The following is the fourth of five highlights from my nine years of writing for the Muriel Awards, my left-of-center pick of Katy Perry in her concert film Part of Me as one of the best female lead performances of 2012. Nearly four years later, I'll stand by that.
My only slightly facetious solution to this dilemma: the eternally wide-eyed, super-sized (with cupcake bra to match) pop personality that is the front and center attraction of last summer’s 3D documentary Katy Perry: Part of Me. Mind, on the scale of significant music movies KP: POM hardly ranks as either a pop culture jamboree on the order of A Hard Day’s Night or a brutal generational dissection a la Gimme Shelter. The worst thing that happens during a Katy Perry concert probably occurs during the exuberant performance of “Peacock,” KP’s gonzo saber rattle at the doors of propriety -- a lascivious limerick of sympathy for a devil ragin’ full-on (“I wanna see your peacock-cock-cock/Your peacock”), probably amounting to little more than the occasional shocked soccer mom fainting into her popcorn over the ribald transparency of what barely qualifies as sexual innuendo.
But if the movie isn’t exactly a landmark, then fortunately neither is it a pretentious meditation on the ego-fueled angst and impatience underlying what makes Katy Katy, a Truth or Dare for the “Fireworks” set. No, what makes the movie fun, and what makes me think Katy Perry is a good candidate in the Best Lead Performance (Female) category, is not just the peek behind the elaborate construct that Perry presents to adoring fans but also the consideration of the daunting energy and craft put into the image itself and its constant, cheerful, remarkably anti-cynical perpetuation.
“I don’t think anyone can ever be too cartoony!” the singer gleefully exclaims while putting herself together for the first performance of her first worldwide tour. It’s a moment that makes you want to stand up and salute, a sentiment that distills Perry’s perfectly calibrated self-awareness and places her mix of shiny, candy-colored pop extravagance and (unthreatening) Vargas-girl sexuality well within the tradition of beloved animated icons Sweet Polly Purebred and Jessica Rabbit, both of whose appeal Perry seems to aspire towards. The movie pays only lip service to the greater weight of crafting such an image, but even if KP: POM is meticulously manipulated to present exactly the picture Katy Perry wants disseminated, it’s still a fascinating appraisal of what such a heightened level of pinup performance art might still mean to the audience. I don’t recall ever seeing a movie about a pop singer whose artifice is so up front which is then also so relatively unafraid of presenting the star at her most vulnerable, whether she’s crawling out of bed after a exhausting leg of the tour or laying immobile on a massage table, crippled with grief over her crumbling marriage.
And Perry’s walking the fine line between exuberant amateur and slick professional is itself cheerfully, endearingly enjoyable too. To paraphrase Lennon and McCartney, she may be a singer (with more #1 hits off a single album than even the Beatles), but she ain’t no dancer. Yet her indefatigable desire to connect with the fans is quite something to behold -- you’ll never catch her glad-handing a mom and dad and their goggle-eyed kids backstage, then turning to make a gagging gesture behind their backs. And the tunes, even though they are only largely sampled here, remain seductively catchy, playfully hedonistic, occasionally transgressive, supremely empathetic paeans to the optimistic energy of pop, much like Perry herself. (No wonder she made the Children’s Television Workshop nervous.) Katy Perry: Part of Me ultimately remains true to its title -- this is only a glossy reflection of a carefully selected portion of the star’s reality. But it’s one in which the effort and art of creating her persona is as much in focus as her relentless appeal, documenting the moments when the acting put into being Katy Perry, Pop Princess, merges seamlessly with the joy she takes, and the toll taken from her, as that princess commands the stage.