American pop star Katy Perry turned 29 last month and is feeling old.
Best known for the candy-cotton hits from her last two albums, One Of The Boys (2008) and Teenage Dream (2010), which together sold almost 11 million records, the singer- songwriter has now come up with the proverbial "mature" album.
Sitting across from Life! in a suite at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, she comes across as a little world weary, feeling old beyond her age and talking about her late teens and early 20s like they were a lifetime ago.
Of course, she has been through a lot of personal turmoil since the release of Teenage Dream, a global hit that is the only album after Michael Jackson's Bad in 1987 to have five No.1 singles on the Billboard charts.
Her messy divorce from British actor Russell Brand early last year made her tabloid fodder and plunged her into depression. It was reported that Brand asked her for the divorce via a text message in December 2011 and has not spoken to her since.
Her latest album, Prism, could have been a dark, acoustic record. The California native left the limelight and gloss of Los Angeles and retreated to her hometown of Santa Barbara to write and record the album.
"My life was at a fork in the road and I thought I was going to go to a darker place and then it went to a lighter place."
Emotionally, a lot of the songs cut terribly close to the bone, she adds, singling out piano-driven album closer By The Grace Of God as the perfect example.
"By The Grace Of God is very personal and vulnerable and it's the only song that starts out moody and dark. But there is a lot of hope to be found in the song throughout the lyrics. But it was a song that I wrote when I was kind of depressed and I thought I was going to make a dark record and I didn't.
"My life changed and I began to write songs about all the positivity in my life."
Yes, she has bounced back, she confirms happily, gushing about how current beau singer-songwriter John Mayer is a "genius".
Mayer, whom she has been dating on and off since August last year, was also involved in Prism, playing guitars, helping to write songs and coming up with the title. Perry had earlier dueted with him on his latest album, Paradise Valley, which was released in August.
She hopes they will have more collaborations. "I've been one of his fans for a long time, before I even knew him. I think he's an incredible artist that speaks incredible truths and makes you think and really makes you feel, and that's so important to me. I love that he's such an incredible lyricist."
She describes him as a "monster" in the studio.
"He's a monster in a great way, I mean I say that in the kindest way. He's a genius, musically he's a genius but he's a genius on the guitar and he's a genius in songwriting too.
"He uses a white board. He will basically write out lyrics and look at them and erase them if they are not good. He actually knows how to be more mathematical about it, which I don't understand because all my songwriting is purely emotion-based. He's super fast - it's not a skill that can be learnt. You're either born with it or not."
Prism, while not as day-glo chirpy as her previous works, has been received warmly by fans. Like Teenage Dream, it also made its debut at the top of the Billboard album charts when it was released last month. Lead single Roar also made it to No. 1 on Billboard.
Naturally, Perry is thrilled - "The record going to No.1 is awesome. I'm very pleased, you know that really makes me happy."
But she has another reason to celebrate: Last week, she narrowly edged out Canadian pop star Justin Bieber to become the celebrity with the most followers on Twitter. She has 47.1 million to his 46.9 million.
"A lot of hard work has been paying off this week. The Twitter thing is awesome and also frightening.
"Yeah, I think it's cool because I get to have so much direct access to people, just talk to them one on one, nobody is intervening, like there's no publicist or a manager or anything like that, it's just direct to the fan, which is cool."
Away from the social media network, she also likes to connect with reporters, it seems.
Stars as big as Perry is right now tend to give only press conferences or, at most, group interviews when they come to Asia for promotional duties. This way, they can get the same amount of coverage with far less effort than giving one- on-one interviews.
Perry chooses to do one-on-one interviews with journalists from the region.
Still, the singer is chirpy, friendly and chatty, despite having spent the past week doing individual interviews, press conferences and television appearances in Japan.
Whatever unhappy life experiences she has had, her youthful energy remains intact.
She is also young enough to cast a forgiving eye on singer Miley Cyrus' recent spate of provocative antics.
"I understand what she's doing. She wants the attention which artists want for their music. Hopefully it translates into people listening to their music. But she's super young. I was a lot more wild at that age," says Perry of the 20-year-old American singer who made twerking a global buzzword.
Almost a decade older than Cyrus, she indicates that stunts and using sex to sell music may be things of the past for her.
In 2010, before she performed a concert in Singapore for the first time at SingFest, she held a press conference in the Marina Bay Sands rooftop pool, wearing a bikini and allowing journalists to ask her questions only if they were in the water with her.
Claiming modestly that she does not have a swimsuit body anymore, she says: "I know that I like to be sexy but I also like to be smart and I like to be sophisticated. And I like to keep reminding people that I'm not going to abuse their attention and I am here to make music and not here to show off my tits.
"I've got boobs and they're big and they do get in the way, but they are not as important as my music."
