This Modern Writer: Katy Perry Has A Broken Heart: A Review of Part of Me by Brian Oliu

(with apologies to Gay Talese)

Katy Perry, holding a bottle of Pepsi in one hand and an iPhone in the other, sat down underneath the bright lights of a nameless backstage room in one of Brazil’s largest amphitheaters while countless stylists, faceless assistants, and her sister huddled in a separate room waiting for her to say something. But she said nothing; she had been silent during much of the evening, but as the scene renders, she seems even more distant, staring into the sleeve of her pink satin robe in hopes that it will change the world around her to pink: think pink, perhaps, the colors enveloping the mirrors and dressing room, making the foreign Portuguese words that seem so difficult to understand melt on the tongue and whisper away like there is some sort of understanding. The assistants, her sister, her friends knew, as did the stylists, though less so, that it was a bad idea to force conversation upon her when she was in this mood of sullen silence, a mood that was truly uncommon.

*

The subtitles tell us that they had never seen her like this: had never seen Katy cry—perhaps they expected white lines to burst out into the air like a cartoon: her eyes big and round, her hair a lovely shade of blue. The words underneath add gravity to the situation: that there is weight here—this is something that we can certainly mishear, but we cannot misquote; everything captured where it should be. Katy Perry was ill. She was the victim of an ailment so common that most people would consider it trivial. But when it gets to Katy it can plunge her into a state of anguish, deep depression, panic, though never rage—no, that is so not her, no sides coming through, nothing jarring, no lashings out.

*

Katy Perry with a broken heart is a girl without glitter, the white BMW convertible in the “Teenage Dream” video without fuel—only worse. For the common heart ache robs Katy of that uninsurable jewel, her, well, her everything, cutting into the core of her confidence, and it affects not only her own psyche but also seems to cause a melting of wax over dozens of people who work for her, eat pizza with her, love her, depend on her for their own welfare and stability—it drips and hardens, and they scratch at the grooves, their fingernails making indentations, the wax finding its way under cuticles. Katy Perry with a broken heart can, in a small way, send vibrations through her viewers, especially this one: this sour-bourboned, cigarette-eyed broken viewer, eyes blue as her hair, New Jersey as it gets, New York serenaded.

*

Katy Perry smiles and it is beautiful. Early in the film, she sees her grandmother who calls her a show-off: they laugh, she gives her a pink tour jacket, they laugh again. We learn about Katy Perry—photographs and pledges, promises when she was younger, declarations of weirdness, of fantasy. Grandma talks slowly: does not show us Ava Gardner’s pearls, does not gesture to signed photographs of Sammy Davis and old Popes. Katy Perry talks of perseverance, of making good on promises: not if, but when, all things certain—stardom, granting Make-A-Wish dreams, children though not yet not yet, it gets betters, the somedays but not yets, the bravery in bravado, the things that make people like Katy Perry so appealing, the you are a goddamn firework, the holding on of parts that will never be taken away.

*

The title of the film, Part of Me, is also a title of a song, which does not appear anywhere in the film—instead, it was a song written after Katy’s breakup. It is defiant and aggressive: he can keep the diamond ring, he can keep everything except for her. This song, and Wide Awake are available on the bonus edition of Teenage Dream—in this case, the bonus material isn’t throwaway remixes, or cheerful tracks that don’t fit. They tell the whole story, even after we all thought the story had already been told.

*

It all changes because the context changes—we hear a song and it reminds us of someone and makes us happy: it transports us to a long car ride, or a dance floor, or a bedroom, and the person appears from underneath the stage of wherever we are, rising, sparkling, holding a microphone to their heart. When things go sour, the same song can be devastating—something that was enjoyed from a place of love can turn dark. In the same way that when we read through love letters and cannot believe the things that we said during those moments, Katy is having to read these love letters aloud post-heartbreak, and the result is haunting. These songs, meant to inspire others, get turned internally: Katy trying her best to listen to her own advice the same way that we ignore what we have told our ailing friends when they were coping with their stubborn sadness, our own words sounding foreign.

*

This: with the grandmother, with the photo slideshow, this is what this film was supposed to be. This was supposed to be fun—a slight insight into how superstars work, how tireless they are with their craft and yet how vapid they are in describing what they do—promises to inspire, promises to be the best. This was supposed to be about the costumes and the make-up, and the slight moments where Katy Perry wants to sleep in, her eyes sunk from too little rest, her hair in knots—her assistants hitting her with a pillow before a quick cut to the make-up being applied, the fake eyelashes being blinked into place. All of this happens, certainly, but at some point, we are warned, Katy Perry will be heartbroken.

*

The stars are just like us: even Sinatra had to fight through a cold.

