Before Katy kissed a girl

Katy Perry’s religious background has piqued journalistic interest for a while. After all, most musicians don’t get their start in Christian music to go on to sing “I kissed a girl and I liked it.” Rolling Stone picked up such themes for its cover story last year, where Perry said she still considers herself a Christian.

Earlier this month, Vanity Fair teased their cover story with a few choice quotes from the piece, making it seem like it would contain lots of juicy religion details. Well, my June edition has arrived to thoroughly disappoint. Here’s how the teaser framed the piece:

“I didn’t have a childhood,” she says, adding that her mother never read her any books except the Bible, and that she wasn’t allowed to say “deviled eggs” or “Dirt Devil.” Perry wasn’t even allowed to listen to secular music and relied on friends to sneak her CDs. “Growing up, seeing Planned Parenthood, it was considered like the abortion clinic,” she tells Robinson. “I was always scared I was going to get bombed when I was there…. I didn’t know it was more than that, that it was for women and their needs. I didn’t have insurance, so I went there and I learned about birth control.”

Other outlets, such as the Daily News, picked up on the quotes with the headline which headlined, “Katy Perry slams her evangelical Christian upbringing in Vanity Fair: ‘I didn’t have a childhood.’”

The piece again attempts to frame Perry’s work against her upbringing in the deck of the article.

After a sheltered born-again childhood, Katy Perry turned herself into pop’s pantheistic princess—eager to experiment with herself, her art, and her marriage to the controversial British comedian Russell Brand.

What we get in the article, however, has little to do with her beliefs or how she and her parents deal with their religious differences. Here’s how the article paints her parents towards the very beginning of the article.

Among the “family” out front, waiting for the run-through, which will eventually start an hour late, are Katy’s 63-year-old parents–Mary and Keith Hudson–evangelical, traveling ministers who don’t look like any ministers I’ve ever seen. Mary, who claims she once dated Jimi Hendrix and whose brother was in the late film direct Frank Perry, wears jeans, makeup, and a cute leather jacket. She tells me she’s writing an autobiography. Keith, who hung out with Timothy Leary in the 1960s, is bald, wears a black leather jacket and black-rimmed eyeglasses, and is, as Katy tells me later, “just not what you’d expect [from] a Christian minister. He always had that kind of Harley-Davidson-biker, Mr. Clean look.”

This kind of writing reflects the rest of the article–lots of color about the outfits worn, the details of who knows who–with little exploration of the questions raised about her childhood. We learn that she is obsessed with dental hygiene, she once weighed 145 pounds and had bad acne at one point, but we don’t know much about what she believes or whether it impacts her music.

She was also brought up knowing how to “speak in tongues,” but refuses to give me a demonstration. She says that “It’s sort of like chanting” but that she hasn’t done it in five years. During our talk, her hair is pulled away from her face, most of her makeup has rubbed off, and she looks fabulous.”

The paragraph above illustrates how a potentially interesting angle turns into an excuse to assure the reader the reporter was physically in the room with Perry.

Rock and religion used to be in conflict. John Lennon caused an international brouhaha when he said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. It took Years for U2 to live down their early claims that they were a Christian band. The Kings of Leon’s Followill brothers are sons of a Pentecostal preacher, but the band was renowned for their early drunken sprees. Today, many pop and rock stars (especially those who have embraced 12-step programs) claim to have God on their side. But despite her upbringing and a continuing fiath, Katy says, “I have always been the kid who’s asked ‘Why?’ in my faith, you’re just supposed to have faith. But I was always like … why?”

Such profound writing here, you see. Anyway, remember when Mollie asked about the Hindu parts of her marriage to Russell Brand? The story touches on it just briefly.

“I come from a very non-accepting family, but I’m very accepting. Russell is into Hinduism, and I’m not [really] involved in it. He meditates in the morning and the evening; I’m starting to do it more because it really centers me. [But] I just let him be him and he lets me be me.

The story definitely has style but lacks new ground or substance to make it worth reading. Religion is simply employed as a marketing tool instead of a jumping off point for interesting analysis.

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  • Rick B

    If the writer had read anything else, he/she might have dug deeper into her issues with her family and her childhood faith.

