After record-setting success and personal loss, the pop queen sees the light and roars back to the top

PAGE 2 OF 2

Along the way, uplifting survival anthems like "Roar" and the tribal power ballad "Unconditionally" (the album's upcoming second single) came pouring out. "You held me down but I got up/Already brushing off the dust," goes the defiant pre-chorus of "Roar." "You hear my voice, you hear that sound/Like thunder, gonna shake the ground." Perry had definitely begun to let the light in.

Instead of the dark opus Perry had imagined, "PRISM" reveals the singer/songwriter at her most empowered: This is today's pop queen doing what she does best-uplifting anthems with sticky-sweet choruses and an unexpected emotional kick. "I didn't want to do Teenage Dream 2.0," she says. "Teenage Dream was highly conceptual, super-pop art. "PRISM" is more organic, au naturale, vulnerable and honest, but still has the same amount of fun."

A Longer Version of This Cover Story First Appeared in The New Billboard -- Own It!

Hear Her Roar SubscribeBuy a CopyBillboard on iPad

"PRISM" certainly has its share of lighter moments and potential smashes. "Birthday" proves shamelessly exuberant, a disco dancefloor-filler down to its live brass provided by the "Saturday Night Live" house band horn section. "I wanted to make a song that was like what Mariah Carey would have put on her first record," Perry says. It's not "PRISM"'s only throwback track-she's having an early-'90s moment. "I'm too young to have a raver past, but I love the '90s," Perry says. "Black Box, C + C Music Factory, CeCe Peniston, Crystal Waters. I'm so into that vibe right now." Tracks like "Walking on Air" update '90s club grooves, while "This Is How We Do" is a completely current party-banger that wouldn't be out of place on the soundtrack to "Spring Breakers." Perry calls it "the sequel to 'Last Friday Night'"-one of the No. 1s from "Teenage Dream" -- and it balances blingtastic shout-outs to Maserati and Chanel with references to La Super Rica, a taco shack in Perry's Santa Barbara hometown.

But it's not always party time on "PRISM." Self-help and astrological references abound on tracks like "Spiritual" and "Legendary Lovers," reflecting Perry's recent immersion in Transcendental Meditation and mindfulness therapy. Elsewhere, Perry pointedly confronts her turbulent recent history. The line "You sent a text/It's like the wind changed your mind" from "Ghost" references how Brand delivered the news he wanted a divorce. "By the Grace of God," meanwhile, begins with Perry lying on the floor of a bathroom, fighting suicidal thoughts. "That song is evident of how tough it really was at a certain point. I asked myself, 'Do I want to endure? Should I continue living?'" Perry says. "All the songs are real-life moments. I can only write autobiographically. I put all the evidence in the music. I tell my fans if they want to know the real truth about stuff, just listen to the songs."

As such, it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to discern that Perry's on-again, off-again romance with John Mayer is definitely on. That was evident from "Who You Love," the delicate, unadorned duet Perry and Mayer perform on Mayer's recent album, "Paradise Valley." On "PRISM," meanwhile, Mayer shares a co-write credit with Perry and Kurstin on "Spiritual" and plays guitar on the Stargate-produced "It Takes Two." Perry also claims Mayer provided the title for the album -- a reference to her wide spectrum of emotions.

And one even less subtle clue: During her Billboard interview, Perry suddenly realizes that the hoodie she's wearing is Mayer tour merch. "I can't believe I'm wearing my boyfriend's shirt!" she giggles, a bit abashed. "He literally is a genius, as is evident from his songwriting. I always tell him, 'Darling, you know I'm going to have to give your mind to science after you've passed, because we're going to have to understand how all these sparks work.' We'll be in bed, and he'll be doing the crossword puzzle. Every night, he tries to finish it in under 10 minutes. When he puts his mind to something, he really gets it done very well. I always ask for his help."

PROMOTING PRISM

Perry's promotional activities for "PRISM" will include select spot concert dates, including a Sept. 30 headlining gig at the iTunes Festival in London and Katy Perry: We Can Survive at the Hollywood Bowl on Oct. 23 (Perry's only full U.S. concert in 2013) benefiting breast cancer charity Young Survival Coalition, thrown in conjunction with CBS Radio and Citi.

Traditional broadcast media is also playing a major role in PRISM's marketing and promotional gambits. That includes a unique partnership with "Good Morning America" where various high schools across the United States compete to make their own videos for "Roar," with the winner revealed on "GMA" on Oct. 25, capping off the first sales week of PRISM on, appropriately, Perry's birthday. As well, Kirkup claims terrestrial radio remains "a key, strong element for PRISM," with major events involving Clear Channel and CBS Radio already set.

On Sept. 24, Perry kicked off her international strategy with an appearance in Berlin to promote the global launch of her third fragrance with Coty, Killer Queen, in addition to PRISM-related events in London, Paris, Sydney and Tokyo.

"Katy has combined everything great about her last record and taken it to the next level," Barnett says. "What she does really is pop art. She's got an acute awareness of how youth culture works, and we're along for the ride."

Expect it to be a long one: Perry sees herself in for a long, fruitful career a la Madonna-if Madge ever makes room for her, that is.

"I love Madonna to death, but she's never going to give me that damn baton," Perry jokes. "I'll probably turn into more of a Joni Mitchell. As I inch towards my 30s, I think my fourth record will be more of an acoustic guitar album. That's where I started when I was first discovered by Glen Ballard and got my first record deal. We'll see-I can't get ahead of myself. I'm still doing the work: I'm a good balance of left and right brain, and to be an artist with a long career, you've got to have both. One thing John said to me was, 'It's harder maintaining success than finding it.' I've got a few records under my belt, and I still feel like a brand-new artist. People still want that truth to cut through."

Billboard Back Issues | Subscribe | iPad Edition

LAST WEEK'S COVER STORY: KINGS OF LEON >>

Tagged