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By Derek Blasberg. Publication: VOGUE AUSTRALIA, August 2018

Superstar Katy Perry took time out of her world tour to chat with her good friend Derek Blasberg about love, life on the road and learning to better deal with fame. Here, read the full cover story from Vogue Australia’s August 2018 issue.

It’s exactly 3pm and I’m standing on the corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue Saint-Benoît in the 6th arrondissement in Paris. I’m wearing a cashmere long-sleeve polo shirt and I’m starting to sweat. Katy Perry, international pop star and my least punctual friend, is 30 minutes late for lunch at Café de Flore and I’m beginning to stress about making my flight back to New York later this evening. I knew this would happen. Last year, when I was Katy’s date to Vanity Fair’s Oscar party, I lied to her and said we needed to be there an hour before we actually needed to be, which meant we arrived only 15 minutes late. The year before that, I escorted her to the Met Gala, and when I arrived to pick her up at our appointed departure time she was still wearing a bathrobe, because she decided to bleach her eyebrows at the last minute.

At 3:10pm, I take out my phone. “Lady, I have a flight,” I text her, feeling the beads of sweat pool under my shirt and dribble down the small of my back.

“Remember when we said we’d meet at 2:30pm and I said I would be late?” she responds. “I never lie.” Dammit, she was right.

Lunch with Katy is always “spicy”, which is the term she just texted to describe my current mood. Beneath her big voice, Katy is a quick-witted pop-culture vulture and a fiery conversationalist. She has an ear for details and a comedic timing that reminds me of a young Lucille Ball. The last time I saw her for lunch in LA she showed up at the Beverly Hills Hotel wearing a baseball cap that said: “New Life: Who Dis?” Under normal circumstances – like when I don’t have a flight to catch and a job to do, which in this case is this interview – I’m happy to wait for her. (For one thing, it’s the ideal time to catch up on Instagram.) But she senses my panic here.

“Are you checking baggage, princess?” she texts. “Literal, not emotional.”

“Every time I fly my emotional baggage is overweight,” I respond.

“Tweet!” responds Katy, who is, incidentally, the number-one most-followed person on Twitter.

“Is this sabotage?” I ask.

“Nah, it’s deeper than that,” she texts. “I want to look my best with full hair and make-up, because I’m self-conscious.”

Having failed to convince me that I won’t miss tonight’s flight, I announce: “I’m starting the interview right now on text!”

“I thought you already did!”

I smile as I read the text and look up from my iPhone to see a silver van barrelling down Boulevard Saint-Germain, closely followed by aggressively driven motor scooters. The van screeches to a halt directly at my feet and out pops Katy wearing a satin spaghetti-strap jumpsuit, her bleached pixie frosted in lilac. The paparazzi hop off their scooters to chase her into the cafe with their cameras, but we’ve already tucked ourselves into comfy booth in a back corner. Like two American tourists, we order French onion soup and a croque madame. I look at my watch, see it’s 3:22pm, and tell her: “You better talk fast.”

I’ve worked in the starry swirl of the fashion industry for nearly two decades and in that time I’ve met my fair share of celebrities. But there’s a short list of a few people who transcend merely being famous – and the Pope is on the top of it. Last April, Katy travelled to Rome for an audience with the head of the Catholic Church and this is the first thing I want to talk about. “It started when we were on the Asia leg of the tour and I went to mass with my mom,” Katy tells me. “She hadn’t sung those songs in 40 years and watching her made me cry. It’s so beautiful and humbling to re-centre in a place where it’s not about anything else but reconnecting with the divine.”

As she sings in her 2010 hit with Snoop Dogg, Katy is a true California girl. She was born in picturesque Santa Barbara, and raised by Mary and Keith, two Pentecostal pastors. (Mary was raised Catholic.) Katy started performing as a young girl and left home at 15 to pursue a music career. “I was laser-focused and off to the races from the time I was nine years old,” she says. Unsurprisingly, her first megahit, 2008’s I Kissed a Girl, didn’t go platinum around the family dinner table. “My mom has prayed for me my entire life, hoping I’d come back to God. I never left Him, I was just a little bit secular, I was more materialistic and more career-driven. But now that I’m in my 30s, it’s more about spirituality and heart wholeness.”

