A few years ago I took my mom to see a Katy Perry concert. She was in awe of the sound, the production, and the costumes, but she was particularly mesmerized by Katy herself. After the show Mom asked me, “What is it like to be friends with her?” I had never really thought about it. In one sense the Katy I’ve known since 2011 is not that different from the pop icon you see onstage. Katy is insanely funny, unapologetically honest, outrageously creative, and a little mischievous (the woman loves a practical joke and a prank gift). But to know her intimately is to also know a quieter side of her. It is to know her mystic intuition (it is almost annoying—Katy can hug you and know instantly that you are going through something). And it’s to know Katheryn Hudson, the girl from Santa Barbara whose idea of a perfect night is to throw on a tracksuit, grab her dog, Nugget, and snuggle up on the couch with girlfriends to talk about everything and nothing.
There is a lot to admire about Katy Perry. She’s the first female artist to have five number-one Billboard Hot 100 tracks from a single album. She is the most-followed person on Twitter in the world. And in the last 10 years, she has sold more than 40 million albums. (She’s also a passionate advocate for the younger generation: $1 from each ticket sale on her Witness tour goes to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.) But what I admire most about Katy is her bravery. She is not afraid to be wrong. In fact, she often says that it’s vitally important for her to speak about her mistakes so that other people can learn from them as well.
Katy has more than a career—she has a life. She’s real. I often think that the reason she’s so connected to her fan base, the KatyCats, is because she truly is one of them. She might seem like a supergoddess while doing the splits on stage or doling out critiques in a fierce look on American Idol, which premieres on ABC this month, but she is also a 33-year-old with fears to conquer, dreams to achieve, and aspects of herself she is still trying to figure out. Like all of us, she is a work in progress. As I’ve watched this soul sister of mine leave her twenties behind, I have seen her make small but integral shifts, learn difficult lessons, and use her experiences to evolve as an artist, a woman, and a citizen. That’s the Katy Perry I want you all to meet.
Cleo Wade: You recently wrote on Instagram that 2017 “redefined what winning means to me. And the definition of winning for me this year was simply happiness and gratitude.” How did you arrive at that moment?
Katy Perry: That’s a great question. I love you so much for asking it. [Laughs.] I’ve come to learn, after 10 years of success in the spotlight, that being happy is something you have to work for every single day. Even if you have money or houses or status or fame—and all of that stuff is great for a moment—if you don’t have happiness charging the train, you’re gonna derail. A lot of my early twenties were really intense, really extreme, and somewhat unconscious. It was all career focused, which was great, but once you touch the ceiling so many times, it’s like, “Oh yeah, I did that. I touched the ceiling.” Now I want to touch the stars, which has to do with the heart.
Cleo: What advice would you give to that intense, extreme, somewhat unconscious twenty-something Katy?
Katy: I’d say, “You’re doing great, sweetie.” [Laughs.] No, ummmm, it would probably be a couple things. Pertaining to relationships, I would tell myself, “There really, truly are so many fish in the sea. There’s some whales. There’s some sharks. There’s some blowfish. And there’s some cuttlefish. And you want to end up with the ‘cuddle’ fish.” [Laughs.] I’m just kidding. But I’d also say [much like the famous Maya Angelou quote], “People may not remember everything about meeting you, but they will always remember the way you made them feel.” When I was first getting to Hollywood and meeting my heroes like Gwen Stefani and a couple others, one was amazing—she introduced herself and asked my name—but one just brushed me off. I’ll never forget how that made me feel.
Cleo: I want to shift into what’s going on in your industry, because I feel like everything is changing so quickly. What are some of the parts of the music business you’re excited to see change, and what are some parts you’re sad to see fade away?
Katy: I don’t think there is as much of a radical social change going on in music as there has been in television and film, though I’m sure it will bleed over soon. I’d say that I’m glad there aren’t so many gatekeepers—people who have the keys to other people’s success or stand in their way.
Cleo: Things feel more democratic now?
Katy: Yes, and I really like it. What I miss is some of the structure. Because with the opening of the dam, we lost a little of that. There’s so much choice as far as what music is being put out there. The market is crowded. These days you can’t get to know a song as much anymore. It’s always on to the next thing.
Cleo: Does that change affect how you approach your job on American Idol?
Katy: When American Idol was born, it was one of the only ways to shoot to stardom or get your music out there. Now you can do it on your own, but there are so many options out there that you need an even bigger platform—you need the Internet and beyond—to cut through to make an actual impression. I think that American Idol is finally coming full circle: I think it will once again be an amazing launching pad for whoever wins.
Simon could be mean, because he’s an executive and a man. But you reverse the role, and all of a sudden you’re a bitch. So I’m cautious.
