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Katy Perry: “I’m definitely not who I was five years ago”

Exclusive: Katy Perry and Alesso tell Rolling Stone UK about their new single 'When I'm Gone', Vegas residencies and plans for 2022

By Hollie Geraghty

Alesso wears a black leather suit next to Katy Perry in a purple bodysuit
Alesso and Katy Perry in the music video for 'When I'm Gone' (Picture: Rony Alwin).

“I’m late, but I’m not ugly,” jokes Katy Perry when she arrives on Zoom 15 minutes after our scheduled interview time. She seems flustered, repositioning her laptop and adjusting the curtains before swishing her hair behind her and shuffling towards the screen. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” she says. “I can’t just like fucking pop on a beanie and look hot.” The modern pop icon is referring to her recent collaborator Alesso, who laughs while slumped comfortably in his chair, patiently waiting for the singer to compose herself.

The duo have teamed up on the new song ‘When I’m Gone’, a high-tech electronic-dance anthem which marks the pair’s first track together. With Perry also in the middle of a larger-than-life Vegas residency that celebrates her biggest hits, and having recently gone back to her signature black hairstyle, it would seem she’s having somewhat of a full circle moment. But despite a return to a more familiar side of the pop star, Perry insists a new era lies ahead. 

You can read Rolling Stone UK’s interview with Katy Perry and Alesso below.

Katy, after the release of your album ‘Smile’ in 2020 and single ‘Electric’ last year, why did this feel like the right track to come back with?

Katy: This song is kind of a standalone song. I don’t know if it has any relation to the events before it. But it does fill my personal need in that sometimes I love doing sexy dance songs that make you feel a certain vibe and mood. I do a lot of empowering songs, right? But it’s nice every once in a while to go out there and be like, “I’m hot and I’m sexy and you want me and you can’t have me”, and just have people be able to embody that feeling of like, “don’t take me for granted”, or whatever is the vibe. But it was such a great song when Alesso sent it, and he sent it so long ago. And it kept on being such a great song. And I was like, “well, I’m not ready to put out an album but I’m going to Vegas, so let’s give the kids some new material to float on.

You told Rolling Stone in 2020 that sometimes people will ask you in interviews when you’re going to “settle down”. Both a Vegas residency and the energy of this track suggest the opposite. Is there satisfaction in being able to subvert people’s expectations?

Katy: Well, that’s just other people’s sad transference on me. Because “settle down?” What kind of story is life for them? I don’t know. It feels archaic. Not many women are asking women that question. Usually it’s coming from just an outdated perspective. Because we like to do it all and have it all and try it all and check all the boxes. And after all the boxes are checked, dream up some new ones. There’s no limits. Sorry, that’s just someone, what do they call it? Projecting.

Katy, you have more Vegas residency dates coming up. Alesso, you’ve performed there numerous times. What does Sin City require of you to be able to put on a great show there?

Alesso: I’ve been doing Vegas for 10 years, at least now. And it definitely is one of the best cities to throw these kinds of parties. And I just signed with the Tao Group now for a couple years and very excited for that. But Katy’s show is something slightly different. It’s a show I yet have to see.

Katy: Well you’ve been there for 10 years, and you’re still alive. So you obviously understand how to roll with it. Because when people come to Vegas, typically it’s like once a year and it’s for an event or a celebratory moment. It’s the entertainment capital of the world. And as you see, with all the different residencies that have been popping up, Gaga and Gwen Stefani and Adele eventually, and just all of my incredible peers that have amazing shows going, “oh this is where I’m gonna set up shop,” is awesome. We were saying actually when we were prepping Vegas, I’m so glad I’m 37 and I’m in Vegas, I’m not like 24 because Vegas is over the top, just like my show. It’s excessive, just like my show. And to have too much of that is very “Hello Darkness My Old Friend”. So I’m glad to have balance and I have a baby and I have a wonderful partner. 

Were you surprised to hear Adele had to cancel her Vegas residency? Can you empathise with the logistical issues she’s experienced?

Katy: I would say that just first and foremost, during the time of Covid chaos, I think we all can sympathise that nothing has been the same in the past two years and that I think we’ve all gotten used to going with a flow and having to accept delays that are out of our control. It was pretty intense as well for us during the new variant, and so everybody was ready to pivot. And we just were being super vigilant about “how do we make everyone happy?”