Katy is an avid supporter of the David Lynch Foundation, which advocates for transcendental meditation education. Bob Roth, the CEO of the David Lynch Foundation, invited her to speak about her experience and the benefits of meditation at a health conference in Rome co-created by the Pontifical Council for Culture, which she readily accepted. “I’m such a big fan of Pope Francis. It’s a combination of compassion, humility, sternness and refusal. He is rebel – a rebel for Jesus.” Katy lists some papal facts, including that he named himself after Francis of Assisi, her favourite saint, and that he sticks to his vow of poverty despite the lavish surroundings of the Vatican. “He is bringing the Church back to humility and connecting with people. He’s very humble and not frivolous.” He’s also a lover of animals and is often depicted surrounded by wooded creatures, which reminds her of her favourite Disney character, Snow White.

When Katy met the Pope she brought two people with her: her mother and Orlando Bloom. Katy is protective of her love life – blame it on the painful dissolution of her marriage to Russell Brand in 2012, which was all caught on camera in Part of Me, the documentary that followed her California Dreams tour – so I tread into Orlando territory with extreme caution. “It’s okay to mention him,” she says with trepidation.

Here’s the problem: when the love lives of famous people are discussed, it often eclipses everything else in a conversation. When Katy Perry, one of the world’s most successful pop stars, meets with the Pope, arguably the most important man in organised religion, the pictures hit the internet and the resultant press has nothing to do with tolerance or spiritual enlightenment. “I don’t want it to be a headline of the story, because it takes away from the purpose,” she says, chewing the cheese stuck on the spoon from her onion soup. “Also, it’s extremely misogynistic. Of course, I love my relationship, but that is one part of me, and I don’t want any part of what I do to be diminished.” (But, for the record, her and Orlando are good, thanks.)

The noise of being a public person is an issue Katy will wrestle with for the rest of her life. “There will always be noise,” she shrugs. But in the past year, Katy’s tight-knit crew of friends watched as she developed tools to control how it affects her. Last January, she attended a week-long program at the Hoffman Institute, a California-based personal growth retreat that, according to its website, “helps participants identify negative behaviours, moods and ways of thinking that developed unconsciously and were conditioned in childhood”.

Katy explains: “For years, my friends would go and come back completely rejuvenated, and I wanted to go, too. I was ready to let go of anything that was holding me back from being my ultimate self. I have had bouts of situational depression and my heart was broken last year because, unknowingly, I put so much validity in the reaction of the public, and the public didn’t react in the way I had expected to … which broke my heart.” After a decade of back-to-back hit albums and record-breaking successes (she tied Michael Jackson for most number-one hits off a single record in 2011), her career hit a plateau with 2017’s Witness album. “Music is my first love and I think it was the universe saying: ‘Okay, you speak all of this language about self-love and authenticity, but we are going to put you through another test and take away any kind of validating “blankie”. Then we’ll see how much you do truly love yourself.’ That brokenness, plus me opening up to a greater, higher power and reconnecting with divinity, gave me a wholeness I never had. It gave me a new foundation. It’s not just a material foundation: it’s a soul foundation.”

Like the remedy for an iPhone that keeps freezing, her week in the Hoffman program was a system reboot. “I believe that, essentially and metaphorically, we are all computers, and sometimes we adopt these viruses via our parents or via the nurture that we are given or not given growing up. They start to play out in our behaviour, in our adult patterns, in our relationships.” Her time at Hoffman comes up often in conversation and she never shies away from the discussion of mental health. In fact, she’s given Hoffman gift certificates to friends when she sees them struggling. “I recommend it to everyone, my good friends and other artists who are looking for a breakthrough. There are a lot of people who are self-medicating through validation in audiences, through substances, through continually running away from their realities – denial, withdrawal. I did that for a long, long time too.”

After Hoffman, her greatest realisation was that there is no connection between creativity and agony, and the ideal of the tortured artist is a fallacy. “I was with someone recently who asked: ‘Well, don’t you think that if you do too much therapy it will take away your artistic process?’ And I told them: ‘The biggest lie that we’ve ever been sold is that we as artists have to stay in pain to create.’”

