Inside each and every one of us there is one, true, authentic individual, someone we were born to be if it weren’t for all the railroading, sidetracking, and left-hand turns that send us in the wrong direction. Becoming who we really are is one of the most difficult, perplexing, and productive things a person can do with their life. And as curious as it is, it’s totally optional. It’s so much easier to become part of the masses, reflecting the image of our neighbor, shackled to the fears and opinions of others. But where is the fun in that? How empty would our existence be if we ignored our own genius and walked behind another like some kind of leashed animal? Being the person that best suits us is nearly impossible when the world demands so much of our time being someone we were never meant to be. This is as true for the common man as it is for the world’s biggest pop stars.
Back in 2001, before she was known as Katy Perry, Katy Hudson was just an awkward young gal strumming gospel rock songs cobbled together from those typical boring themes of childhood, angsty adolescence, and Christian faith. Her songs were hard on the ears. Lyrically, musically, philosophically, they were in all ways, shape, and form, just so plain and flavorless. To be reminded of creative work so forgettable today must bring the musical idol waves of self-conscious shame.
Katy grew up with devoutly religious parents who raised her in a strict and overbearing environment. It was a piss poor attempt by good intentioned people to protect their child from the seedy nature of the world. But in doing so, they corralled her into being someone she wasn’t. She couldn’t listen to secular music. She couldn’t watch MTV or The Smurfs. She couldn’t read Cosmo. She couldn’t eat Lucky Charms. She couldn’t swear, tell ghost stories, or refer to “deviled” eggs. She wasn’t allowed to think for herself. She was fenced in, held back by the absence of free will. It was a sheltered and suppressive childhood. Katy’s shriveled and small life bled into her songwriting, preventing whatever phosphorescence she might have from truly blazing. She couldn’t help it.
But Katy’s music turned a corner after she left home. As Katy explored more of what life had to offer, her songs radically changed. The music metamorphosed from sleepy turds into high energy anthems filled with radiant bursts of fireworks, color, and life. Her albums, One of the Boys and Teenage Dream were the career-defining work that ignited her meteoric rise in fame, turning that awkward young gal into a dazzling, picturesque pop princess sparkling with glitter and mischievous innuendo. What the hell happened? Did she smoke a doobie? Kiss a girl? Leaf through her first nudie magazine? Whatever the case, it didn’t matter. She had finally found her true self, something that very few people ever do.
Katy Perry suddenly had “it”, that sort of indescribable, ineffable, and incomparable je ne sais quoi that engenders phenomenal creativity and song writing. She was quirky, wacky, seductive. She was sexy, provocative, full of energy. She was shameful, daring, and disgusting. She had a defiant roar, giggles, and a super-silly, tongue-in-cheek persona that colored her music, lyrics, and incredible stage presence. Her concerts were filled with candy-cane stripes, confetti canons, extravagant costumes, giant flamingos, and a playful innocence that could barely disguise a ton of hot, sexy raunch. It was a stand on your toes, touch the sky, dopamine high. But then something happened. She lost steam, peaked, and every subsequent album took a lesser form than the one before. She had lost momentum, as if something she was holding onto had slowly slipped from her hands.
Katy began inserting vague wokeness into her songs. She became political and started collaborating with rap and hip-hop artists. She made countless, unauthentic attempts at crafting something acceptable to cancel culture, which is to say, so pathetic. The 2017 album Witness was so god-awful that she had to give it away for free with concert tickets. And her 2020 release, Smile, wasn’t any better. Rolling Stone gave it a generous 3 out of 5 stars, NME referred to it as largely “forgettable”, and The AV Club called it “desperately trying to have fun”, a “total bop”. We have to ask ourselves, will Katy Perry ever be good again?
Become Who You Are
In the mid-1930s, the Hungarian writer, Antal Szerb, published a captivating novel about trying to escape the oppressive obligations that build up over one’s lifetime, weighing us down, suffocating all memory of individual we once were and turning us into a lesser person we wish to be. The novel, Journey By Moonlight, was a playful and ironic depiction of the tragedy of middle age, a fascinating investigation into man’s self-absorbed obsession with his own mortality.
The story centers around a soon to be married businessman, Mihály, who yearns for the unbridled freedom he knew in his younger days. While on honeymoon in Italy, he mistakenly boards a wrong train and what follows is a chance opportunity to wander aimlessly through the little Italian villages, drunk on nostalgia and reflecting on the formative experiences of his forgotten youth. What turns the pages in this narrative are the strange array of characters from Mihály’s past who keep showing up.
