GQ.com – Not very long ago, she was strumming a guitar on the street and getting paid in avocados. Today she’s the most cartoonishly ubiquitous pop star on Earth. Katy Perry gives Amy Wallace an earful about aliens (real), her world-famous body (real), her “relationship” with Obama, and what the hell she was thinking before she went full geisha at the American Music Awards.
It smells like weed in here. Weed and doughnuts.
We’re in the basement of the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, backstage at the American Music Awards, in a dressing-room suite that would be spacious if not for all the frenzied humanity crammed inside. Katy Perry sits atop a tall director’s chair surrounded by the many, many members of her team: voice coach, two hairstylists, one makeup artist, a costumer, and several others who hover and hand Perry things without her asking: Breath mints. Her phone. Eye drops for her enormous anime eyes. Special pills prescribed by her ear, nose, and throat guy to keep her voice from drying out pre-performance. “It happens,” Perry says. “It’s the nerves.”
She doesn’t seem the slightest bit nervous. Which is impressive when you consider that the 29-year-old diva (who’s never really seemed like one) is trying something different tonight. Perry has always played a dual role in the culture: at once a full-on male fantasy and a symbol of empowerment who inspires young girls. No other artist has so seamlessly blended teenage dreams and grown-up misadventures, singing about hickeys and crushes, yes, but also threesomes, blackouts, and strangers in your bed. Now, on prime-time television, she’s about to twist her image one more quarter turn, transforming from America’s audacious, outrageous cleavage-bot into its selfless, doting concubine. At precisely five o’clock, she will kick off the awards show with a Japanese spectacle featuring fluttering fan dancers, four men pounding on gongs, a forest of rolling topiary, and a metric ton of faux cherry blossoms.
Now the smell of a different type of flora—Cannabis sativa—wafts in from the hallway…. Ah, okay, Rihanna’s suite is twenty feet away. “Everyone is high!” Perry declares, giggling. She means everyone else: “The weed—I’m not friends with it.” She is bare-shouldered, bare-legged, barefooted—bare-everythinged, basically, except for the wig cap on her head and the teensy light blue Hello Kitty terry-cloth wrap that cinches above her breasts and ends where butt meets thigh. “I can’t do that stuff. I’d be like in the corner: ‘Are you trying to kill me?!’ ”
But that sugar-sweet doughnut reek? Perry takes responsibility. The doughnuts are gone—the victims, it seems, of a fried-dough orgy that ended before I arrived.
She starts warming up her voice: “Eee, eee, eee, eee, EEE, eee, eee, eee, eee!” Five notes up, four notes down, a sort of pitch-perfect keening.
“A little whinier and looser,” her voice coach commands. “Make your tongue super-loose.”
“Ex-cuse me?” she responds, batting her lashes, enjoying the vague reference to naughty things one can do with one’s mouth, then blasts out another scale. “Good,” says the coach, dodging a mascara wand and a hot curling iron to play another note on his iPad keyboard. “Now, really whiny. Say: Gwah!”
“Gwa, gwa, gwa, gwa, GWAH,” Perry projects, extending her legs, crossing them at the ankles and resting her heels on the makeup table. As someone slips a pair of glittery tabi socks onto her feet, a blur of others poke at her and tug at her and dust her face with Super White theatrical powder.
“It takes a village!” she trills, and the crew laugh anxiously. Her geisha wig has yet to be secured to her head. Her pink kimono is draped on a hanger. In just twenty-five minutes, she’s supposed to go live.