Cleo: I often say that you’re the most honest person I know. As you’re judging the young talent on Idol, is it hard to balance that honesty with holding someone’s dreams in your hand?
Katy: It’s not easy for me. I was saying the other day that Simon Cowell was my favorite judge because he’s very straight-to-the-point. Most people who are at home watching American Idol—you know, eating food and going about their lives—are thinking either, This person can sing, or, This person can’t. And Simon was that kind of judge. Simon could be mean, because he’s an executive and a man. But you reverse the role, and all of a sudden you’re a bitch. So I’m cautious. People also come in with their stories. And before they even sing one note, they’ll say something like, “I’m homeless,” and that will impact the way you perceive them. But if they really can’t sing, the personal story has to come second. I hope that I don’t get turned into “the bitch” because of that, but I also know that the music industry does not need just another singer.
Cleo: What does the music industry need?
Katy: I think we need someone who has a voice that you can feel. For me, when someone sings and all the hair on my arms stands up, I am immediately invested.
Cleo: By the time this article comes out, you will have completed more than 50 concerts over the course of five months. As someone who has seen you perform on numerous occasions, I know how intense it is for you. How do you prepare yourself mentally, physically, and spiritually to be on the road?
Katy: Well, I love routine. I feel very out of sorts without routine, and the devil is sort of my playground when I don’t have it. Every day is just a preparation for the show. Sleep is really important to me. I’m a big sleeper. I get eight to nine hours every night. Nine to 10 hours, actually. I eat about four meals—or four and a half meals—a day. I’m constantly eating. Luckily, I have this really amazing chef who does a no-sugar and no-dairy diet for me, and I stick to that pretty well. Maybe once a week I’m cheating. When I wake up, I go straight into yoga for an hour, and I usually do 30 minutes on the elliptical to get the blood flowing. I’ll try to put in a meditation around 4:30 or 5:00 P.M. Transcendental meditation has been a game changer for me. We’re all so “connected” to our devices, which, I think, is disconnecting us from reality.
“I’ve come to learn that being happy is something you have to work for every single day.”
Cleo: Too much URL and not enough IRL.
Katy: Exactly! So, you know, my New Year’s resolution was to turn my phone off one day a week. It’s really about resting, eating, and exercising. In my twenties I used to be able to do shows hungover after eating an In-N-Out burger. I can’t do that anymore.
Cleo: I have become friendly with some KatyCats over the years, so I asked one, @kayleighcat, if she could ask you one thing, what would it be? Her question: “Katy, when you have doubted yourself or felt like giving up, what is the one thought that kept you going?”
Katy: I have had a lot of those thoughts, and I’ve written a lot of songs because of those thoughts. I would say that all of my best songs, or what I think are some of my better songs—“By the Grace of God,” “Roar,” “Firework”—are basically motivational pep talks to myself. They’re my soul speaking to me, saying, “Come on. We can do this. One foot in front of the other.” I also take the time to connect with the people who listen to my music. I read their letters or I’ll meet someone who will say something like, “I stopped cutting myself two years ago because of this song,” and I’ll be like, Oh, right! That’s why I wrote that song. I wrote that song so that it could bring a bit of joy back into people’s lives.
Cleo: So beautiful. I personally define “living courageously” as being afraid but doing it anyway. When was the last time you were scared as hell to do something, but did it anyway?
Katy: I mean, I guess I do it all the time. I’m preparing to do a big soul overhaul very soon that I’m nervous about. I want to emotionally elevate myself. I don’t want to hold on to childhood trauma anymore. I want to grow into becoming an adult. I’m preparing myself for having a family of my own someday. And that’s the thing: I want to do a little bit more soul surgery before I have a family of my own so that I don’t transfer any of those lingering feelings. I’m about to go heavy into that emotional process, and I’m nervous, but I don’t think I have a choice anymore. This last year has been about killing my ego, which has been really necessary for my career. But for my personal life, it doesn’t work that way. If I want to have that true balance, I have to step into being Katheryn Hudson.
Cleo: What parts of that journey have surprised you?
Katy: You know, I had a lot of expectations at the end of 2015 and the end of 2016 that weren’t met. That was the first time, in a long time, that I didn’t get my way. I think it was the universe’s way of testing me, of saying, “We’re going to see if you really do love yourself.” That was challenging for me, because I didn’t realize how much I relied on the outside validation. I thought that I didn’t, but once you get kicked down the mountain a little bit, you realize that the weather really is better at the top. It’s been really necessary for me to go through that. [And I’ve learned that] people don’t relate to someone who is perfect or always winning anyway. You can’t always be sitting perched on top of the mountain.
Cleo Wade (@cleowade) is a New York–based artist, activist, poet, and storyteller. Her first book, Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life, is out this month. For even more Katy, watch her react to fans singing her songs here.