Katy Perry is one of the most recognizable people in the world. We’ve all watched her journey from a budding artist into a huge superstar but her massive success didn’t happen overnight. How much do you really know about Perry’s stunning transformation?
Born into religion
Born as Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson on October 25, 1984, Katy Perry was raised, along with her younger brother, David, and older sister, Angela, in Santa Barbara, California by Pentecostal pastors, Mary Christine and Maurice Hudson.
The family helped set up churches across the country and Perry attended religious schools without the highest standards. In fact, of the experience, the star said, “The schools were really makeshift. Education was not the first priority. My education started in my 20s, and there is so much to learn still.”
Her parents had very strict rules and she was not allowed to celebrate Halloween and believed that Jesus brought her Christmas gifts. Certain words were also off-limits including “deviled eggs” (which were renamed “angeled eggs”) and Dirt Devil.
Raised in poverty
Growing up, money was sparse and the family struggled financially. To feed their family, the Hudsons sometimes relied on using food stamps and eating from the food bank designated for the followers at their church.
Perry can remember panhandling and begging on the streets for change but quickly learned that she could earn more by capitalizing on some of her natural assets. After explaining that she would hit up thrift shops for pencil skirts and snug-fitting cardigans, the singer said, “I have had this body for a very long time and I would pour into those clothes very well—so it worked!”
A lack of diversity
As her parents attempted to shield her from diversity in the world, Perry remembers that she was not “allowed to interact with gay people… and there is some generational racism” in her family. In her earlier years, Perry attended youth group sessions where they supposed conversion therapy and camps and she even admitted to having tried to “pray the gay away.”
She believes that her sheltered upbringing makes her “miss references all the time” and that she sees the opportunity to see the world while on tour as an opportunity for “reeducation.” Perhaps, this lack of exposure has led her to make choices that many equate with cultural appropriation and potential racism.
Her Christian music career
Back when she was just Katy Hudson, Perry was an aspiring gospel and Christian rock artist. In a video on a tour bus from these early days in her career, Katy exclaimed, “I’m with the best Christian bands and I’m on tour with them and hanging out with them and they actually laugh at my jokes. It’s awesome!”
That’s great and all, but was Katy Hudson’s music actually any good? Christianity Today reviewed her debut album and wrote, “Her songwriting skills are so strong, it’s difficult to believe she’s only 16—and was merely 15 when she wrote most of these songs. The lounge-jazz meets art-rock feel of it is pure ear candy with the message that we’re being molded perpetually into Christ’s image.”
Her musical transformation
To avoid confusion with actress, Kate Hudson, Katy Perry emerged (she took on her mother’s maiden name) as a bolder, more mainstream artist singing about formerly taboo topics.
Perry believes that her breakout hit, “I Kissed a Girl,” was so successful because, “finally someone was singing about something that existed. But it really was [meant to be] fun; there was no agenda.” At the same time, she learned that being risqué could come at a price—especially, for a female artist. When asked if the song was based on a personal story, she explained, “I said no, I hadn’t experienced it, even though I had, because I didn’t like where the guys were taking the interviews.”
Meanwhile, her father, who referred to her as a “devil child” during this time, was very blunt when addressing his daughter’s new persona. “I was at a concert of Katy’s where there were 20,000,” he said. “I’m watching this generation and they were going at it. It almost looked like church. I stood there and wept and kept on weeping and weeping. They’re loving and worshipping the wrong thing.”
Still, that did not dissuade her from continuing to push the envelope by releasing songs such as “Teenage Dream,” and “California Gurls,” the latter of which produced a very sexual music video. When MTV asked about it, there was not a hint of regret. Perry said, “The cotton-candy clouds! I am a little bit naked. I was naked. And, hi, Mom! Hi, Dad!”
She achieved sex symbol status
Along with her new sound, Katy Perry transformed from an awkward teen with, as she described, “pizza face,” into what GQ claimed was a “full-on male fantasy.” Elle magazine took it a step further and said that the singer looked “as though sketched by a teenage boy.”
Perry, who has openly shown love for her body, has had fun with her sexually liberated existence and, as Vogue has said, is “never exactly one to shy away from the outrageous or the extreme in any realm.”
Indeed, she has a quirky, versatile look. She can look fresh and natural one moment but be decked out in a peppermint swirl dress the next. Any review of her style evolution will reveal anything from a watermelon jumpsuit to a sleek number for Fashion Week.
She upset Sesame Street viewers
While many approved of Perry’s sexy style makeover, there were others who felt that she needed to reel it in for certain occasions. Indeed, her appearance on Sesame Street drew criticism due to her wardrobe choice.
Perry called being invited to guest star on the children’s show “the highlight of her career” and said, “I think some of these songs, even though sometimes they have a naughty dimension to them, they are so pop infectious it gets into kids, just like whatever parents are saying around the house will get into kids and I love that “Hot N Cold” could translate to Sesame Street. I just love that. I’m gonna have kids someday, and I love that some pop star out there is gonna change their lyrics to make my kids bounce in their diapers.”
