When Katy Perry is first seen ascending to the stage of the Staples Center, she wears a sparkling pink dress on which mechanized discs painted to look like peppermint candies spin around, most prominently over her chest. This is, we eventually discover, the first of many wardrobe choices inspired by candy and confections; she dons dresses that either completely look like or are in some way inspired by ice cream sundaes, cupcakes, full-tiered cakes, a gigantic ribbon of candy dots, and even Hershey Kisses. She wears a series of brightly colored wigs to enhance her look, ranging from hot pink to neon blue to light purple. This vibrant, whimsical, almost cartoonish sense of fantasy extends to the sets and props, making the stage look vaguely like a scene from the game Candyland. She has put herself into a world of pure imagination, all the while singing songs drawn from her very real life experiences.
Katy Perry: Part of Me, the newest in a recent series of pop idol concert films/backstage documentaries, intercuts performance footage from her California Dreams Tour with personal interviews and fan testimonials. I cannot sit here and say that any new ground has been broken, but I can say I found the film to be very entertaining, in large part because of Perry’s collection of catchy songs, including “Hot n Cold,” “Firework,” “E.T.,” “I Kissed a Girl,” “Peacock,” “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” and “Part of Me.” It would be too much to say that I found the film deeply informative (it exists primarily for fans who already know her story), although I certainly did learn some things about her, most notably the fact that, whether she’s onstage or off, she’s an incredibly likeable person that exudes warmth, good humor, and an irresistible girlish charm that makes her seem seventeen rather than twenty-seven.
Of everything we’re told about her rise to superstardom, the most telling to me was her upbringing as the daughter of born again pastors, whose Pentecostal beliefs forbade exposure to anything secular or non-Christian. Perry’s older sister, Angela Hudson, admits that she hadn’t heard of Michael Jackson until she was fourteen, while her younger brother, David, explains that none of them were allowed to eat Lucky Charms cereal, as the word “luck” means “of Lucifer.” When it came to music, only gospel was allowed; Perry got her first taste of pop rock when she saw the music video for Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” at a friend’s house. Could it be that she adopted her current image and style of music as an act of rebellion, mild though it may be? Surely she knew from the start that “I Kissed a Girl” would not be her parents’ favorite song. Her father, Keith Hudson, admits that when he first heard it, he thought it would end his ministry.
We get a brief synopsis of Perry’s professional career. At age fifteen, under her birth name Katy Hudson, she made her debut in Nashville with an unsuccessful gospel rock album. At age seventeen, she moved to Los Angeles and met songwriter/record producer Glen Ballard, who not only exposed her to the world of pop music but also helped her hone her songwriting skills. Despite his help over several years, the album they would produce would be cancelled, with most of the songs being released on Perry’s MySpace page. She would be dropped by the record label. In 2004, at age twenty, she was signed onto Columbia Records, only to be relegated to female vocalist for a record production team on an album that would ultimately be shelved. Again, she was dropped. It wasn’t until she signed with Capitol Music Group and the 2008 release of her album One of the Boys that mainstream success finally caught up with her.
Her personal life is for the most part not addressed, although short interviews with her family and close associated are featured. Her marriage to and subsequent divorce from Russell Brand is mentioned, albeit without his input and with no real insight as to how and why either event came to be. We can certainly deduce that Perry’s tour schedule, which only allowed her three days out of eighteen-day blocks to visit Brand in Los Angeles, contributed to the demise of their marriage. Whatever the cause, Perry’s sadness over it is not lost on the audience. When the tour makes a stop in São Paulo, she sinks into a depression and, during one of the performances, is crying so badly that she nearly doesn’t go on stage. When she finally does, we see her making a tremendous effort to produce a smile for the audience.
The film is advertised as a 3D experience, although recent viewings of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and Glee: The 3D Concert Movie, in which only select scenes made use of the process, have taught me to be wary of such claims. True to form, the 3D of Katy Perry: Part of Me is reserved for the concert portions, specific interview segments, the opening credits, and, interestingly enough, all featured still photographs. I personally find this presentation method very annoying. 3D or 2D – make up your mind. Why should we watch a flat image through light-dimming glasses? You would definitely be better off opting for a 2D viewing, not just because it’s less expensive, but also because you will be looking at a much brighter picture. This will come in handy when taking in Perry’s colorful outfits, all of which look good enough to eat.