Katy Perry: Outside the Box
Story by Marie Lodi / Photography by Juno Calypso / Styling by Patti Wilson
08 February 2019
Katy Perry has college on the brain. The singer, who is taking a break from both making an album and going on tour this year, is considering a foray into the scholarly life. She's even checked out a college at Oxford for mature students. "A lot of people go who have already had success in their careers at 45, and they're like, 'Well, what the fuck do I do now?' That was interesting, because it would be very Harry Potter for me," she says. Perry says she still loves music, but the touring part — which she's been known to continuously do for as long as two years — really "tires [her] out."
Imagining the classes she'd take one day, she lists "Anthropology, Astronomy, Egyptology, Comparative Religious Studies," continuing, "I like the history of things. I like storytelling. I like philosophical studies and mystical studies. I love knowing about sacred geometry and stuff like that." Perry's inquisitive and introspective. "[My chart is] triple Scorpio. Very, very sensitive, but strong with everything," she says. She's also someone who's always possessed a keen curiosity about the world and who was, as she puts it, frequently "questioning everything."
Dress: Charles Jeffrey, Jewelry: Adina Mills
Born Katheryn Hudson in Santa Barbara, California, Perry was raised with her two siblings in a strict, religious household. She told Vogue in 2017 that she once handed out How to Find God pamphlets at a Marilyn Manson concert. "I had lived in a bubble," says Perry. "I was always asking, Why? Not just to be an asshole, just because I've always been super curious." When she was 16, Perry released a Christian gospel album and went on a small tour throughout the country — her first taste of the world outside the bubble. "I think travel is such a great way to open your perspectives," she says. "You meet so many people and you're forced into so many different situations that are good for your [growth]."
It was at 17 when she felt like she was "backsliding," a Christian term that implies turning away from God. That same year she got discovered by Alanis Morissette producer Glen Ballard and moved to L.A., renting an apartment in Beverly Hills. "It was very chic. I was like, This is so much, because I came from a lower- to middle-class family. Every fight my parents had was about money." Around that same time, Perry went on a writing trip to the English countryside with Ballard and Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, with whom she penned a song about sex called "Nothing Like the First Time." "I felt so bad, but then I loved it," she says. She began writing about "everything she was feeling," with the intention of sharing an honest and open perspective about her life experiences, relationships and mental health. "Not always just writing about the good times, but writing about the bad times, my curiosities, heartbreak, depression, all that stuff," as she puts it. In 2008, Perry released her first album on a major record label, One of the Boys, which produced the wildly popular — but, at the time, somewhat controversial — hit, "I Kissed a Girl."
Dress and Collar: Vera Wang
From there, Perry went on to release the 2010 hit album Teenage Dream, which became the second album in history (after Michael Jackson's Bad) to produce five No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. As thrilling as it all was, Perry says that during this period she felt like she was "hanging onto a rocket for dear life." She had become a workhorse, touring for an entire year, which was famously depicted in her 2012 documentary, Katy Perry: Part of Me. "I didn't really have any grasp on reality. I was just working so much. After I got off a tour, I'd go straight into the studio, blah, blah, blah." But Perry is proud to say that she hardly ever cancels a concert, even when she's sick. "Sometimes I bite off more than I can chew, but I ended up swallowing well," she says cheekily, in reference to having been able to perform even while fighting a stomach bug that almost had her vomit onstage. But Perry is taking it easier these days because she feels she has "rung the bell of being the 'biggest pop star ever' so many times." She continues, "I know how to command the attention of a lot of people for two hours, but I didn't know you have to put salt in the water when you cook."
Dress: Valentino, Hood: Vex, Lingerie: Dead Lotus Couture, Boots: Gareth Pugh, Jewelry: Bulgari
Commanding attention came easy to Perry, both with her voice and her outfits. When she first hit the mainstream with One of the Boys, we were introduced to a Bettie Page for the MySpace/Cobrasnake era. With her black hair, bangs and penchant for outrageously themed clothing, Perry was a walking Candyland character. The experimentation with her style continued through albums, tours and music videos, as she appeared as everything from a geeky '80s teenager to an Egyptian queen to a Marine soldier. As has been the case with many pop stars — particularly those who found fame during times when conversations around identity and social justice were less mainstream — certain outfits and hairstyles were considered to be questionable and have since been called out for cultural appropriation. But, to Perry's credit, her natural desire to learn from her mistakes has allowed her to take this criticism in stride, with a genuine vow to work harder. In a 2017 interview with activist and author DeRay Mckesson for his podcast, Pod Save The People, Perry admitted to her wrongdoings, particularly her 2013 American Music Awards performance in which she portrayed a geisha, as well as her music video for "This Is How We Do," which featured her wearing cornrows. During the conversation, Perry recognized her "white privilege" and promised to do better. "I listened, and I heard, and I didn't know," Perry said to Mckesson at the time. "And I won't ever understand some of those things because of who I am. I will never understand, but I can educate myself, and that's what I'm trying to do along the way."
