Youth Culture Window
She’s the daughter of not one, but two, pastors. She says she’s a believer, and often prays…sometimes in tongues! She’s even released a gospel album.
Then why is it that she’s one of the worst role models for young people these days?
A Good Run
When she takes the stage nowadays, it’s as Katy Perry, even though she was born Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson in 1984. Regardless of what you call her, this young lady has had quite a run over the last two years.
On May 6, 2008, her smash hit “I Kissed a Girl” was released and quickly hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (where it stayed for seven weeks). Her follow-up song “Hot N Cold” peaked at #3 on the charts very soon after.
More recently she’s offered the world her version of summertime pop in “California Gurls.” (No I didn’t misspell her title; that’s her way of invoking the Beach Boys without paying royalties.) It sits at #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
August 2010 is proving a watershed month for Perry as well. On August 9, she hosted FOX’s annual Teen Choice Awards. Her latest photo op is the August 19 cover of Rolling Stone, where the lead feature article tells of “The Hard Road & Hot Times of a Fallen Angel.” Perry’s latest hit “Teenage Dream” is riding the #9 position on Billboard’s Hot 100 (and, depending on the day you look, usually #2 on iTunes’ song and video charts). Her highly anticipated new album (also titled Teenage Dream) drops this Tuesday, August 24.
Now you see why “it’s good to be Katy Perry.”
But does that make Katy Perry good for our kids?
Let’s just go ahead and say it: Katy Perry is one of the most dangerous elements within youth culture right now.
Her first hit “I Kissed a Girl” is a long way from the gospel music she originally produced. (But hey, if you’re gonna sell out, sell out big, right?)
Her next #1 tune, “California Gurls,” isn’t much better. When she performed this little ditty at the 2010 MTV Movie Awards, she teased the crowd with the same explicit hand gestures she uses in her music video (you can check out all the hubbub near the 2:06 mark).
“Teenage Dream,” her latest single, uses the same formula: Sex masquerading as music. Its lyrics should give parents and youth workers pause before downloading the tune for their teens. The following are just a few of the racy words:
We drove to Cali
Typical of many top songs today, “No cuss words, so it must be clean.” You can check out the rest of the lyrics or view the brand new – and incredibly sensual – music video to understand the point of this song.
And got drunk on the beach
Got a motel and
Built a floor out of sheets
I finally found you
My missing puzzle piece
Let's go all the way tonight
No regrets, just love
We can dance until we die
You and I
We'll be young forever…
Perry’s message has been unmistakable all along, but “Teenage Dream” says it most clearly: the quintessential teenage dream is filled with lots of sex and no regrets.
Those of us who’ve escaped our teenage years know that’s not realistic. For that reason, I call Perry a misguided musician.
But that’s not the only dangerous message she’s sending.
I mention earlier that Perry adorns the current cover of Rolling Stone magazine. One glance at the glossy photo will make you wonder if Katy’s naked or not. A closer look will confirm that she is indeed clothed—though bra-and-panties-only hardly passes for fully dressed.
In the article entitled “Sex, God & Katy Perry,” she speaks about her fame, her romantic escapades with British comedian Russell Brand (who we’ve written about before), and her Christian upbringing—which she claims still influences her today. “It was not a ‘kumbayah’ atmosphere,” says Perry. “I knew about hell from the moment I understood a sentence,” (page 44). To this day, she considers herself a Christian, and like her father, even sports a tattoo on her wrist that reads “Jesus.”
As the article continues, Perry gives readers a deeper look at her faith-based upbringing. “Speaking in tongues is as normal to me as ‘Pass the salt.’ A lot of religions use meditation or chanting as a subliminal prayer language, and speaking in tongues isn’t that different—it’s a secret, direct prayer language to God,” (page 45).
But she also confesses great conflict over her beliefs. “God is very much still a part of my life. But the way the details are told in the Bible—that’s very fuzzy for me. And I want to throw up when I say that. But that’s the truth,” (page 47). Perry concludes her thoughts on religion with these ageless words: “I still believe that Jesus is the son of God,” (page 47).
But for Perry, it seems as though everything—including faith—has some sex attached to it…even when she criticizes others for the same offense. In reference to Lady Gaga’s music video “Alejandro,” in which Gaga crosses new lines of irreverence, Perry says, “I think when you put sex and spirituality in the same bottle and shake it up, bad things happen. Yes, I said I kissed a girl. But I didn’t say I kissed a girl while f-ing a crucifix,” (page 47).
Apparently in Perry’s mind, it’s okay to be crass as long as you’re not irreverent at the same time. And she excels at being crass. For example, in a discussion about her natural blonde hair color (which she always dyes black), the article reads:
“Black just makes sense for me. My natural color is like…like….” Perry looks around, but doesn’t see anyone with the exact same hair color. So she starts to pull up her skirt. “You can just see it here!” she says.
During a photo shoot that coincides with the writing of the Rolling Stone article, Katy is told by one of the journalists to, “Just refer to the camera like a friend.” She responds in her usual teasing manner:
Thankfully, she drops the hem before she gets the whole way up. But for a second, it was anyone’s guess whether she would.
Perry cocks her head. “Like a Facebook friend?” she drawls. “Someone whose wall you look at from time to time but never f--k?”During the interview, Perry takes the crew down the street to her recording studio. When they jump into her Audi, she turns on the air conditioner to make her guests comfortable, but soon regrets her decision. “The AC smells like stinky p-ssy. Need to get that fixed. Sorry about that.”
That’s Katy. (But don’t worry folks—at least she’s not irreverent.)
So many would call her music “clean” because it’s void of profanity and explicit sexual verbiage. Even the Rolling Stone article calls her a “good girl.” But it’s easy to see the gap between her self-professed faith and her behavior (on stage and off).
That sort of hypocrisy makes her theology as dangerous as her music.
Picking on Perry?
I’m not calling parents and youth leaders to grab their pitchforks and torches and go on a witch hunt for Katy Perry. In no way am I trying to misrepresent her music or her faith. But I do believe wise parents and godly youth leaders should pay very close attention to the messages she communicates on and offstage.
Any music released by Perry should be carefully and responsibly scrutinized. Most of her songs are built on the false premise of regret-free promiscuity. In conversations with young people, you may want to ask questions that help them realize there are always consequences for our actions.
As for her “doctrines,” any cursory glance at the Bible will refute most of what Perry claims. Unfortunately, she knows more than enough about the Bible to be more than just a little dangerous. Some of her beliefs are incredibly orthodox, but her actions (at least the ones trumpeted in headlines and music videos) typically contradict them. Again parents and youth workers would do well to hinge conversations with young people on the important relationship between our actions and our beliefs. (Here’s a great way to do that.)
Finally, avoid slamming Perry and bluntly dismissing her with your teens. It’s one thing to scrutinize her music and lifestyle; it’s quite another to come across ill-informed and non-thoughtful with kids who’re expecting that from adults. Even more, pray for Perry—and for the youth who’re attracted to her music. Because her messages may mislead teenage listeners along the same unfortunate path Perry’s chosen to walk.
Plus, enough prayer on her behalf may lead Perry back to the faith of her childhood, produce healthy music, and model a biblical lifestyle. Who knows?
It’s good to be Katy Perry. Not because she’s had multiple #1 songs. Not because she’s hosted live awards shows. Not because she’s graced the covers of magazines.
It’s good to be Katy Perry because Jesus loves her.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.