One of the more compelling figures is Waldheim, a Professor of philology, who Szerb describes, “Here’s a man who’s achieved the impossible. …a man who’s managed to stay fixed at the age that suits him. Everyone has one age that’s just right for him, that’s certain. There are people who remain children all their lives, and there are others who never cease to be awkward and absurd, who never seem to find their place until suddenly they become wise old men and women: they have come to their real age. The amazing thing about Waldheim is that he’s managed to remain a university student at heart without having to give up the world, or success, or the life of the mind. He’s gone down a path where his emotional immaturity doesn’t seem to be noticed, or is even an advantage, and he pays only as much heed to reality as is consistent with the limitations os his own being. That’s wonderful.”
Waldheim had somehow managed to find his true character, and, in all improbability, sustain it, unwaveringly, through the thick and thin of growing old. What a wonderful accomplishment. Inspiring, really.
Think of all those epic careers out there—those of spotlight celebrities, for example—and how their lives have changed and transformed at a pace much greater than that of the average person. And think about how much external influence and pressure, how much more tilting and twisting, and how much more extraneous force is applied to them. The television appearances and photoshoots, the non-profit work and product endorsements, the constant beckoning of fans and agents, the moral responsibilities, and all the other petty obligations that accompany superstardom simply demand too much of people. This is the hassle of transcending being merely famous, or simply having to work for a living. The constant noise only serves to distract, pulling us away from nurturing our real interests and talents, smothering out the passion for what we really should be doing with our time.
For Katy Perry, she has to be feeling different today than when she was first started out. Writing songs, playing music, and just being her cheeky self are not the only things in Katy’s life anymore—especially now that she’s a mother, which, for us music lovers, is a total disappointment. Being a responsible celebrity, or a successful female role model, connected with the divine; you can hear it in her music, Katy Perry is none of these things. She’s allowed too many outside influences to sway her way of life, making her live outside her real self.
Waking up to who you are requires letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.Alan Watts, philosophical rambler
If Katy Perry ever wishes to be good again, she needs to remember her true self. She needs to remember her youth. Bubbly. Potty mouth. Immature. But not only that, Katy Perry needs to commit to it; relish in the immoral and thoughtless, embrace spontaneity, irresponsibility, and a juvenile life filled with impulsive flair. It’s the only path to enter that creative flow state once more. But would it work? Could she ever regain her musical composure? Eh, it’s doubtful.
Stay Young and Invincible
Music is a young person’s game; everyone knows this. But why, exactly? Is it more sex, more drugs, more rock ’n roll that holds our creative hand? Think for a moment about the chapter in your life that lies between adolescence and responsible adulthood. Does being in that state mind, being free and not having to grow up just yet, empower our creative spirit like a never ending harmonic plucked from the guitar of creativity? Possibly. But the real answer aligns more closely with those professions that attract the most intellectually gifted and creative minds of their generation.
If we look at the accomplishments of people like Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and others, they all tended to do their best work before they reached middle age, as if they had worked for so many years, peaked, and then took a long, slow decent, or a nose dive, into oblivion. This is not necessarily the result of old age or a deteriorating mind but rather a consequence of staying in a single field for too long and becoming lost in unproductive rumination.
A young mind, or a young career mind, is lithe and nimble, malleable, able to tackle the obstacle course of reason and lyrical prose without getting stuck in the repetitive thought patterns that emerge over years of repeated study, years that have become the ruts to innovative thinking. Youth is all about curiosity and trying new things. The stories and experiences we collect in our youth are original and different. Songwriters draw meaning from this novelty and convey it through toe-tapping melody. But once the novelty wears off, things get old and repetitive. The days bleed together, and the artist loses steam. The songwriting spits and sputters as pop stars realize they have to search harder for meaning. This, as unfortunate as it is, is why music is a young person’s game.
When we’re young, we’re kept aloft by a sundry of dreams and aspirations. There are strange and wonderful sensations pumping through our veins, blossoming into thoughts that we can be anything we want to be. We venture out into the world believing anything is possible. We can become whatever we want by working in any direction we choose. There’s nothing holding us back. It’s an amazing feeling. Youth. And it’s this feeling of endless possibility and boundless potential that becomes the alchemy to fuel our wildest ambitions and ardent desire for creation.
This isn’t to say that old people can’t still make music. Of course, they can. And it can still be played well and decent enough. But it will never be as good as if it had been written and performed in their youth. The music created by those persons whose lives exist between adolescence and responsible adulthood make us want to jump up and down, throw our hands around, and jump-kick the air. The beats and words kickstart our heart, push and pull us with an indescribable energy that only can be felt when listening to great music. This is the power youth and songs have over us.
Katy Perry’s time to shine has past. She’s been forced to grow up, and she now has to have the same wistful dream as the rest of us: to stay young and invincible. But regardless of cold reality and the paper airplane lives we are forced to live, we are forever in debt for the songs Katy did sing. We still have Katy Perry’s old songs to remind us of what it was like to be young. So pull out those old cassette tapes and compact discs and crank up the Katy Perry.