Hat, Coat and Skirt: Maïssane Zinaï, Top: Sheath, Shoes: Tabitha Simmons
Today, Perry's style, while still closer to the flamboyant end of the spectrum, is a bit more muted. Her daily uniform is what she's got on today — a black Adidas tracksuit, sneakers and gold hoops, her hair, short and blonde with dark roots, hidden underneath a Mickey Mouse baseball cap. "I'm [in] a Madonna/Elton John tracksuit Monday through Friday. But if I'm going out at night, I change," Perry assures. Though Perry has run the gamut when it comes to hair, her current look has been the most impactful evolution. "Changing my hair definitely was the biggest physical transformation I have experienced as a woman." she says. "When you don't have long hair, you really can't hide behind it. Everything is exposed." She's enjoying the grow-out, especially because the look is reminiscent of Who's That Girl?-era Madonna. But don't let the neglected roots fool you, the girl still keeps up with her primping. In fact, Perry just updated her home with a "glam room," complete with a hair-washing station, a move that makes her feel like she really "made it."
And while she's rocking a more pared-back looks these days, she still has a fondness for those wilder pieces like her cupcake bras, merry-go-round dress and toy soldier romper. "I have all of them," says Perry. "I have my costumes, my dancers' costumes, all of my tour sets. My whipped-cream gun." She keeps everything tucked away in a warehouse, but still admits to having somewhat of a clothes problem. "I'm a collector, as I like to call it," she says with a wink. "I don't have cars in my garage, I just have a garage full of clothes. That's how it's always been for all the different houses I've lived in."
Top and Skirt: Sid Neigum, Boots: Gareth Pugh, Belt: YVY, Jewelry: Loree Rodkin
Perry now lives with her boyfriend, Orlando Bloom, and though she describes herself and Bloom as "hoarders by nature," she is all about decluttering — but not in the Marie Kondo, "spark joy" type of way. "My boyfriend doesn't even know that I threw away his toiletry bag while he's been gone," Perry admits. "I told him I got him a new one for Christmas. He said, 'Oh, this has been around the world for 10 years' and he wanted to keep it in a drawer. I was like, 'The moment you leave is the moment this thing is going in the trash.'" Perry attributes her hoarding tendencies to how tight money was growing up. "You get something and you're like, 'I'm never going to get it again' or 'I'll never have the means to get it again.' It's this psychology behind it, when all of a sudden you can just purchase something — it's very wild for your brain."
Perry's collector's impulse is offset by medically diagnosed OCD, related to arranging and cleanliness. "I'm very OCD and I don't say that lightly," she says. Like the hoarding, she thinks it stems from some of the instabilities in her childhood. "It was just a product of me trying to control my environment," she says.
Coat: Noir Kei Ninomiya
It was an interesting time for Perry to put herself on display for the entire world to observe. The 34-year-old Perry describes that year as her most transformative, mentally and spiritually. She had turned 33 just a few months after the release of Witness, which was her post-2016 election, "purposeful pop" album that was met with harsh reviews, with the Washington Post calling it "half-woke" and AllMusic saying it felt "relentless and a shade desperate." After experiencing situational depression from the aftermath, she attended a week-long personal growth program called the Hoffman Process. The program, which she describes as "10 years of therapy in one week," allowed Perry to heal. "I've never felt closer to God," she says. "I've never felt so much release and relief." She credits it with freeing her from "the conditioning of what society thinks" and allowing her to think better, kinder thoughts about herself. She describes the negative chatter that had haunted her mind as an "untuned symphony, just going at all times." Perry has been able to quiet the symphony for the most part. She is also a longtime practitioner of TM, or Transcendental Meditation, the mantra-focused meditation heralded by director David Lynch.
Dress: Gareth Pugh, Rings: Chris Habana
For a world-famous pop star, Perry has always been pretty open about her life. To celebrate the release of 2017's Witness, Perry participated in a Big Brother-style YouTube live stream for four days, allowing the world to watch her sleep, eat, go to therapy and hang out with friends. Perry is open to doing a similar stunt again. She says the project's purpose was to "humanize the person you put on the pedestal." She thinks that when you do this, "then you see yourself in them, and maybe then you can believe in yourself a little bit more to reach those greater heights."
