Before Katy Became Perry
When’s the last time you looked at pictures from your adolescence and thought, “Wow, that one is awesome!” The answer is that you have never thought that. Our childhood photos tend to be uniformly awkward and worthy of avoidance at all costs, and a trip to the paper shredder if possible. I had high school graduation photos of myself at 330 pounds, with a greasy mop of hair, no neck, and a complexion more in keeping with a field of volcanos ready to blow. And Katy Perry had Katy Hudson.
By now you likely know about the transformation from Hudson to Perry (which is her mother’s maiden name) via her movie Part Of Me, but for those who do not Katy was brought up in a Christian household and her first record, under her birthname of “Hudson,” was firmly in the Christian Contemporary Music camp. The music on it is competent but full of the working-too-hard attitude of someone really trying to make a lasting first impression. Her voice moves between melismatic and ululation which, in the pop music landscape of 2001, was perfectly reasonable. This was the height of the Mariah/Christina warble-wars and so the sound was as contemporary as it gets. This was also post-Alanis Morrisette so she was frequently being compared to her during that time.
To my ears, I was hearing Fiona Apple in her a lot more than Alannis, and in either case room for her peculiarities and humor was not easily afforded. You get a hint of it on the track “Growing Pains” but nothing alludes directly to her latter leanings as a blue-haired celebrity with a penchant for occasionally goofing on herself.
I cannot say I’m a fan of either of her phases, but I believe the music wasn’t meant for me and so my disinterest is reasonable. I will say that as an individual Perry seems much more comfortable in the skin of her invention than in the guise of Hudson. She is no longer reliant on the vocal tics and tricks that got her through that first album, but the thing that ties the two phases together is that she is a primary writer of her own material. This is a distinction that even her contemporary peers can’t always claim.
More than anything else, that first album is a litmus test for the listener; specifically if the listener holds claim to having a life of faith of some kind. My first reaction to having heard Perry once recorded a CCM record was exactly as you would expect from someone who penned both Popdose’s 50CCM50 mini-series as well as the 50Prog50 mini-series: judgmental hypocrisy. Somehow it was okay for me to point listeners to a Michael W. Smith album, then turn around and listen to some scary metal (it is, in fact, okay in my mind to do this), but it was not okay for Katy Hudson to move on to One Of The Boys with its breakout hit, “I Kissed A Girl.” In retrospect, I think Hudson wound up choosing correctly, as that debut has all the hallmarks still having not found what she was looking for and not having the full confidence of expressing it. For my own personal revelation, it was hard to admit I could be like the huffing-and-puffing caricatures that condemned the evils of the world on Sunday only to dive headlong into them on Monday.
That has nothing to do with her personal faith which is, in fact, personal. That doesn’t make the Katy Hudson album one that I expect to listen to again, no matter how nuanced my perception of it may now be. It remains an adolescent photograph of someone stepping into the world for the first time and can never be as polished or assured as what eventually comes later. Life wears down the jagged notions of what you think it is supposed to be. I only hope nobody still has photos of me in high school because — man, that would be so embarrassing.
And for the record — what you believe in is not directly reactive to what you might listen to. I’ve heard many an uplifting song that never once called on a higher power and yet invoked that same spiritual presence. I’ve heard many a song sung “in Jesus’ name” that Jesus might not have wanted to been associated with. It comes down to speaking the truth as it currently resides in you, and if you’re lying to yourself can you possibly be an authority on someone else’s choices?
Strictly on the content of the Katy Hudson album, it does not make an impression on me. I cannot recommend it because of that, but I can say with honesty it has nothing to do with pre-suppositions.