I am not sure what to expect from Katy Perry, one of the biggest pop stars of all time, a woman who appears to have had every facet of her life, image and career strategically managed for more than a decade and who various industry friends describe to me as “feisty”. Yet the first thing that the third most followed person on Twitter (behind Barack Obama and Justin Bieber) says, as she adjusts her bra, is: “Hold on one second, my boobs are so big. It’s, like, every day I wake up and it’s another bra that doesn’t fit.” She stands up, turns to the side and lifts her dress, showing me her eight-month pregnancy bump. “Sorry about that.”
It’s mid-July, the weight of the pandemic still looms and I speak to Perry, who is at her Los Angeles mansion, via Zoom. She has an area set up especially for interviews, the backdrop is a gold curtain. Blond hair scraped back and wearing a floaty Zimmermann dress, Perry eats avocado on toast and, over 80 minutes, happily talks about love, therapy, medication, impending motherhood, feeling “blessed”, the benefits of an alkaline diet to ward off cancer (oh dear) and her perfectly pop-drenched new release, Smile — her fifth album, the first in three years, and a record she describes as both melancholy and hopeful. It’s full of surefire anthems including her recent hit, Daisies, and empowering one-liners (“I am resilient/ born to be brilliant”), finishing with a gorgeous two-minute ballad, What Makes a Woman. It’s good to have her back.
Back to that bump, though. It’s the first baby for her (she’s 35) and the second for her fiancé, the British actor Orlando Bloom, 43, who has a nine-year-old son, Flynn, with his ex-wife, the supermodel Miranda Kerr. Perry announced her pregnancy in March via a music video, the last shot showing her cradling her rounded belly and looking positively ethereal. A month later she revealed that it’s a girl by posting a picture of Bloom with his face covered in pink icing to her 101 million Instagram followers.
“I feel really good,” she tells me. “I love my body and I’m proud of it. I’ve had extremely high highs and extremely low lows and I’ve heard that having children is like the best gift of all, so I’m ready to step into that role and receive the unconditional love that I had a hard time receiving years ago.” The pregnancy was planned. “I was really specific about this year,” she says. “I told my management, ‘I’m gonna get pregnant, I wanna have a baby, I have a great contender, finally, and I wanna put this record out.’ It was planned. We went to Egypt in October for my birthday and just decided. I’ve always been so fond of the way he is with Flynn that I think my primal nature is like, ‘Yes, go.’” She’s on great terms with Kerr, who has remarried. “She’s got three boys, so I ask her for all the tips,” Perry says.
At the start of lockdown Perry was isolating with Bloom, Flynn, her brother and his child. Her sister lives close by with her own small children. “We pair up with them a lot because the kids like to play, we have two small houses that are next door to each other and my nieces will come and wake me up at 8 o’clock in the morning and ask if the baby is here yet. It’s very sweet.”
I remember watching Perry perform at the Chelmsford V Festival in 2009, bouncing across the stage in a bejewelled bra, brandishing a giant inflatable lipstick and belting out I Kissed a Girl, her 2008 No 1 debut and the most addictive pop song whether you liked it or not. Thousands of girls and geezers sang along to every word. Later that day a newish singer that everyone was talking about called Lady Gaga performed in a tent with crowds forming outside so thick I had to stand on my mate’s shoulders to get a glimpse of her. This was the era of peak pop music: the world asked for fun, loud, over-the-top pop stars and, with her blue wigs, cupcake bras and songs about skinny dipping and threesomes, that’s just what Perry delivered. In the 11 years since she has become one of the world’s bestselling artists, having sold more than 15 million albums and 125 million singles, and landed four Guinness world records. Meanwhile her image has travelled the spectrum from retro pin-up girl and cartoonish sex bomb to political activist — she was the most high-profile Hillary supporter in the 2016 US election — and androgynous badass, through to the beaming earth mother facing me today.
Her personal life has fed tabloid headlines throughout her career: from spats with Taylor Swift to her high-profile relationships, namely a short-lived marriage to Russell Brand in 2010. After a whirlwind romance the two married in India (she was 25, he 35) and got matching “Anuugacchati Pravaha” tattoos, translated as “Go with the flow”. He famously told her via text message that he was seeking a divorce 14 months later.