    I think she is manufacturing a background story of herself. These stories don’t jive with other stories and interviews with her parents, who I believe are Methodist, not Fundamentlist Baptist.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com mattk

    Maybe the writer and editor know their audience and ask the question their audience wants answered, hence the obsession with appearance and personality.

  • http://blog.emergingscholars.org Mike Hickerson

    …evangelical, traveling ministers who don’t look like any ministers I’ve ever seen. Mary…wears jeans…Keith [wears]…black-rimmed eyeglasses

    These days, good luck finding an evangelical minister who doesn’t wear jeans and black-rimmed glasses. :)

    This could be an article on GetRockNRoll.org. I’m not surprised that a Vanity Fair journalist doesn’t know much about evangelical ministers. However, it’s pretty disappointing that a journalist writing a pop music cover story can’t connect the dots: West Coast counterculture, conversion to Christianity…sounds like Larry Norman, Keith Green, Love’s Bryan MacLean, Dylan’s Slow Train Coming and the Jesus Movement, doesn’t it? Yes, Perry’s parents have an unusual background, but it’s not exactly unheard-of in pop music.

  • JamesG.

    Rick B,

    That was my first impression reading this, too.

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    Shallow magazine prints shallow profile of shallow pop star. Runs right next to the Q&A asking Fido how the postman tasted.

  • Deb

    A classic example of how to sell a magazine cover! You do know this is a fashion magazine right? I only ask because it seems a little unfair to criticize a fashion magazine for focusing on “lots of color about the outfits worn”. Now I am not saying using religion as a marketing tool is right, and fully support your argument against using such marketing tactics. However, your post doesn’t seem to focus on this issue and could have elaborated on how this is a trend in journalism if evident.

    Is Vanity Fair’s article a representation of poor journalism or deviant marketing strategies or both? Personally, I do not think this is a good example of how the “media doesn’t get religion”. However, it’s a perfect example of how the fashion industry sells magazines by exploiting religion. But thats more of the marketing department, which is often separate from the actual writers.

    I suggest unsubscribing before your July issue arrives if you really want to make a statement. :)

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Sure, they want to sell covers. But forgive me for hoping for a writer who could produce more than sound bites. After all, the magazine recently published an interesting piece from Christopher Hitchens on the King James Version: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2011/05/hitchens-201105
    Got my hopes up, I guess. I do think Mike’s comment is pretty spot on for an example of how the reporter did not “get religion.” I don’t think the exploitation comes just from marketing–the reporter frames it that way to sell it to the reader.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    We’re not talking about UsWeekly here but Vanity Fair! Vanity Fair is known for having real stories, not just fashion spreads. With what they pay reporters, they better do more than just soundbites!

  • Julia

    What interested me about the article was the off-hand mention that her grandmother stitched outfits for Las Vegas showgirls. Then this is just dropped and not linked to anything. There’s got to be lots more to say about her family of origin.

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    Re: Mollie @ no. 8

    Real stories? Maybe it used to, but even looking at that cover I see the headlines “Michelle Bachman: Hot or Not?” and “The Celebrity Phone-Hacking Scandal.” In Sept. 2009, they ran a story supposedly written by Levi Johnson about the Palin family. I can’t see looking at them for serious writing unless they produce it inadvertantly.

  • Dorothy

    Before Katy Kissed a girl is not a good title for a site like this.

    You could have call the title The Interview with Katy Perry.

    Good luck the next time..

  • Peggy R

    Not being of the protestant or non-denominational extraction, I found much contradiction in the little bit we did learn about Katie’s religious upbringing. Her parents don’t appear (clothes and past “cool associations” described as noted) to be uptight uber-fundamentalists or whatever label VF wants to use. I don’t get why they’d not let her say “devil” in various contexts. Is she exaggerating for the reporter? And the reporter bought it? And where she says in the teaser about PP being “considered like the abortion clinic,” is she kidding? Obviously, she wants to get it out there that PP does birth control and other “women’s health” as per the current party line. But is she kidding that PP is NOT an abortion clinic?

    I give Katy Perry for retaining a very normal name in her fame. I don’t know any songs by her, however.


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