Katy Perry's Licking Stick

The teen dream diva gives tween sexploitation a peppermint twist.

Katy Perry's Licking Stick
photo by Gary Miller

There were children dressed as peacocks and peppermint. There were tiny puffs of disco cotton candy for sale, with twitching french tickler rainbow lights in them. And a giant French boudoir curtain.

No one told me I was going to a slumber party. A dirty, slutty slumber party.

Had Lisa Frank gorged on a Cirque du Disney game show set for the TV version of the Candyland board game – then threw up – you'd pretty much have Katy Perry's California Dreams tour set. Not that that's a bad thing. It's just a curious thing. I was waiting for free PCP-laced candy to descend from the rafters at any minute.

Playfully vile Katy Perry shot into stardom singing novelty songs about kissing girls and liking it ("I Kissed a Girl") and making fun of boys by calling them gay ("Ur So Gay"). Walking that thin line between knowing wink/nudge outrageousness and outright teen culture exploitation, between "just kidding" and sharp daggers (intended or not), the young popconoclast likes to have her Katy and eat it too. She might be our mirror – revealing the same thin line so many of us walk but don't like to hear ourselves talk. Smartass with a heart of equal parts darkness and gold.

We arrived at the Erwin Center to hundreds of loyal Perry-files (aka "Katy Cats") hugging the west wall for the last few inches of shade the big drum would yield, proud troopers lined up to suffer the heat for their mistress, as the sun unleashed its last few triple-digit blasts of fury before setting in the late afternoon.

Overheard:

• Large dude waving tickets at us as we walked in: "I got these for the girls' birthday!"

• Older, dapper dad or possibly granddad in Docksiders and khakis gushing: "This reminds me of the Gaga show!"

• Cluster of four post-tweens: "I remember when I got to see John Meyer in his prime! Back when he shaved his head and dated Jennifer Anniston! How tall is Katy Perry?! 5'7"?! I expect her to be teeny! Everyone famous I meet is teeny!"

Tickets were at unseasonably reasonable prices for this tour. And dedicated followers of KP (visions of the Fabulous Stains sans girl power danced in my head) were out in force, draped in electric turquoise or pink wigs, or dressed as candy buttons, peppermint twists, or peacocks. Yes, peacocks. In honor of KP's song, "Peacock." The one that goes, "I wanna see your peacock cock cock cock..." That one.

Let's ponder "Peacock" for a moment. Hand's-down the best production number of the evening (saying much in a night brimming with speed-of-light costume changes and high-end pyrotechnic, laser-fueled fandango…), "Peacock" relied heavily on standard burlesque/Vegas-showgirl cues, especially for Perry's troupe of six technicolor-clad dancers – since Perry's own dance moves consist of your basic strut/model/thrust-hand-in-air minimalism. Her stunning troupe of scene shredding dancers were cocked with blue and green fan-dance plumes stepping out in storied Vaudeville paces to encircle and envelope Ms. P, at one point opening and closing around her like a giant fluttering eyelashed gash. (How yonic!)

The main dance move that KP herself provided the song involved bird-like simulated fellatio with the mic. On the Jumbotron with moms and dads nodding to the beat. Keep it classy, Katy!

Speaking of parents: As a mom (and previous tween/teen who enjoyed a healthy rock & roll life, without parental guidance) I'm torn. I cringed for the kids laughing knowingly at jokes their folks were there to supervise. I also cringed for the parents. In all truth, KP's show holds no more or less innuendo than your basic cable Tosh.0 or episode of Scrubs.

Perry is just doin' what she do: Trojan horsing cottoncandy sexuality to kids who are already bombarded by so many random images and messages… so, what does it matter? Some of these tots' moms teethed to Madonna and were "hee hee hooo"-ing to Britney soundtracks during labor. KP is a logical step. And not unlike La Brit, she's a confusing diva.

The oddly named California Dreams Tour (perhaps the Candyland people would not relinquish rights/useage?) wended Perry's hits into a muddled attempt at a narrative via interspersed film clips featuring a mean butcher (Mad TV's Will Sasso) and a lost cat (Kitty Purry). In the movie, Katy crawls through a hole to find her cat. (Hello, Dr. Freud?) The convoluted storyline is lovingly distracted by real life mimes and aerialists. At one point, two air dancers land and become a bench. Katy sits on them and is elevated high up in the air, with the two women her base. It was difficult to shoo away thoughts of Caligula or Clockwork Orange. There was so much to hate about this show, yet so much to love.

The majority of the set list is nearly identical to those posted online for shows in other cities along the tour:

Teenage Dream Hummingbird Heartbeat Waking Up In Vegas Ur So Gay Peacock I Kissed a Girl Circle the Drain E.T. Who Am I Living For Pearl Not Like the Movies …

At this point, technically mid-show, Perry and three parts of her seven-piece back-up band (hot rock bad asses by live dance music standards) stripped it down to real and unplugged in a section of her show she likes to call Katyoke. This is a standard feature within the tour sets, rotating through an array of ditties given an acoustic touch. This night, she tackled Rihanna's "Only Girl" (and with all sincerity, I say she nailed this – her vocals soared), Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'," Rebecca Black's mega-meme-y "Friday," and Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair." Oddly, the segment highlights Perry's chops (good and bad as singer) and natural knack for wrapping a crowd around her finger. It's in this segment that the diva pours on the love for whatever city she's in. This could be dismissed as pandering, but YouTube clips reveal that she puts some effort into having unique and personal things to say about each town. Austin's namechecks included SXSW ("Last time I was here, I played for only, like, 100 people"), shot bars ("You can't do shots!" she twinkled to an audience member, "You're, like, 12!"), and Austin's signature dish ("I been eatin' that queso!").

Andy and I bowed out for the last part of the show as she was stepping onto a large pink cloud to ride into the crowd to sing "Thinking of You," As we left, thumps and strains of the apropos Strangeloves/BowWowWow cover, "I Want Candy" wafted through the Erwin.

We were sad to leave. It wasn't that we'd had enough. Despite gnawing on over an hour of Katy Perry's mind-numbingly sarcastic saccharin sugar lick, we were still intrigued and strangely craving more. But Baltimore rapper Rye Rye who'd joined opener Robyn onstage an hour earlier was scheduled to launch her set at the Scoot.

(Stay tuned for an entire blog post about Robyn and Rye Rye.)

Presumably Perry ripped through her remaining hits "Hot N Cold," "Last Friday Night," her cover of Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," and "Firework." I was especially sad to miss "Firework," my favorite of her songs – almost redemptive in the way that "Beautiful" made people see Christina Aguilera in a totally different light.

Katy Perry is poised to pop her career into an overdrive that only an exclusive lineage of divas has ever tasted.

I went in expecting to hate every minute of Katy Perry. I came out wondering if she could sustain this high, hone her chops with some vocal finesse, and come out this generation's Madonna. That might be a serious overstatement. But to the over 10,000 Katy Cats in attendence, she's the cat's meow.

You just never know: Some pop machines come up with cotton candy. Some come up with Pepsi Blue.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Katy Perry, California Dreams, Erwin Center, Candy, pop diva

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