pink and fluffy and candy-striped and it might be giving me a cavity. She’s singing something about being a teenage dream tonight. Oh! She has an upside-down ice cream cone fascinator which, alright, I admit I might kind of want.
Day 6. That’s not how long I’ve been watching, that’s what day of the tour Katy’s on. And she wants a hot dog. This is groundbreaking stuff. We are seeing deep behind the curtain now. Hey, I know this song! This is one of the six! Hot N Cold. So this song is what I hilariously refer to when I discuss my inability to be temperate in any given environment. I’m always hot and cold and hot and cold. “I’m Katy Perry up in here” is what I say.
Her makeup guy is So. Excited. He uses the phrase “plucked from obscurity” and his eyes widen. Also her sister tours with her. That’s cute. I have nothing bad to say about that.
Meanwhile Hot N Cold is still going and she’s changed outfits so many times onstage - that’s the gimmick - conical curtain pulls up, drops down, she’s in a different sweet-themed dress. I don’t know what to say except that is a lot of pointless work. Though the neapolitan dress where she looks exactly like a cross section of a tub of ice cream amuses me greatly.
Katy’s grandma, who is wearing purple (Katy’s “favorite color”), who appears to live in Vegas, and who has all of the magazines with Katy on the cover displayed on her end table, is really quite adorable.
The background of Katy’s life growing up immersed in Christianity is both strange and understandable. I can identify with the total immersion though she had a much more intense time of it than I did. Her parents, traveling evangelical preachers, come off as theatrical. With that charlatan edge that gives so many preachers a bad name. And perhaps they are charlatans. Or perhaps they aren’t. But any upbringing with any sort of strict boundaries or full religious flavor will seem highly unorthodox alongside the pastel boobs-and-froth hype of Katy’s public persona. She has voluntarily made overexposure, coy revelations, and sugary teasing a normal way of life so the juxtaposition will be striking. She is very like many pastor’s kids I have known: talented and shackled with moral restrictions that they wriggle free of with wild acting out. The everyday rigors of growing up are both exacerbated and ignored by the religion so the rebellion is exaggerated when it happens. Katy is exactly a product of her upbringing.
This next sequence attempts to chronicle the lengths that Katy went to in covering the physical distance between her and Russell Brand while she was on tour. Say what you want about either of them, both of them, or their marriage, but Katy would do a week of shows in Europe then fly to LA to see Russell for three days before flying right back into a show. That is a mad schedule. A punishing one. It also tries to paint Katy as a gritty struggling artist. And indeed she appears to have been strung along by her label for awhile, with albums dying from a lack of promotion, languishing in limbo neither making it nor being dropped, being told to become the next Avril Lavigne or whatever. Everyone struggles, though. Everyone. And Katy’s story contains no more of a struggle than any artist’s does. This film talks a lot about Katy, attempting to paint her as this or that, but Katy herself does very little presentation. All the talking is intercut with performances from the Teenage Dream tour but her songs are not truly soul-searching and they aren’t quite deep. So it rings false. While it may be true that she suffered it looks try-hard and, like everything else in this show, very processed.
She’s having her I Kissed A Girl moment in the narrative now. The song that launched her. And like anything in the entertainment business these days the launch is astronomical and out of proportion with anything that came before. This song created a monster.
E.T. I know this song and I actually quite like it. Perhaps because it’s not sickly sweet in tone. She’s also wearing a glittery strategically-ripped black catsuit on stage now. And they are intercutting the performance of this song with the story of her and Russell getting together. So... he’s the extra-terrestrial, right? I mean that’s the subtext, isn’t it? It’s a heavy-handed metaphor. Katy uses the phrase “I found the love of my life” here and of course that’s meant to be a harbinger of doom to come. It’s terrible that we are waiting for the fall. Through all this candy floss nonsense we’re really waiting for the dissolution of a marriage.
“Thank you so much for believing in my weirdness.”
Day 141. I’m feeling every one of those one hundred and forty-one days, I can’t lie. Katy Perry has now achieved five number one singles from the same album. Something, they point out in this, not even Madonna or The Beatles managed to do. Now a litany of celebrities either interact with Katy or talk to the camera about her. This whole sequence is one giant name-drop. It’s like the worst-ever GOOP newsletter. Though the part where Lady Gaga sweeps past her wearing some batshit ensemble involving a giant flying saucer hat that prompts Katy to call after her “You look like a Hershey’s kiss!” is singularly awesome.
Okay, she’s at the cat cafe in Tokyo. I honestly do need to go there. Katy and Tokyo are made for each other, really. She’s an anime character with blue hair and an ample chest. It’s like Japan invented her.
Day 287. The sequence preceding this shows Katy looking quite run down behind the scenes. Haggard. Mostly exhausted. And this is the lead in to her talking about not being ready for motherhood and the strain on her marriage is showing clearly now. She talks to the camera about compromise and sacrifice and how love is the dream but the reality is work. It’s a bit heartbreaking, knowing what’s coming, to hear her dedicate a song “to all the lovers here tonight” onstage. She knows, in this moment, that it’s ending with Russell. It all spiraled downward. I give her credit for strength, for crazy grit in career terms. Her personal breakdown over the divorce, behind the scenes, is utterly stripped bare in comparison. She just lays there, in silent misery. They give her the option to back out of the concert in Brazil but she doesn’t take it. And then, all made up and about to start, she just doubles over between her dancers and sobs. It’s the most raw moment in the entire film. The peppermint costume, the dim lighting backstage, the chanting of the crowd, and Katy dissolved in genuine grief. Then she just... goes on. It’s horrendous to watch. And beautiful.
Day 356. Katy is onstage in a soundcheck. Subdued, she is clearly elsewhere in her thoughts, then she sings an acoustic version of Hey Jude and it’s lovely. The performance is intercut with wedding dress shopping for her sister.
Firework. It’s an appropriate if very obvious song to place next in the queue. Katy is a firework! She will sparkle again. Literally, in a swimsuit decorated with light-up gumdrops.
“How was the concert, grandma?”