Born to pastor parents, Perry started out singing in church when she was nine. She released her self-titled debut, a gospel rock album, at the age of 17 under her real name, Katy Hudson.
Her second album, One Of The Boys (2008), catapulted her into the limelight, thanks to catchy dance pop-rock tunes such as I Kissed A Girl, Ur So Gay, Waking Up In Vegas and Hot N Cold.
Teenage Dream became her most successful work yet, churning out No. 1 hit tunes California Gurls, Teenage Dream, Firework, E.T. and Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.).
Perry, who won the Best Female Singer award at the 2013 MTV EMA music awards on Sunday, is looking beyond her music and is dabbling in releasing products bearing her name, which she says are "creative extensions of who I am".
Die-hard fans of hers can, for example, copy her look by buying faux eyelashes bearing her monicker. They, of course, come in eye-popping peacock-green, purple and blue. She also launched her third perfume line, Killer Queen, in September.
Music, she emphasises, takes priority, though.
"If I don't have great music then everything else suffers. But I am very creative and I love designing for women, different things, whether it be lashes or perfumes. And in the future, I'd love to do a small clothing line.
"I feel like I can see a little bit ahead of the curve on things and I kind of let that influence my style, and I like to share that with people who want to be a part of it."
For now, that dark and acoustic Perry record will just have to wait.
"I'm 29 and I think I'll have a lot of opportunities in my life to change it up and slow down the pace and whatever, but I still like experimenting with interesting sounds such as deep house or throw-back hip-hop, or like disco and stuff.
"I love doing the pop stuff because it's so fun."
TOP 5 SOLO POP ACTS IN THE WORLD
KATY PERRY, 29
Why she's hot: Her latest album, Prism, went straight to No. 1 on the Billboard charts, repeating a similar feat achieved by her last album Teenage Dream (2010), which made her the only artist other than Michael Jackson to have five No. 1 singles from a single album.
Top songs: I Kissed A Girl (2008), California Gurls (2010), Roar (2013)
Star trajectory: While Teenage Dream was a massive success, with five of its six singles topping the charts, it remains to be seen if Prism can achieve the same level of success. Lead-off single Roar went to No. 1 but second single Unconditionally managed only to peak at No. 25 - a sign perhaps that her star might not be shining as brightly as it used to. But given her proven track record so far of writing her songs, rather than relying on others to give her good songs, she should have legs in her career.
MILEY CYRUS, 20
Why she's hot: The former child star and daughter of another chart-topper, country star Billy Ray, Cyrus has sold 50 million albums worldwide. She is also very much in the limelight right now, not just for her recently released No. 1 album Bangerz, but also for her sexy, provocative moves at awards shows and in her music videos.
Top songs: Party In The USA. (2009), We Can't Stop (2013), Wrecking Ball (2013)
Star trajectory: She has our attention for her twerking and, most recently, public dope-smoking antics. More importantly, all the media buzz is translating to chart action, so this is a starlet who knows how to use controversy to sell music. Expect to see a lot more of her.
LADY GAGA, 27
Why she's hot: Her anticipated third album Artpop is released this week. And while chart figures are not available yet, the top spot on Billboard looks within reach. She has sold 24 million albums and 125 million singles, and has even been named by Time magazine as one of the most influential people in history.
Top songs: Poker Face (2008), Bad Romance (2009), Born This Way (2011)
Star trajectory: The queen of quirky pop, Gaga can be credited for bringing the left-field, art-infused pop music and culture into the mainstream. Her penchant for constant re-invention and her massive influence over her dedicated fan base bode well for her constant presence on the pop charts in the coming years.
Why she's hot: The Barbadian pop star is one of the best-selling artists in the world now, with 30 million albums and 120 million singles sold. Her trophy rack is also overflowing, with six Grammys, 22 Billboard Music Awards, five American Music Awards and two Brit Awards to her name.
Top songs: Umbrella (2007), Only Girl (In The World) (2010), Diamonds (2012)
Star trajectory: The epitome of cool, Rihanna makes conquering the pop world seem so effortless and always looks like she hardly breaks a sweat. She is also highly productive, having released seven mostly successful albums in the last eight years and it does not look like she is slowing down any time soon.
JUSTIN BIEBER, 19
Why he's hot: The current undisputed prince of pop, the Canadian teen is the highest-charting male pop star (No. 9) on Forbes' most powerful celebrity list and is a social media juggernaut, sitting slightly behind Perry as the celebrity with the most number of followers (46.9 million) on Twitter.
Top songs: Baby (2010), Boyfriend (2012), Beauty And A Beat (2012)
Star trajectory: All his three albums, My World 2.0 (2010), Under The Mistletoe (2011) and Believe (2012) went to No.1 on the Billboard and he might still have a formidable army of young female fans, but cracks are starting to show in the Bieber empire. His clashes with the paparazzi, brushes with the traffic police and stories of his wild partying ways point to a burn-out.
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