In 2008, a new popstar entered the game with a catchy little hit about kissing girls and a retro pin-up aesthetic. She referred to herself as Katy Perry, a half-cute-half-sexy character that looked as though she could be a Hollywood dream but also the first girl you ever shared a milkshake with. She was everything all at once. Confident, but vulnerable. Edgy, but saturated in bubblegum pink. In the same day you could see the star rock a bra shooting whipped cream and a floor-length gown with pearls.
The allure of Katy Perry’s style has always been wondering what she’ll do next. Blue hair? Tick. Vintage 60’s rompers? Tick. A mini dress with spinning peppermint candies strategically placed? Double tick. No matter what the look, it’s always there to send a message. (Take, for example, the time she wore a dress with a smiling Barack Obama printed on it once he’d been elected president). Katy Perry is more than just an artist, she’s an entire idea. And we’ve been living through her experimentation for over a decade.
Take a trip down memory lane with us as we unpack the weird, yet very wonderful, style evolution of Katy Perry.
One of the Boys (2008)
In the beginning, Katy Perry took the whole 60’s dream girl thing as far as it could possibly go. With her shiny black hair and bright red lipstick, she’d don little sundresses and high-waisted shorts and flutter around like she knew you’d be sticking her picture up on your bedroom wall. Like Lilly-Allen-meets-adorable-schoolgirl, it was hard to know whether you found Perry unbelievably sexy or just annoyingly cute. And that’s the brand she rolled with.
Her first studio album with a big label One of the Boys (and first under the pseudonym Katy Perry) aimed to set Perry apart from the rest. It had a familiar pop-rock vibe (not too different from what we’d seen from Gwen Stefani, Fergie and even a 2008 Miley Cyrus) and a stunning array of vulnerable ballads that showed that Perry’s voice was made to fill stadiums. And it cast her dreamlike spell over the world well. It became painfully clear that there wasn’t anyone else like Perry. She’d tug at your heartstrings with deep and powerful love lyrics, then not even a minute later she’d be childishly calling her effeminate ex gay and giggling about kissing another girl. But what else could you really expect from a 23-year-old woman prancing around in comically large hair bows and tutus?
Teenage Dream (2010)
By the time the new decade rolled around, Perry was everywhere. She had put in the groundwork the years prior to build her platform to where she wanted it to be and was now just sitting back and watching it grow. The pin-up aesthetic shifted to, strangely, candy everything. Whether it was pastel colours or literal candy costumes, Perry had a new aesthetic to roll out that only cemented her as more of a popstar.
Unlike One of the Boys where it sort of got lost who exactly Perry was trying to be, the album Teenage Dream saw Perry at her strongest. Which was, obviously, being a teenage girl messiah. Although not every song could relate to the average teenage girl (looking at you ‘Peacock’), the wonderful technicolour dreamworld she created really only had one target audience in mind. Katy Perry was in love (to comedian Russell Brand) and she not only wanted everyone to know, she wanted to invite every teenage girl in the world to her sleepover to gush about it.
The Teenage Dream era groomed Perry into a fresh new pop princess. Taking the elements that worked from the previous years (the pink, the cuteness, the bubblegum) and leaving behind the ones that didn’t do so well (the hot pants, RIP), Perry became louder, brighter and closer to the Hollywood dream girl fantasy than the pretty girl-next-door. But she still held onto her retro edge. It seemed Teenage Dream really sold everyone on Perry’s niche, a girl who looked to romanticise every aspect of her life and turn it all into a classic film. She became more and more obsessed with creating a utopia that her fashion became crazier. From the iconic electric blue and lilac wigs to the candy floss and candy button mini dresses, Perry was only solidifying the idea of herself more. Katy Perry was the bubblegum princess Katheryn Hudson doodled about as she lay on her bed listening to ‘60s crooners floating out of her record player.
The fall of Perry’s marriage to Russell Brand, and quite possibly her nearing thirty, helped the star come crashing down to reality. By 2013, Perry had divorced from Brand (via him simply just sending a text) and found love with John Mayer. The smoky haze of her teenage lust had completely evaporated, and she was seeing her romantic movie for what it really was; just a bunch of angles making things look pretty in certain lights. Fitting then that her next album was titled Prism.
Prism, although still upbeat and boppy in typical Perry nature, showed a raw sense of vulnerability we hadn’t really seen from the star before. (The heartbreaking ‘By The Grace of God’ details how Perry contemplated ending her life after the split from Brand). Prism showed us Katheryn, the person, rather than Katy Perry, the being. There were no gimmicks involved, just Perry in the middle of a flower field in a simple top and her natural black hair falling to her shoulders. Gone were the candy-dipped wigs and latex costumes, this new era was showing the world a more stripped-back Perry that had managed to pick herself back up from her rough fall from the clouds.
But in no way did that mean her popstar-ness was gone. In fact, it only got stronger. She matured from pop princess to pop queen, relying on her continuous string of hits and peppering in some pizazz when she thought she needed to. She chose vintage gowns over customised get-ups, channeling Priscilla Presley more than Barbie. Her black hair became more of a staple than it ever had, but when she got sick of it, she chopped it short and dyed it a forest green. Just because she could. She was stronger now, more confident, and free from the trap she had made for herself in her dreamland. But, of course, the heart-shaped glasses still popped out every now and then.
Perry took a four-year-long break after Prism to work on her mental health, wellbeing and try and figure out where she was headed next as an artist. In came the blonde hair, a complete reinvention for the star who had spent her entire career building a brand associated with her black locks. She eventually cut it into a pixie cut, showing off not only a new colour but a completely new style. It was her way of shedding her former skin, saying goodbye to her past naivety and heartbreak and stepping into the world as not only a new popstar, but a new woman.
As an album, Witness went down the path most pop queens go down as they clear their youthful era and begin a new, mature one. Still pop, but in a purposeful artistic kind of way. Not only was the cover kind of strange, but the majority of the album was too. Perry jumped into dance mixes, mimicking the likes of Madonna and Robyn and entering the art-pop world in full force. No longer was Perry trying to make a movie, she was now trying to make an abstract piece of work you could hang in a gallery. It all meant something; it was just up to us to figure out what.
2019 – present
Two years after Perry had completed her art-pop cycle, she retreated back to her vulnerable self and started pushing out singles with a new aesthetic. She adopted a long, blonde wig, wore flowing and pale coloured clothing, and seemed genuinely at peace with who both Katheryn and Katy Perry were. On Valentine’s Day 2019, on-and-off-again romance Orlando Bloom proposed to the star, and Perry was suddenly thrown right back into her lovey-dovey dream world.
The new era of Perry felt like a sequel to her Teenage Dream one. Where Teenage Dream was her first love, she was now celebrating life with who she’d hope would be her last. The love was different this time around, it didn’t make the star doodle hearts in her diary but instead brought her a sense of security and comfort. She wasn’t looking for someone to take to the prom, she was looking for someone to build a life with; settle down and find home within. The movie suddenly changed; the larger-than-life scenarios fizzled away with the last drops of the star’s youthful and single years and they were replaced with the simple, daily pleasures that arise when navigating life with the one you love.
Throughout her career, Perry has always chased after a fantasy. Whether it was being a popstar or being someone’s other half, she aimed to reflect those desires in her music and style. She’s tried on a dozen capes, being your pin-up dream girl, your older sister, your iconic pop queen, and it’s now in 2020 that she settles into her greatest role yet: a mother (in March, her and Bloom announced they were expecting their first child together). There have been plenty of eras in Perry’s lifecycle, but we feel like this is gearing up to be her best.
Listen to Katy Perry’s new single ‘Daisies’ out now!