Katy Perry brings her flamboyant fun and a ‘Freddie’ spirit to Abu Dhabi
A decade on the pop star continues to shine bright
She’s a cracking performer who could well be the finest showwoman in modern pop today, which makes Katy Perry a fitting headliner for a New Year’s Eve concert at du Arena, Abu Dhabi.
There’s little doubt that the Californian songstress’s big hit Firework will go off with a bang, just as the fireworks signifying the start of 2018 at Yas Island do.
As we’ve come to expect of her, Perry is sure to be in party mode when she takes to the stage, but she will not only be celebrating her Abu Dhabi debut – 2018 marks a significant anniversary for the 33-year-old, whose fame went supernova back in 2008.
Perry began her career as a gospel singer in the early 2000s with a style much quieter than her current persona. A decade on, she positively relishes being on stage, and clearly revels in the freedom that the world of pop brings, that her gospel environment didn’t.
Born Katy Hudson, she grew up in a strict family environment in California, where commercial music was virtually off-limits. But she was influenced by two artists – the confrontational and confessional Alanis Morissette and Queen’s extravagant frontman, Freddie Mercury.
If a pop scientist tried to concoct the perfect blend of Morissette and Mercury, Perry would likely be the result. Even so, the star’s first record was far from flamboyant. Low-key gospel album Katy Hudson made a negligible impact. It was only after an endorsement from Madonna that Perry’s career blossomed. She switched record labels, changed her stage-name – Perry is her mother’s maiden name – and radically altered her look, becoming poppier, brighter and more revealing.
The music altered dramatically too, and to this day it continues to evolve. On her second album, One of the Boys (2008), Perry reverted to stomping pop-rock and provocative lyrical themes, notably the breakthrough single I Kissed a Girl. Subsequent albums have gradually incorporated more dancefloor influences, from disco to heavier beats: several Witness tracks were produced by the alternative electronica duo Purity Ring, with a harder edge.
Witness earned a mixed reception, but the subsequent tour has been widely praised and there is a sense that Perry really lives for live performances. She once described her pre-tour regime as “like I’m training for the Olympics”, with the planning rivalling that of a lavish Broadway musical.
On her first major arena tour, in 2011, Perry was already innovating, with arty visuals and even smell-o-vision. “It’s the first concert that’s going to smell good,” she told Rolling Stone. “It’s going to smell like you’re in cotton candy heaven.”
Those carefully-planned visuals have been a significant part of Perry’s creative process since her star exploded, and a wide array of sources inspire her stage sets, from avant-garde artists to the kid-friendly colours of Hello Kitty and Alice in Wonderland.
For her second world tour, 2013/14’s Prismatic, she personally co-created more than 270 costumes, many of which were for her dancers. However, the lure of Perry’s elaborate productions did cause some bad blood in a pop rival.
Several of those Prismatic dancers abruptly defected from Taylor Swift’s Red Tour, and the pair have been openly feuding since.
In truth, that row has rather overshadowed Perry’s work in recent years – the most talked-about track on Witness is the single Swish Swish, a response to Swift’s beef-fuelling track Bad Blood, but perhaps the New Year will bring a fresh start. The stars reportedly hung out while both were in Miami a few days ago. And while that feud may finally be thawing, Perry remains an uncompromising presence when it comes to providing the most memorable show she possibly can. Ten years on, there are few better.
Updated: December 28, 2017 11:31 AM