Unfortunately, not everyone was as enthusiastic. Parents were upset about the amount of cleavage Perry showed alongside Elmo so the spot was cut from Sesame Street‘s 41st season. When appearing on Saturday Night Live soon after, Perry poked fun by wearing a low-cut Elmo shirt while SNL cast member, Maya Rudolph rhetorically asked, “Who cares if kids are looking at boobs? Boobs feed babies… I turned on CSI the other night, and there’s a dead guy with a worm in his eye. But we can’t look at the tops of boobs?”
Her changing beliefs
Over the years, Perry has been open about how her beliefs continue to evolve. While showing off her Jesus tattoo in 2010, Perry told Rolling Stone, “God is very much still a part of my life but the way the details are told in the Bible—that’s very fuzzy for me. And I want to throw up when I say that. But that’s the truth… I still believe that Jesus is the son of God but I also believe in extraterrestrials, and that there are people who are sent from God to be messengers, and all sorts of crazy stuff.”
Three years later, she told Marie Claire, “I’m not Buddhist, I’m not Hindu, I’m not Christian, but I still feel like I have a deep connection with God. I pray all the time—for self-control, for humility. There’s a lot of gratitude in it. Just saying ‘thank you’ sometimes is better than asking for things.”
Today, she proudly sings the praises of Transcendental Meditation, a mindfulness technique that she practices twice a day. “It’s a game-changer,” she told Vogue. “I will feel neuro pathways open, a halo of lights. And I’m so much sharper. I just fire up!”
Her marriage to Russell Brand failed
Perry married British comedian Russell Brand late in 2010 in a traditional Hindu ceremony in India. Their wedding “featured a procession of camels, elephants and horses, plus fire jugglers, snake charmers, dancers and musicians.”
At the time, Perry addressed their spiritual differences saying, “Russell is into Hinduism, and I’m not [really] involved in it. He meditates in the morning and the evening; I’m starting to do it more because it really centers me. [But] I just let him be him, and he lets me be me.”
Unfortunately, things came to a screeching halt on New Year’s Eve 2011 when she received a text from Russell asking for a divorce. “There were two weeks of my life after I found out the truth of my marriage where I was like, ‘OK. All right. I can’t feel this. This is too intense right now,'” Perry said. “I was, like, just eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and drinking, and that’s it.”
While Brand once referred to Perry as a “vapid, vacuous celebrity” after their split, his tone has softened now that he has become a father. He explained, “I have come away from that experience,” Brand said. “I still feel very warm towards her. I feel like, when I hear about her or see her, ‘Awe, there’s that person. There’s that person in the world.'”
Her shark-filled Super Bowl show
Perry made history on February 1, 2015 as the headliner for the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show. The broadcast set a Guinness World Record for being the “most viewed TV broadcast in US history.” Joined by guests Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliot, Perry delivered a very memorable performance.
While no one could deny how well Perry worked through a medley of her biggest hits including “Roar,” “Dark Horse,” and “Firework,” it was an unlikely figure who stole the show.
For weeks following the performance, people could not stop talking about the “left shark” who appeared on stage alongside Perry. Compared to the dancer in the shark costume on her right, the “left shark” seemed to go rogue, making up his own moves, much to the delight of viewers at home.
She’s a LGBTQ rights activist
In 2008, Perry openly opposed Proposition 8, “a voter referendum that overturned an earlier Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality at the ballot box.” Despite the loss, she continued to stand up for equality.
Of the resistance to LGBTQ rights, Perry said, “hopefully, we will look back at this moment and think like we do now concerning [other] civil rights issues. We’ll just shake our heads in disbelief, saying, ‘Thank God we’ve evolved.’ That would be my prayer for the future.”
Perry was a huge supporter of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential Election, the candidate who regularly promoted equality for the LGBTQ community. After Clinton lost to Donald Trump, Perry designed a shoe in her honor. She’s come a long way from believing in the merits of conversion therapy and “praying away the gay” in her youth.
She’s also a philanthropist
Perry makes an effort to help those in need and 2013 was a big year for her. Not only did she team up with UNICEF to provide food and education to children in Madagascar but she also became one of the organization’s Goodwill Ambassadors “with a special focus on engaging young people in the agency’s work to improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children and adolescents.”
Additionally, Perry donated a portion of the ticket sales from her Prismatic World Tour went to UNICEF and spearheaded the “Make Roar Happen” project along with Staples to provide $1 million to DonorsChoose with the mission of providing funds for classroom resources in public schools.
