At some point when you’re a massive global superstar, popularity becomes not just a product of your identity but an integral component of it. Mass validation has the potential to affect every aspect of your life—how you move about the world, what you allow yourself to say in public, your personal relationships, and certainly how you see yourself. I always wonder then, what the internal process is like when that popularity ceases, as it inevitably does for everyone. When the people who have defined a crucial part of who you are take themselves away, what’s left?
Egos being what they are, it’s rare to hear a pop star candidly discuss this, and so it’s superficially refreshing that Katy Perry did in a newly published Glamour interview pegged to her current world tour and upcoming stint as a judge on the rebooted American Idol. Even more impressive that Perry got there via the softball interview conducted by Instagram poet, Cleo Wade, who acknowledges her friendship with Perry three sentences into her introduction. Wade’s opening narrative gestures at illuminating Katy Perry the human (as opposed to the persona) but renders only what amounts to a silhouette (“Katy has more than a career—she has a life. She’s real.”).
In apparent reaction to the commercial, critical, and cultural failure of Witness, which was released in June and, as of January, had reportedly sold fewer than 1 million albums worldwide (2013's Prism reportedly has moved over 4 million units worldwide), Perry told Wade, “This last year has been about killing my ego, which has been really necessary for my career.” Hm.
You know, I had a lot of expectations at the end of 2015 and the end of 2016 that weren’t met. That was the first time, in a long time, that I didn’t get my way. I think it was the universe’s way of testing me, of saying, “We’re going to see if you really do love yourself.” That was challenging for me, because I didn’t realize how much I relied on the outside validation. I thought that I didn’t, but once you get kicked down the mountain a little bit, you realize that the weather really is better at the top. It’s been really necessary for me to go through that. [And I’ve learned that] people don’t relate to someone who is perfect or always winning anyway. You can’t always be sitting perched on top of the mountain.
It says something about her humility that Perry was willing to acknowledge the diminished outside validation, sure. However, viewing it through the lens of how relatable it ultimately makes her does make me wonder if her ego is actually dead or if it’s merely injured with a prognosis of full recovery. Positioning your ego’s death as endearing is actually just finding a new way to feed it and keep it alive.