CHICAGO — Katy Perry wasn't sure what to do in Chicago with her free time other than go to museums. She asked for suggestions backstage at the United Center as a sold-out crowd waited anxiously for the Firework singer to take the stage earlier this month.
"Can you give me, like, a things-to-do list?" Perry said. "If you get me a cheat sheet of what to do in Chicago, I will (do it)."
Either this is one of the few aspects of Perry's life that doesn't involve handlers and meticulous scheduling or Perry was simply making conversation.
I suggested the first idea that came to mind: Pizza.
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OK, so it wasn't the most creative recommendation. You try giving suggestions to a world-famous pop star on the spot and see how easy it is. And besides, everyone loves pizza — or so I thought.
"I mean, the print, yes," said Perry when asked if she likes pizza. (Perry wore a one-piece, pizza-print swimsuit and matching earrings in her This Is How We Do music video.) "I mean, I don't eat a whole lot of pizza, but I love how it looks."
Perry, 29, has a knack for small talk with strangers and making them feel important. She perked up after hearing my Willis Tower Skydeck recommendation ("I love that. Let's do that," she said).
Before she hit it big with I Kissed A Girl in 2008, Perry moved to Los Angeles when she was 17 and had one of her first celeb encounters, meeting No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani at a party. The meeting left an impression on Perry.
"I met her and was, and still am, such a huge fan," Perry said. "She was so kind to me and cool. I'll never forget that and I'll always kind of think of her in this kind of cool light because of that. There were other people I met that didn't have the time for me and weren't that great. You never know what's actually going on in a person's life. You don't know what happened to them before you met them ... and that's why they are the way they are. But I do think about it whenever I get in contact with my fans. I know this may be the only time they'll ever meet me. I try to take advantage of that moment and be kind and grateful."
Perry's Prismatic tour kicked off in Northern Ireland in May and is scheduled to wrap in Sweden in March. The over-the-top production involves various costume and set changes — some cat-themed, some Egyptian-themed — and acrobatics that see Perry lifted off the ground by strings. There's a reason a representative prepared guests for the spectacle by telling them "This is a show, not a concert."
Does Perry find herself getting quirkier the older she gets or is she considering toning it down?
"Quirkier?" Perry asked. "What does quirky mean, exactly? I want the full definition." I think quirky, in part, means interesting, to which she replied "Interesting or left of center? I think I am pretty much exactly how I've always been."
Regardless of what you want to call it, it is working for her. Perry and Michael Jackson are the only artists to have five singles on one album reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. She also has the most Twitter followers in the world: 55 million, a million more than runner-up Justin Bieber.
The pressure is on for Perry to deliver while on tour, given her current position in the industry. And while she seems to be up to the challenge, she said the tour can be demanding. Perry and her dancers regularly take part in physical therapy and acupuncture (Perry said she had 20 needles in her neck earlier that day to alleviate neck pain).
She believes the tour is probably "five times as hard" as her California Dreams tour and pointed out she is now three years older than she was back then. "Those two things combined are definitely taking a toll on me," Perry said, "but I'm trying to look after myself as much as possible."
During a quieter moment in Thursday's show, Perry watered her "garden" on stage, only for a Chicago-style deep dish pizza from Giordano's to rise from beneath the stage (her Philadelphia show earlier in the week reportedly included a Philly cheesesteak; what will Louisville get?).
Perry brought an ecstatic young girl from Wisconsin on stage to present her with the pizza. This part of the night, and the one in which she took selfies with audience members, allowed for a brief moment of spontaneity in an otherwise heavily staged show.
"I want to eat this," Perry said on stage. "I love pizza."
Hey, this is a show, not a concert.