So, are you going to ask her about Russell Brand?” says a silver-haired navy lieutenant in dress whites and stiff cap. It is the first day of Fleet Week, when vessels from around the world dock in New York City, and on this cool evening in late May, Katy Perry is performing an outdoor concert for the visiting servicemen and women. The lieutenant may not seem like the typical Perry fan, but he is surprisingly up to date on her personal life, even filling in another officer on her split with the British comedian: “They broke up around Christmas. Didn’t you know that?” he says, and sighs. “Oh, well. They didn’t make much sense anyway.”
There’s being a household name, and then there’s being so famous that even sailors on a tour of duty know your business. In recent years, Perry’s ascent to megastardom has been so dramatic she decided to make a movie about it. The result is the 3-D concert film Katy Perry: Part of Me, in theaters July 5. Shot during her nine-month, 124-city California Dreams Tour, the documentary chronicles Perry’s life onstage and off, through all her ups and downs—including her split from Brand after 14 months of marriage.
Despite being addressed in the film, the breakup is understandably a sensitive subject for Perry. Minutes into our interview the day after her concert, one of her handlers asks to sit in, presumably to screen questions, but Perry demurs. “I’m a grown woman. I can handle all questions that come at me. As long as there is a level of respect understood, then we’re cool,” says the star, wearing a tight black minidress and sitting on the floor of an office in Paramount Pictures’ New York headquarters. And should the conversation go off the rails? “I’ll just use some key word,” she jokes, widening her blue eyes. “‘Help! Help!’”
In fact, Perry needs no help sidestepping questions about the divorce. She refers to it only as “the situation”—as in, “I’m very aware that it’s inappropriate to give too much away, and that really the situation is just between two people.” When it’s noted that she and Brand have been
respectful of each other in the media, she responds cryptically, “The universe will have its way.” Still, the breakup needed to be acknowledged in her film, she says. “I think if people walked out of the theater and that was completely avoided, they would be like, ‘Well, there’s an elephant in the room that’s still there.’” The singer rubs her feet, freed from sky-high Christian Louboutins. “I like to go out there looking like a strong woman, because I am strong. But I am also a woman who goes through all kinds of problems and highs and lows. I wanted to show the complete spectrum.
“There are a lot of things that are personally uncomfortable to show, especially me without makeup and completely bloated or crying,” she adds. “But I’ve realized that it’s time for me to show my audience that you don’t have to be perfect to achieve your dreams. Because nobody relates to being perfect.” She takes another bite of her bunless burger. “I’m okay with picking my nose. I’m okay with having bad dance moves. I’m okay with having horrible lower teeth. That’s what makes me me, and for some reason it’s worked out all right.”
“She’s very blunt and honest, and people relate to her,” says her longtime stylist, Johnny Wujek. Singer-songwriter Bonnie McKee, who has collaborated with Perry on a number of her hits, including “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls,” agrees. “There’s no puppeteer telling Katy what to do or how to be,” she says. “She has a hand in every moment of her career: every costume, every video, every word, every melody.”
Perry is proud of the fact that she’s “a bit weirder than the average pop star,” as she puts it. Her parents, Keith and Mary Hudson, are born-again Christian ministers, and she and her two siblings were raised in Santa Barbara, Calif., in a strict household. Perry, who changed her name professionally from Katheryn Hudson because of potential confusion with the actress Kate Hudson, was prohibited from listening to what her mother called “secular music” growing up. Instead, the same woman who would later don a cupcake bra in her video for “California Gurls” sang gospel classics like “Oh, Happy Day.” Now 27, she has come a long way from home, but Perry is still close with her family, fondly recalling many July Fourths spent “smuggling fireworks either from the South or from Mexico” with her father. “He loves a firework exit,” she says of the truck stops where they got their goods. “As a kid I was totally like, ‘Yeah!’ Now I realize there are repercussions. I’m like, ‘You’re going to load the car with fireworks? That thing is going to pop off!’”
It’s no wonder Perry, who will perform on Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular (NBC, 9 p.m. ET), loves the holiday: She’s full of spark, just like the explosions referenced in her hit “Firework.” But her success hasn’t come as easily as one might think. Prior to earning her status as a pop princess, Perry was an unknown singer-songwriter on the Christian music circuit. Before she became
the first woman in Billboard history to claim five No. 1 singles from one album, 2010’s Teenage Dream, she was dropped by several labels. It’s all part of the story chronicled in the concert documentary.
“There are certain themes you see in the movie: coming out of a constricting, sheltered atmosphere,” Perry says, tucking a lock of purple hair behind her ear.