Last night, I attended Katy’s concert here in Paris with Grammy-winning music producer Mark Ronson; musical artist Beck; and iconic French fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier. Katy knows how to put on a show: the Witness tour (her fourth global tour, which finishes in Australia in August) includes confetti canons, pyrotechnics, giant flamingos, flying acrobats, a giant mouth that munches her mid-song, and a bedazzled planet that she rides out above her screaming, devoted audience like a galactic cowgirl. She asked the audience to help her change the words to her hit song Hot N Cold into their French translation Chaud et Froid.

Katy is a born performer. Watching her on stage – and I’ve seen this show in New York; St Louis, Missouri; and now Paris – is watching someone do what they were placed on this earth to do. “I love all aspects of the art [of concerts]. I like the dreaming, the fantasising, the making up a new world. For years, I’ve been like: ‘I think it would be really fun to fly on a cotton-candy cloud above the audience!’ And my team will say: ‘Okay, let’s look into the math and see if it’s possible.’”

For Katy, the hardest part is endurance: it’s a two-hour show and she’s in every single act. Last night’s show was number 76 and by the time the tour finishes in Australia she will have performed it nearly 120 times. Last night, I observed one of her ‘quick changes’, which are similar to NASCAR pit stops. She is rushed under the enormous set by a stage handler and latches her hands onto a metal bar that’s suspended from the ceiling. A clock is posted above her head that counts down 120 seconds while she dangles like a naked baby and a team of five people whips off one costume and puts on another, changes her shoes, retouches her make-up, restyles her hair and feeds her orange Gatorade from a sippy cup. I posted a video of one of these changes on Instagram, in which she turns to the camera and says: “This is what pop stars do when you think they’re smoking dope and hanging out backstage waiting to come on. But it’s different!” In the video, she’s zipped into a black leather leotard with a single leg in ruffled polka-dot tulle, and as she’s rushed back to the front of the stage she says: “She works really hard for her money!” The video went viral.

The concert shows all sides of Katy: “You see the empowered, you see the vulnerable, you see the super-silly and super-nerdy, too. I mean, I do this bit when I challenge Left Shark to a dance-off on a giant piano.” Some artists avoid Australia because it’s not cheap to get everything Down Under. (The equipment that comprises the Witness tour requires 28 trucks to move around.) But Katy says she’d be there even if it meant breaking even. “I spend a lot of money because I want to put on a great show. I understand kids’ attention spans these days: they’re scrolling on their phones all day and having a zillion dopamine hits per second, so the idea of coming to a live music show can’t be like: ‘That’s it?’”

For me, the most compelling part of her documentary was watching how she digs deep within herself before every performance. “Sometimes I’m not feeling 100 per cent, sometimes I’m extremely jet-lagged, sometimes there are personal issues that I’m having to deal with right before the moment I go on stage.” Somehow, when the time comes she finds it. I tell her I think all women can identify with the idea of dealing with something that’s completely devastating – “and smiling through your heartbreak”, she interrupts me and finishes my thought. “I am depleted. I am a plastic bag, to quote my own song, at the end of every tour.”

Our lunch is over and – get this – Katy looks at her watch and tells me she’s late and has to go. I was so consumed with making my flight that I had completely forgotten Katy is performing her second gig in Paris tonight, which will be her 77th stop on the Witness tour. When I’ll be flying 9,000 metres over the Atlantic Ocean, she’ll be flying over 20,000 ‘KatyCats’, the nickname her fans have given themselves, belting out Firework.

She pays the bill (I tried!), I walk her to her car in front of a phalanx of paparazzi and then I grab a taxi to Charles de Gaulle airport. When I get to the security checkpoint I snap a picture of the VIP pass from last night’s show in one of those plastic bins as it comes out of the X-ray machine. Begrudgingly, I text the pic to her to say I arrived to the airport with plenty of time to spare.

“Possible headline,” she texts back. “She was late but worth the wait.” Dammit, she’s right again.

This article will appear in Vogue Australia’s August 2018 issue, on sale Monday, July 23.


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