Before coating the world with candy for Teenage Dream and championing “purposeful pop” for Witness, Katy Perry dubbed herself One of the Boys for the first of her many eras. That was 2008, and she stood out from fellow pop newcomers like Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift with pure spunk: She was a 23-year-old Californian dressed like a pin-up girl, puckered up with cherry chapstick, and acting so brave, drink in hand.
On the back of her debut single, “I Kissed a Girl,” Perry became a pop princess, but her rise to superstardom wasn’t without controversy. A decade after the song’s debut, its complicated legacy is still being debated but, love it or hate it, it was the indisputable launchpad for one of the 21st century’s biggest-selling artists.
“The song was a bonafide hit, it was a game-changing sound for a pop artist, and it broke Katy Perry,” said Chris Anokute, a former A&R executive at Capitol Records who worked with Perry on her first two albums. “And from that point on, it was just a fucking train that you couldn’t stop.”
KATHERYN HUDSON GETS HER SHOT
Before “I Kissed a Girl,” Perry had weathered a series of stalled attempts at stardom. At 16, the doe-eyed girl then known as Katheryn Hudson — the middle child of two Pentecostal pastors — released a Christian record that reportedly sold just 200 copies. A year later, she trekked 100 miles from Santa Barbara to L.A., where the rock scene beckoned. She was signed and dropped from two major labels that unsuccessfully tried to mold her into the next Avril Lavigne, and it was around that time that Perry is widely quoted — in her 2012 concert film, Part of Me, for example — as saying, “I don’t want to be the next anybody. I just want to be the first Katy.”
Finally, in 2007, she scored a deal with Capitol Records. Anokute recalls meeting Perry as a cartoonish, confident character who was equal parts Betty Boop and Cali party girl.
“This was a girl who’d been through the ringer — who was signed and dropped, had probably done 300 writing sessions,” Anokute said. “So when we met Katy, she was like, ‘I’m here! I’m Katy fucking Perry, I’m a fucking star!’ She was so confident.”
After signing to Capitol, Perry released the EP Ur So Gay. It wasn’t a huge commercial success, but it did attract one of Perry’s biggest idols, Madonna, who called the title track one of her favorite songs in a radio interview. With that co-sign in her corner, Perry got to work on her debut album, One of the Boys. She already had a few tracks written, like eventual single “Waking Up in Vegas,” but it was a series of studio sessions with Max Martin and Dr. Luke that would birth her first two hits.
BATTLE OF THE BANGERS
Together with Martin and Luke, Perry crafted the throbbing, bi-curious “I Kissed a Girl” and the droll dis track “Hot N C