Katy Perry certainly began her relationship with Capitol/EMI Records on a provocative note-or is it all new artists that favor a first single about kissing someone of the same gender?
Executive VP of marketing/promotion Greg Thompson remembers there was "some spirited discussion" about whether "I Kissed a Girl" should be the calling card from Perry's first album for the label, One of the Boys, in 2008.
"We definitely had a few people that pushed back on us," Thompson recalls. "I seem to remember a little [protest] rally in a Beaumont, Texas, parking lot. But Katy believed in it, and we believed in it-and her-so you have to kind of make the decision that the song is just so great that even if it ruffles a few feathers, the passion that will come on the other side of the spectrum will more than compensate for any backlash.
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"The song was a huge hit," he adds, "and it began a series of undeniable hit singles for her."
It also set the tone for Perry's relationship with the company, a mutual fearlessness built on well-crafted material and gut instincts that's led to domestic sales of 4.1 million albums and 50 million singles, according to Nielsen SoundScan, as well as 11 top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100. That includes five No. 1s from 2010's Teenage Dream, making Perry the only woman with five No. 1s from one album.
"What's happened here is that you have an incredibly gifted individual at the core of it all," Thompson says. "She's not just somebody with a nice voice or who plays a nice guitar. She's the complete package-and not just as an artist, but as an individual."
EMI senior VP of marketing Bob Semanovich felt that way when he first met Perry during her time with Columbia Records, where, as she did with her managers, she introduced herself by doing a cartwheel into his office for their first meeting.
"She just had that thing, that star power. She just lit up the room," he recalls. "She was incredibly engaging. I remember I went home that day and said, 'Wow. I just met one of the biggest pop stars in the world.'"
That, of course, wouldn't happen until Perry got to EMI after a fruitless tenure with Columbia, and Island Def Jam before it.
"Most artists would've packed it up after the first couple labels, but [Perry] is very persistent," Thompson says. "She's got an incredible work ethic, and she finally got in a position to put all the pieces together and surround herself with people that could bring all of that to the world's attention."
As the chart-topping success of "I Kissed a Girl" established Perry as a star, and ultimately superstar presence, it also helped put EMI in a position to approach each of her subsequent singles with a sense of event.
"We create individual marketing plans for each song and video," Semanovich says. "We try to find something unique . . . and we create really robust plans around each one. The most important thing people need to know is this is Katy's vision. All of the videos are her idea or she has an idea and then we work with a director to expand upon her idea. But it's all Katy, and our job is to get Katy's vision out to the world."
During those campaigns, EMI has made extensive use of its social media reach and Perry's own platforms, launching the releases to her 28 million Twitter followers and 48 million Facebook friends. The company has also found strategic partners for the rollouts; the particularly extravagant campaign for "E.T." placed a Perry hologram on "Entertainment Tonight," while replicas of the video's Martians paraded around the streets of New York with QR codes on their backs, which allowed passersby to get a look at the clip. Fans could also download their own Martian masks and post pictures of themselves wearing them.
EMI was also able to parlay Kathy Beth Terry, Perry's adolescent alter ego in the "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" video, into its own independent identity.
"You want to create momentum in anticipation for the video," Semanovich says. "Wherever you premiere it, people are going online and watching it. So we try to launch them on as many platforms as we can, simultaneously around the world: online, broadcast TV, all different opportunities that present themselves. We know everything ends up online anyway, so it's a matter of what else you can use for maximum impact."
Thompson says that throughout the One of the Boys album cycle and then into Teenage Dream and Perry's "Part of Me" 3-D film, "it became pretty exciting when we started to see the way the public was eating up single after single. I can't say we laid it out in advance and everything went exactly as planned. It was pretty smooth the way it rolled out, but we did spend a lot of time taking a look at things, constantly."
Perry herself, he adds, "is very involved and very aware. She has great instincts. She was extremely passionate about 'E.T.,' for instance, and that was a home run."
Thompson acknowledges that, given Perry's success to this point, "obviously the bar is set pretty high for her." He notes that "some people would argue that she shouldn't go away at all." But at the same time Perry's current break will refresh all concerned as she prepares to start recording again.
"It's rolled really well, and the film was a fantastic way to end the cycle for Teenage Dream and to really leave people hungry for more," Thompson says. "She has accomplished so much that what's next for her is to go and follow her heart and make another great record-which I have no doubt she will.
"And then it's up to the team to work with her to live up to what we've been able to do so far," Thompson adds. "We can't wait." ••••