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This pop ingenue's slightly Warped view

June 19, 2008|Kevin Bronson

IF THE travails of the record business were bruises, Katy Perry would be all dolled up in black and blue, rather than the look-at-me neon prints that have made her an "It" girl with the folks who know Johnny Cupcakes from Johnny Rotten.

"Musical chairs is what the industry should be called," she says. "But now that I've grown up in it, I realize there are things beyond my control. All those years it wasn't about my music."

Whatever it was about, her career's circuitous route has brought the Santa Barbara-reared singer-songwriter to this week: At 23, with four record labels already on her resume, Perry finally unveils her debut album, "One of the Boys," and then sets off on another circuitous route -- especially for a pop ingenue -- as a co-headliner on the 46-date Vans Warped Tour.

Sending Perry out astride Warped's medley of proto-punk, hard-core and emo acts is either a bold strategy or an invitation to culture clash. Sure, the music on her slickly produced album has moxie, but can she weather a tour known as "punk rock summer camp"?

"I'm eager to prove to people that even though I am a pop artist and on a major label, I'm legit," she says, pointing out that No Doubt and Gwen Stefani took the Warped route a musical generation ago. "I play my guitar, and the band rocks, and I want to earn the respect of everybody out there."

"She's gonna find out real fast," says Kevin Lyman, the tour's founder and producer, explaining that Warped's design -- with sets alternating on adjacent stages -- will position Perry's performances right next door to the Smartpunk.com-sponsored bands. "I think that after three or four days [of the tour], everybody's going to be talking about her."

Many already are, and not just fashionistas who spend oh-so-long agonizing over their next pair of Ray-Bans or recognize her from magazine covers or acting cameos (last week: "The Young and the Restless"). "One of the Boys" offers quite a musical wardrobe: muscular rock mixed with dance-pop and balladry, themes of female empowerment couched in witty repartee, self-realization revealed with an almost pat vulnerability -- channeling the likes of Stefani, Alanis Morissette, Avril Lavigne and Lily Allen, seemingly all at once.

Of the text-message-friendly title of her first single, last year's metrosexual-slamming "Ur So Gay," Perry says with a wry smile: "I know my 14-year-old demographic." And although the second single, the current hit "I Kissed a Girl," seems to aim even lower -- Jill Sobule said a lot more in her 1995 song of the same title -- there are moments on "One of the Boys" when Perry aspires to singer-songwriter sophistication.

"There are a lot of different themes -- sad songs, boyfriend-bashing songs, coming-of-age songs. . . . I'm so glad I didn't put out this record when I was 18 and thought I was [hot stuff]," she says. "There have been so many high highs and low lows."

Her career started innocently enough. The middle child of ministers from Santa Barbara, she was signed as a teenager and, at 16, released a Christian pop album as Katy Hudson. At 17, producer Glen Ballard brought her to L.A. "and told me my goal was to write one song every single day," she says. She worked with big-time producers the Matrix as a vocalist, and more heavyweights along the way, among them Greg Wells (Mika, Natasha Bedingfield), Dr. Luke (Kelly Clarkson, Lavigne), the Eurythmics' Dave Stewart and Butch Walker (Pink, the Donnas).

She's finally landed on Capitol Records, which sees in Perry an artist who can balance artistic credibility and commercial viability.

"She's totally unique in the way she combines music and personal style," says Jason Flom, chairman of Capitol Music Group and chief executive of its parent, Virgin Records. "She has an outrageousness and a charisma which this industry needs . . . and she's made an album we think can connect on a lot of different levels, in the same way Alanis did when she first came out."

Perry is merely thankful her career has reached its first milestone.

"It has not been overnight, but it has been wonderful," she says. "It's so amazing to hear the fruits of my labor."

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-- Kevin.Bronson@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Catch them

Five don't-miss acts among the 50-plus performing at this weekend's Warped Tour dates [set times vary, as they are determined daily by draw]:

PENNYWISE

Hermosa Beach quartet, now 20 years old, unleashed ninth album "Reason to Believe" as a free download, as if their fans didn't already love them enough.

AGAINST ME!

Considering the medium and the messages, these Floridians are the most formidable punk band out there.

RELIENT K

Charismatic and melodic Midwesterners' new album "The Bird and the Bee Sides" (July 1) will have fans atwitter.

THE BRIGGS

L.A. punk foursome turns it up a notch and stretches out a bit on third album "Come All You Madmen."

SAY ANYTHING

Just think of the Max Bemis- fronted outfit as the tour's lone graduate-level emo band.

FIVE MORE WE LIKE

The new music from L.A. reggae purveyors the Aggrolites is earning buzz. . . . Bay Area-based the Action Design colors outside the lines in a good way on its forthcoming album. . . . Malibu-reared rapper Shwayze will make you smile. . . . For punkabilly fun: the Horrorpops. . . . And the Bronx never, ever disappoints.

Kevin Bronson

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WARPED TOUR

LOCAL DATES: Noon Friday at the Pomona Fairplex; noon Sunday at Seaside Park, Ventura; noon Aug. 17 at the Home Depot Center.

PRICE: $30

INFO: warpedtour.com

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