Katy Perry: Some of me – but only the good bits
Its having been highly recommended by a few film-loving boys of my acquaintance, I finally saw the Katy Perry documentary over Christmas. I’d had an unexpectedly powerful reaction to ONE DIRECTION: THIS IS US earlier in the year (think a reversion to teen-overawedness mingled with mildly inappropriate stirrings of, um, physical appreciation) where I’d left the cinema as elated as my 13-year old companion and consequently rated the film 5 stars. (Several weeks later, I accompanied her to the live concert.) Apparently, my cinephiliac chaps told me, KATY PERRY: PART OF ME was also an intriguing music documentary about an unlikely (for our demographic) subject. It might evoke the same response. I had to try it and see.
Now, first things first – I’ve always kinda liked the girl. Her songs have consistently caught me from behind on commercial radio and while I didn’t know much about her career trajectory (from good Christian girl singing gospel music with an acoustic guitar to web-cammed 18-year old vowing to be famous one day in order to hear “thousands of people singing along with me”), I did know she’d captured the heart of British comedian Russell Brand (apparently by sending him a photo of her breasts by way of introduction. Where on earth did I hear that?) and I liked the idea of them as a talented, characterful, power couple.
Her officially sanctioned documentary, which purports to let us behind the scenes to see the real Katy, is interesting on several levels. First of all though, it didn’t wow me like One Direction did. Granted, I saw this on Blueray but not in a 3D cinema experience (as I did 1D) and doubtless the similar use of concert footage, expertly rendering sound and picture in high definition, would have made it more affecting on a bigger screen. But what’s compelling is negotiating which part of Katy we’re really seeing, and how a viewer may feel towards her at various points of the “narrative”.
Sadly, I seem to have come away liking her less, finding her more constructed (OK then, “fake”) and less authentic, and somewhat stupid in her assumption that she could keep a marriage to Brand alive while on a world tour of well over 365 days. Wait, perhaps that’s a bit harsh – clearly Perry hadn’t read Brand’s autobiographical My Booky Wook before she got embroiled, otherwise she may have had a bigger heads-up about the challenges of forging a life with a desperately needy, highly addictive personality (believe it or not, I say that with love and respect to Brand, whose travails make him less than my ideal guy but whose openness and wit have won him my platonic heart). Well, she freely admits to being a romantic, so I perhaps I shouldn’t be too harsh.
But more to the point, Perry’s film is less the guileless enthusiasm of five lads from across England who found themselves catapulted into overexcited superstardom and more the promotional contrivance of a popstar who just wants life to be fun and magical (including her long-distance marriage), yet even in her dealings with fans on every tour-stop’s “meet and greet”, she can scarcely keep the big-eyed, yawning routine out of her voice.
What’s really going on for Katy Perry? When she started the tour in 2011 and invited the cameras in, she presumably had no idea that by the end of the 13 months her marriage would be over, even less that the cameras would catch her crying and being pandered to by her (actually quite lovely, well-meaning) staff. There is a discomforting scene moments before she’s due in the make-up chair where she weeps silently and her entourage fluster awkwardly (“Are you OK, honey?”. Clearly, no) and one wonders, suddenly, whether she’s going to do that famous person thing and flick her wrist at the camera with eyes averted. But she doesn’t. (Perhaps she doesn’t know it’s there, right? Maybe?) Curiously, this same moment which leaves the viewer with an uneasy sense of contrivance then morphs into one of the most fascinating as Perry pulls herself together, gets the slap and the wig on, and we see her below stage, windmills whirring across her bust, mic clutched in hand as she does that thing where you force yourself to smile so that you can fake it through the biggest show of the tour.
Perhaps it started badly for me with the opening scenes (which also bookend the film) of teenagers speaking earnestly to camera about how Perry tells them it’s OK to be themselves, to be different, to follow a dream, and so on. This cry is not new (and I’m not suggesting it should be – it’s the stuff pop music has long been made of) and outside of a self-serving, non-fiction feature, it’d be fine. But the uninspiring soundbites come off as part of the construct, the part of Perry she wants us to see and acknowledge (and like). Instead, it made me wary of what I was about to watch, and ultimately it turned me off.
Did others get this feeling from the 1D documentary that had me at “Hallo”? Do Perry fans watch her movie with unconditional love for their heroine? All I know is I’ll still sing my lungs out to “Firework” but next time I see Katy Perry in the news or on a talkshow couch, I definitely won’t be falling for her.