Related | Katy Perry on the Cover of PAPER in 2009
Perry also sees a therapist regularly and has even attended group therapy with her parents. Now that she's older, Perry has welcomed the "dynamic changes" with her folks that come at a certain age. "That happened maybe a little bit quicker for me, because of stepping into this major, matriarchal role [of someone who had] the means to take care of everything, which was not always fun to do," she says. "I feel so grateful to be able to do it, because that's all you ever want. You want the kids to be able to sing the words that you wrote back to you, and then also to just buy your mom a house. Or have them not fight over money anymore. If you can remove that feeling, it feels like you... maybe somehow you've healed some part of your childhood."
Dress and Collar: Vera Wang, Bracelets: Cartier, Rings (Top to Bottom): Cartier and Chris Habana
Along with therapy and TM, Perry is a practitioner of L.A.'s holy trinity of self-care — hiking, yoga and CBD massages. Though, she still hasn't been able to curb the same addiction many of us have: reaching for her phone the first moment she wakes up. "I've had moments where I did it and that was great, but that didn't last," she says. Hidden on the back door of a closet in her office is another means of what could be seen as stress relief: a dartboard depicting an image of the current president. Perry refuses to utter his name out loud. "I have this rule that I just say '45.' Everything is an energy. Words. Deep energy."
The personal growth Perry's undergone as a result of age, therapy, life experience and more also extends to her relationships with others. When it comes to her love life, Perry says she now has more boundaries in her relationships than when she was younger. She's able to vocalize her needs more, and she appreciates the fact that relationships take a lot of work. "It's easy to be single and not to be called out on your stuff, living your awesome single life thinking you're the greatest, and the best, and doing anything you want. But then when you get in a partnership you guys are there to teach each other lessons." Perry is more receptive to learning the lessons in her relationships now than when she "believed in Disney Princesses" in her early twenties. "I'm very pragmatic and logistical and I am less fantastical about things. I mean, I was married when I was 25. I'm 34. It was almost 10 years ago. I was like, 'One person for the rest of my life,' and I'm not so sure that that idea is for me. I'm just such a different person than I was."
Hat, Coat and Skirt: Maïssane Zinaï, Top: Sheath
Perry takes a similarly evolved, pragmatic attitude toward her professional life, seeking more balance by temporarily stepping off the endless record-tour-record working musician hamster wheel. Plus, now that she is taking a break from working on an album, she's been able to give her full attention to other interests. There's her gig co-hosting American Idol, which she describes as a "wonderful, pay-it-forward feeling," to help singers who want to make it in the music industry. "It's amazing to be able to hold a lottery ticket for someone's life." Perry is also mentoring CYN, an electro-pop singer she signed to her label, Unsub, in 2017. "Her voice reminds me of the singer from The Cardigans [Nina Persson] singing 'Lovefool' — that's what I signed her for," Perry says. "She's only made a few music videos...this is definitely her year. I'm basically mentoring her through the whole thing, which is really exciting."
Dress: Valentino, Hood: Vex, Lingerie: Dead Lotus Couture, Jewelry: Bulgari
Perry also channels her creative energy into her eponymous shoe line, which she says aims to be a more affordable version of Sophia Webster and Charlotte Olympia. She launched it last year, hiring her longtime friend and former stylist, Johnny Wujek, as creative director. The line, which has included whimsical styles like red heels adorned with golden cherubs, see-through floral print boots and strawberry mules with candy-encapsulated heels, are carried by retailers like Macy's, Nordstrom and QVC, which Perry says "was always a dream," like in the Jennifer Lawrence movie Joy.
While Perry continues to figure out whether she'll attend school, she says in the meantime, she'll be "learning how to live in the small," working on her mental health and enjoying the fruits of the personal growth that comes with age. Plus, at 34, she doesn't have a Saturn Return to worry about anymore. "I'm just such a different person than I was [in my 20s]," she says, before backtracking a step. "Not such a different person — the foundation was always there. I've always been hella sarcastic, always the black sheep, always thought outside the box…[But] whereas I used to think things were too scary or not for me, now I've pushed my limits in all of that. I'm really more tolerant and accepting." Summing it up, she says, with a smile, "It's really just your 30s. I love them so much."
Dress: Charles Jeffrey, Jewelry: Adina Mills, Boots: Gareth Pugh
Photography: Juno Calypso
Styling: Patti Wilson
Makeup: Sil Bruinsma
Hair: Shon Ju
Nails: Kimmie Kyees
Makeup Assistant: Lisa Campos
Digital Tech: Russell Tandy
Set Design: Lizzie Lang
Photography Assistant: Madeleine Dalla
Styling Assistants: Taylor Kim, Masha Ossovskaya and Megan King