‘Part of Me’ fails to flaunt Katy Perry’s personality
Published: Monday, February 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 18, 2013 10:02
On some level, Katy Perry is aware of her flaws as an “artist,” or at least someone among her vast regiment of marketing experts is. Image is the life and breath of the pop star, and the pros and cons of music as your modus operandi, as opposed to film, fluctuate wildly from one artist to another. Perry’s main image problem is one of authenticity, which her faceless music continues to accentuate, and the no-holds-barred attempt to rectify that defect in “Katy Perry: Part of Me” proves it beyond all doubt.
From the opening kid-fan videos about finding “identity” in her music, through the endlessly dragged out saga of her one-year tour, to the closing of more “kid vids,” they’re working overtime to introduce the audience to a Perry that’s genuine and relatable. She’s presented throughout as a faultless talent who has worked her way to being “accepted for who she is” as an artist, when the reality is that she has simply embraced the established mode of pop stardom, bringing in every conceivable hit-making producer and co-writer at some point or another to help her along the way.
In theory, she has more opportunity for humanizing than most pop stars: she was raised in a Pentecostal home and frantically sheltered even through adolescence, making her rise into stardom an oddity, to say the least. But evidently no interesting personal development resulted from struggling with cloistering parental expectations, or if it did, the film deliberately avoids addressing it.
The only remnant of that upbringing in her artistic persona is the obviousness of her influences – having never listened to secular music before, hearing Alanis Morissette for the first time was a watershed moment. But instead of incorporating another’s ideas into her already established aesthetic, she settles for imitation, hiring Morissette’s very own producer to create the same sound for her first several albums.
What Perry fails to realize is that the key ingredient of her idol is the very element she is missing most: individuality. Morissette’s musical backdrop was precisely that: an interchangeable background supplementary to the real action that was going on in the songwriting, where she bared her soul for the audience with more grit than any pop star in recent memory. Perry has so little personal identity that even in a film devoted entirely to a year of her life, she comes off like a character created for a Saturday Night Live sketch. Even her struggle with divorce shows no signs of life, and her description of what happened consists entirely of clichés: “Love… it’s not like the movies.”
Every interview and anecdote speaks in vague generalities about her “presence” and “talent” as if their existence is a foregone conclusion. Perhaps there is more truth to that than a cynical mind will easily grant, as some mysterious charisma surely makes some more capable of stardom than others, but without question the most impressive thing Katy Perry does in “Part of Me” is an assortment of elaborate costume changes.
There is a place for great entertainers in pop music’s stories of success, Michael Jackson being the most obvious example, but some level of artistic importance is vital in transcending that base category. To compare Perry and MJ’s levels of artistry is laughable even without getting far into the details – listening to popular music before Jackson and then to what came after is a striking exercise in recognizing influential figures. Perry’s effect on pop music is as far from that as theoretically possible. Her monetary success is a testament to how she combines the most basic elements of other artists to give audiences something immediately familiar and comfortable, inoffensive to the greatest possible degree. Her entire career is a textbook definition of musical pandering.
As a film, “Katy Perry: Part of Me” is almost admirable in its attempt to make something out of nothing. If one is somehow inclined to like Perry as an artist, the movie will help them do that by providing behind-the-scenes looks at her interaction with fans and friends, which is where she is at her most likable.
After all is said and done, that small consolation is basically all that’s left. The film’s great flaw lies in its inability to present her as an interesting person worthy of investigation; all curiosity is entirely derived from her foreign and glamorous lifestyle, and exchanging her for anyone else would not harm its entertainment value in the least. It seems that both Perry and her image-makers are entirely unaware of the irony that in their attempt to convince us of her personality, they have achieved the opposite as she takes her seat in the hierarchy as one of the least interesting pop stars in recent memory.