*

This was supposed to be fun: I could joke about how there is absolutely no warning for when “Kitty Purry”, a person in a large, furry, purple cat suit appears out of nowhere to assist audience members. I could mention how Katy mentions her craving for a hot dog no less than three times during the course of the film. I could point out the unintentional comedy of a moment where we cannot hear what Katy is saying so subtitles are used to make it clear: in regards to her husband being unable to fly out to meet her, she states “It is kind of cray cray (crazy),” and that the producers felt as if it were necessary to clarify the definition of “cray cray” for the audience.

*

The audience is warned at the very beginning: In 2011, Katy Perry had the most successful year of her life but also endured personal heartbreak scrolls across the screen first, before the crowds, before the number of days Katy Perry will be on tour, before the piece of glitter drops from the heavens, we know how it ends. The moment of Katy’s heartbreak does not happen until the very end of the film: however, considering the audience knows that everything is going to crash down makes for uneasy watching—everything is grand and lovely, and yet we are waiting. It is fun: there are costume changes, and dancers, and small children with neon signs, and countless girls dressed up as Kathy Beth Terry, Katy Perry’s nerdy alter ego that debuted in the “Last Friday Night” video. This is the film that was supposed to be: harmless cotton candy fluff, pure joy.

*

It’s silly, I know: I turn thirty soon, very soon, and here is my inspiration—not in Moore, or Hejinian, or Rich, but Perry: boom rhyming with moon, plastic bags in the wind, sparklers and cleavage, but so heart-wrenchingly lovely, so grandiose and earnest, so untouchable yet accessible—the children and their parents waiting in line to share hugs and eat candy and plant kisses on cheeks at a pre-show tea party, Katy Perry, our hostess, Katy Perry our deliverer of kindness.

*

There is comfort in identifying the fact that stars, beautiful ones, get their hearts broken and there’s simplicity in that—the misery in commiseration: the way that when we hear a song we feel like it was written exactly for us, and exactly for that moment. These moments come to us in pop songs more often than other types of music: they are popular for a reason—they appeal to all of us, us who have had relationships run hot and cold, us who have felt a love so alien, us who have fallen from cloud nine. We identify with sadness and weakness, and it looms large when watching the destruction of a celebrity marriage, our heroine unaware that when she talks about having children, or her flights to Los Angeles from Zurich for her “relationship days”, that it will end in a fury of kitty cat costumes and text messages and begging for fifteen more minutes of sleep before eye shadow.

*

After finding up the courage to perform, Katy Perry is about to tell the crowd a secret when she is interrupted. The chants go up in Portuguese: we love you, translated, captioned, in script on the bottom of the screen. Katy yells I wish I knew how to speak Portuguese, and me, in the theater identifying, wishes I knew how to speak it as well: I know the words for thank you and I know the words for bus station. I know the Ss swoosh like SHs at the end of words, but there is no use for the plural anymore, no need for more licorice, no more whipped cream, cherries on top.

*

There is a moment during the climax where Katy’s fans take to Twitter to quote Katy back to herself—reminders of her own words, those items that sound so trivial, but take on entirely new meaning somehow: teenage dreams and no regrets.

*

A confession: I was weeping in the theater. To be fair, I have been crying at the sight of a good kiss lately: the ones where the eyes close at just the right time.

*

Katy Perry is standing underneath the stage in Brazil, minutes from canceling the largest show on her tour because her marriage did not survive the days, eyes down, microphone held near her stomach. The pinwheels on her breasts start to spin, and she raises the sparkled microphone to the sky like a beacon so bright I cannot find the words. The man operating the lift smiles, and she smiles back, chin upward and out.

*

We, like this film, know how it all ends, yet we ignore it for as long as we can—and why shouldn’t we? Building a fantasy land of giant birthday cakes, strawberries, pink stairs, pink clouds, outfit changes, never the same dress twice, never the same shirt, some blue to match eyes, some not: it is better than the alternative, of tears in false-paneled rooms.

*

I’ve found myself wondering what Katy was going to say before the chants took over and the next song started: it might’ve been digestible, predictable—a grand statement about love and loss, about crying into the sink just a few minutes prior to taking the stage. It might’ve been perfect.


Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey & currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. His collection of Tuscaloosa Missed Connections, So You Know It’s Me, was released in 2011 by Tiny Hardcore Press. His series of lyric essays based off of video game boss battles, Level End, was released by Origami Zoo Press in 2012.

  • Jamie

    I’d say this was over-wrought but that’s far too small a word for so much purple ink. If only Katy (that brave, sensitive soul responsible for ‘U R So Gay’) had known there were cameras documenting her private heartbreak – what luck as the film would otherwise be two hours of whipcream, glitter, and cheezwhiz with no real arc.

    People get it wrong – it’s Katy not Gaga who is the heiress presumptive to Madonna’s crown. Of the pop girls, only Katy has both the pop hooks and ruthless commitment to marketng herself as M, lack of musical ambition harnessed to a laser focus on celebrity. It’s a winning combination.

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