Not only did Hillary Clinton present Perry with UNICEF’s Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award in recognition of her efforts but the singer also received the Human Right Commission’s 2017 National Equality Award. “I speak my truths and I paint my fantasies into these little bite-sized pop songs, for instance: I kissed a girl and I liked it,” she said during her acceptance speech. “Truth be told, I did more than that. But how was I going to reconcile that with the gospel-singing girl raised in youth groups that were pro-conversion camps? Honestly, I haven’t always gotten it right, but in 2008 when that song came out, I knew that I started a conversation that a lot of the world seemed curious enough to sing along to.”
Her many awards
While it’s clear that she’s been heralded for her humanitarian efforts, Perry’s professional work has also been acclaimed. She has won Billboard Music Awards, American Music Awards, People’s Choice Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, and Teen Choice Awards and was nominated for 13 Grammy Awards.
It’s mind blowing to consider the fact that, from May 2010 to September 2011, she actually spent 69 consecutive weeks in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 which, of course, is record-breaking. By the time 2012 rolled around, Billboard declared her “Woman of the Year.”
As if that’s not enough, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry declared Perry the “Top Global Female Recording Artist” of 2013 and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has recognized her “as its most awarded digital act in the history of Gold & Platinum awards.” Of her achievement, Perry told Billboard, “Hitting No. 1 is always a great moment, but when it turns into a small piece of history, you’re reminded of how many millions of people are connected to each other by even one tiny event.”
In an interesting turn of events, Perry has now denounced award shows saying, “All the awards shows are fake and all the awards that I’ve won are fake. They’re constructs.”
She feuded with Taylor Swift
Much has been made of the feud between Taylor Swift and Katy Perry but, until recently, it was all just speculation. Incredibly, the two were once close friends, publicly expressing admiration for each other on social media but, one day, it all changed. The cause for the shift is still a little murky but we do know that Swift once dated John Mayer and things didn’t end well. After divorcing Russell Brand, Perry and Mayer became an item. The two women appeared a lot less chummy after that.
After she released the 2014 song, “Bad Blood,” Swift addressed rumors that it was about the feud and said, “She did something so horrible, I was like, ‘Oh, we’re just straight-up enemies.’ And it wasn’t even about a guy! It had to do with business. She basically tried to sabotage an entire arena tour. She tried to hire a bunch of people out from under me… So now I have to avoid her. It’s awkward, and I don’t like it.”
Recently, Perry participated in a round of Carpool Karaoke with James Corden and admitted, “I tried to talk to her about it and she wouldn’t speak to me… I do the right thing any time that it feels like a fumble. It was a full shutdown and then she writes a song about me, and I’m like, ‘Okay, cool, cool, cool, that’s how you want to deal with it? Karma!'”
Perry again commented on the feud while talking Arianna Huffington and said, “I forgive her and I’m sorry for anything I ever did, and I hope the same from her.”
Her revealing confessional weekend
As she released her album, Witness, Perry invited fans to follow her through a “confessional weekend,” giving them full access to her life for 96 hours as she ate, slept, meditated, and underwent therapy. It was definitely eye-opening. During this time, she admitted that she wants to return to being more like “Katheryn Hudson,” and struggles with being “Katy Perry,” sometimes. She revealed a battle with depression and suicidal thoughts saying, “I feel ashamed that I would have those thoughts, feel that low and that depressed.”
On a lighter note, she sat down with late-night talk show host James Corden and revealed that, if she had to rank her top three lovers, DJ/producer Diplo would be in last place, actor Orland Bloom would be second, and singer John Mayer would be in first place. Surprisingly, she also admitted that tenor Josh Groban is the one that got away and counts him among her “good friends.”
While she already had a commanding Twitter presence and set a Guinness World Record for Most Twitter Followers back in 2015, it seems that this all-access weekend may have given her an extra boost—she has officially become the first person to have more than 100 million followers on the site. After reaching the milestone, she tweeted, “Thank you, @Twitter, for always giving me an opportunity to have a voice! #LoveKaty.”
Her third #1 album
Perry is no stranger to success. In fact, she can now claim three #1 albums in her repertoire. That’s quite a feat for any artist and, certainly, points to the fact that, despite evolving over the years, she continues to connect with her fans.
Teenage Dream took the top spot back in 2010 and included tracks such as “Firework,” “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F),” and “California Gurls.” Of the project, Perry said, “I wanted to call it Teenage Dream because, really, there’s a song on the record… I wrote that song in Santa Barbara and it was a really pure moment for me because that’s where I’m from. And it was where I started my creative juices, and it kind of exudes this euphoric feeling like everyone remembers what their teenage dreams were.”
When Prism exploded in 2013, Perry explained the inspiration behind one of the biggest tracks saying, “When I was writing ‘Roar,’ I was like, ‘I need to find my voice again. I need to be heard. I need to find that empowering thunder in my chest again.'”
Of her mindset as she released Witness, Perry explained, “I feel very empowered, extremely liberated, liberated from the conditioning of the way I used to think, spiritually liberated, politically liberated, sexually liberated, liberated from things that don’t serve me.” We can’t wait to see what Katy Perry will do next!