Making the Grades
“Be yourself and you can be anything,” might be a good movie tag line but it is far from true. Still, who am I to argue with Katy Perry, the only singer, after Michael Jackson, to have five number one singles from one studio album.
If all that fame wasn’t enough, she is following the lead of teen idols Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber and bringing the cameras backstage to document her Part of Me world tour. While most of the film focuses on concert clips, the documentary also includes brief footage of her childhood. The daughter of traveling Pentecostal Christian ministers (Keith and Mary Perry Hudson), she grew up with gospel music. Secular tunes, literature and influences were banned. So to say that her current lifestyle clashes with her upbringing is an understatement. Even her parents and grandmother, though still involved in her life, don’t appear to fully embrace what the wig-wearing musician has become.
On tour, with stage sets that look to be straight out of a Candy Land board game, the former Christian music singer prances around on the platform in colorful, fantastical costumes. Her most famous one may be the peppermint party dress with spinning discs strategically placed on her chest. (She does something similar with what looks like oversized Hershey Kiss candies.) But it is unclear whether or not her inclusion of an Alice in Wonderland costume (a story she was denied as a child) is outright rebellion or just an expression of her individualism.
Without the benefit of sound, her shows look like the perfect party for the tween and teen crowd (though some of the dance moves are suggestive.) But listen and all this outwardly sugary innocence is laced with sexually-themed lyrics. Pop princess or not, there is just something wrong about watching her earnest, starry-eyed young fans sing along to lyrics like “let you put your hands on me in my skin-tight jeans” (Teenage Dream), “No, I don’t even know your name. It doesn’t matter, You’re my experimental game,” (I Kissed a Girl) and “Kiss her, touch her, squeeze her buns…Sun-kissed skin, so hot we’ll melt your popsicle,” (California Gurls).
While parents may not appreciate the sexually charged insinuations or suggestive phrases rolling off the lips of their kids, they will likely understand that as empress of the Katy Perry empire, the singer carries a heavy load on her slender shoulders. The livelihood of her team depends on her success. And like or not, they seem eager for her to paste on a smile and carry on with the show, even in the face of her crumbling 14-month marriage to British actor Russell Brand.
How long her chart-topping success continues remains to be seen. I’m sure she hopes this is an extended fireworks show. But for her adoring fans that leave the theater believing they too can be anything they want, the sad truth is some fireworks—and dreams—are duds that burn out quickly, leaving only smoke and ashes behind.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Katy Perry: Part of Me.
Sex sells in the entertainment business. Is Katy’s message really any different from many other performers or is it just how she packages it that differs? Is her individuality expressed in the content of her songs or her appearance?
How many people in this documentary rely on Katy’s success as a performer? Who has she given opportunities to? How difficult would it be to balance interest in a person’s well-being with the need for him or her to succeed as a brand, in this case the Katy Perry brand?
What challenges do the unions of two high profile people face? How much do they differ from couples that are involved in other demanding careers? What sacrifices are needed to make marriage succeed? Do you believe that Hollywood marriages can work?
How does Katy relate to her fans? Do you think that reflects her feelings about having responsibilities as a leader?