Perry went on to date John Mayer, Diplo and, in 2016, got together with Bloom. They got engaged last year. Wedding plans are on hold. “I don’t know when anything is going to happen!” she says. “I tried to make that big-ass plan …” When Style interviewed Bloom in March he told us that, before meeting Perry, he was six months into a self-imposed sex ban. Then you came along, I say. She rolls her eyes. “I know. Hold on, I need to get my charger, I’m not dismissing this.” She rummages around, looking for a laptop charger while talking about her sex life without batting an eyelid.
“I had no idea that was the case. I met him in 2016, we were both on a different journey,” she says. “He’s very sensitive. Very emotionally evolved. He gets up at 7am and chants for an hour. One of the things that binds us is our desire to be more spiritually evolved? And our desire to investigate that realm? One of our main love languages is the spiritual evolution. We love mysticism, conspiracies, aliens, all that stuff. We love an adventure of the mind. That’s definitely something we are bound by.” It’s the most Goop summary of a relationship I’ve heard. The only thing “binding” me and my boyfriend is the lease on our Ford Focus.
To be fair to Perry, I think it’s impossible to be so famous, the subject of so much scrutiny for so long, live in California, and not be a bit kooky. She at least is smart enough to laugh at herself too. “I’ve been through an emotional journey and I feel very grounded. And I should feel grounded because I’m 185 f***ing pounds right now.” After she has waxed lyrical about the apparent alkaline wonders of apple cider vinegar, I say that I presume she’ll have a natural birth, no drugs? “No, I’m not trying to be the f***ing hero.” They haven’t decided on a name yet. “We’re going to see how she speaks to us. Through her eyes or whatever.”
The year 2017 marked a rebrand for Perry: gone were the tutus, in came trouser suits, a shaved head and a techno-tinged album, Witness. It didn’t have the same pull as her previous records and contributed to a breakdown. “I was on the Witness tour, I remember looking out to the audience and thinking, ‘Why are you here? You don’t like me. I’m not that good.’ I got very clinically depressed.” Perry has been in therapy since she was 25, “but it hit me hard this time. I had always been able to skirt the issue. Any time I suffered from bouts of depression I would easily be able to run to the validation of the outside world by writing a song, doing a music video, getting likes and comments [on social media].”
She has talked about her depression before, but until today hasn’t revealed that she took medication, although she doesn’t specify what. “I tried medication and that was really intense. I was on something that my psychologist at the time recommended. It was like I sprained my brain and I needed crutches. It changes the chemistry of your mind, all the serotonin and dopamine. Sometimes people need a pharmaceutical crutch.” She’s not on medication now, but is still in therapy and is an advocate of meditation and the Hoffman Process, an extreme course of therapy combining various techniques. “You know that voice in your brain that says, ‘You’re fat, you’re ugly, you just got lucky,’ all that shit? It silences it,” she says. “Which is great because mine was super-loud.”
And amid all that pain, that year she and Bloom briefly split up. “You are never going to change someone as much as you want to change them,” she says. “They have to make the choice to change themselves, and I had to make the choice, after hitting rock bottom. I had no choice but to go on this emotional, spiritual, psychological journey or I probably wouldn’t live to see 2018. When I speak on this, it accumulates into a headline of being saved by Orlando Bloom, and I’m, like, ‘Well, I didn’t say that, but thank you for that archaic headline.’ But love did save me. Unconditional love saved me.” He’s a big presence on the new album. One of the songs, Resilient, includes the lyric: “Look at me now/ I’m in full bloom.” Another, Champagne Problems, references putting the “dirty work in”. She plans to take a long break when the baby comes, then get back on stage next year.
As our interview winds down, I tell her that, of all the versions of Perry that I’ve followed over the past decade, she seems happiest now. Content. “Yeah, I’m not chuffed, babes,” she deadpans in a mockney accent. “Am I saying that right?” We ascertain that she means “not fussed”. “Not bothered. I’ve been through the journey, now I’m just enjoying the ride. I’m [no longer] a thirsty, desperate pop star that has to reach certain numbers in order to feel worthy.” And before signing off with an exuberant “Bless you!” she adds: “The overall definition of the record is getting my smile back.”