Were you hoping to get to the show if it had run as planned?

Katy: I will when it does, for sure. Yeah, I’ll be there.

Has becoming a mum changed the perspective of the music that you’re going to be putting out in the future?

Katy: I mean, look, your life is better and fuller and bigger and brighter. And it’s almost like you’ve got a new lease on life because you see everything big to something completely mundane. I was watching her capture a bug in her hands yesterday, and the brightness in her eye and the awe and just the magic, it’s given me wings to see her go “what the hell is this?” There’s just so much joy and life and love. So I can only imagine that that will translate into some beautiful vibrations in the future. I mean I’m still trying to like, be hot. A yummy mummy.

The fact that the acronym for the song is ‘WIG’ seems like fate. Katy, what has that word come to mean for you and your fans since that viral American Idol moment?

Katy: “Wig” belongs to us all but definitely to the gay community. It’s a way of speaking that is fun and colourful. I don’t know who invented it or who used it as a description of like “oh my god”. Basically, “jaw dropping”, now the right word for it is “wig”. And I don’t know how it came to be that the initials for ‘When I’m Gone’ stand for “Wig” but I do now believe in a simulation so much so, and someone has upgraded my pop star avatar to have extra superpowers.

Have you started working on a new album at all? Can you give any hints about what that might look like?

Katy: I’m always writing and always thinking about the future and five year blocks at a time and what I want to create. But there’s a lot of other things that I am enjoying doing and diversifying my life. I toured the world three times over and I’ve put out a bunch of records and seen some peaks and seen some valleys and I’m just so grateful for every day, and grateful for my daughter. I’m doing all kinds of things on top of being a mother and a partner and just staying curious and open. I don’t know, I mean, music will come when it comes. I was wondering actually about Alesso. Will you ever put out a full record? Or do you think you’ll always do like one-offs?

“I’m always writing and always thinking about the future and five year blocks at a time and what I want to create”

Alesso: That’s a good question. I feel like the time right now for me is to do one-offs, maybe like a smaller EP. Because things are moving so fast, and so is my music. So like a song I did six months ago, sometimes doesn’t sound fresh enough to me. I like to move fast and a record is a big commitment. I’ve only released one album and that was a story and I want to do a story again, I don’t want to just put a bunch of songs together. 

Who are you both listening to at the moment? Is there anyone new on your radar?

Alesso: I really like this guy named Fred Again. He’s been doing music for Ed Sheeran and he started putting out some solo stuff. And it’s such a vibe. Love the stuff.

Katy: Two things. I’m refreshing my Kendrick Lamar ears. I’m excited for Sunday [Super Bowl performance]. I’m a big fan of him. Because every time he does something new it’s just like aligned with all the planets. And then there’s this new artist named Noga [Erez], who’s an Israeli artist and is really dope. She just has this like eye of the tiger, laser focus, like “nothing is gonna stand in my fucking way. I’m gonna get it all”. Her lyrics are just so fresh and boss.

“I’m a big fan of Kendrick Lamar. Because every time he does something new it’s just like aligned with all the planets”

Katy, you said in a recent interview that you wanted to move into an evolved space and a new era as an artist. What does that look like?

Katy: I feel like I’m definitely always trying to evolve and always a new, different version of myself every single day. And I’m definitely not who I was five years ago and grateful for the growth every step of the way. But I guess for me that it’s just meaning doing what I love, and putting out the music that I love, and not thinking about the business side of it, I guess. Because there’s “what came first, the music or the music business?” I think it was the music and then there was, you know, capitalism on the other side, which is great because we all benefit from it.

But I think it’s fun to know that my main source of love and affection comes from my family, and from myself or whatever tools that I’m using and that it’s not in anyone else’s control anymore. I guess it would definitely be in my daughter’s control a little bit. But to know that that love is more unconditional and now I can just play and have fun and not think “oh, is something gonna work or not?” I’m just putting out what I’m feeling and vibing and hopefully that feels authentic and it isn’t about so much about “are we gonna win or are we making money?” But just like, “what’s the vibe?”

‘When I’m Gone’ is out now via Positiva/EMI in the UK.