Katy Perry will headline the Super Bowl halftime show this Sunday, and Joe Coscarelli notes in the New York Times that Perry’s “cutesy, feminine charm” makes her a “somewhat unorthodox” pick for the evening’s entertainment—especially considering her fans “tend to be young women.” But in fact, Katy Perry’s entire persona is perfectly designed for the football audience, and it was only a matter of time before the NFL exploited her potential, and vice versa. What this performance on TV’s biggest stage, aligned with America’s biggest sport, will confirm is that Perry is the singing, dancing personification of the “Cool Girl.”
You remember the Cool Girl, the poseur feminine archetype that Gillian Flynn pegged in Gone Girl: “a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding.” Perry has risen to become one of America’s most successful female stars and pop music’s most deceptively brilliant songwriters, and she’s done it all by casting herself in the role of frat culture’s sexual helpmate.
Her breakout pop album, One of the Boys, featured the barsexual anthem “I Kissed a Girl” and the casually homophobic “Ur So Gay.” In the 2010 video for “California Gurls,” she flitted between Madonna and whore: There she is, lying prone and naked in a bed of cotton candy; here she goes, smiling blankly and shooting whipped cream from her nipples. And in last summer’s song, “This Is How We Do,” she plays ping pong all night, then greets the sunrise “slow cooking pancakes for my boy, still up, still fresh as a daisy.” Her duties are to party, mother, and repeat. As she told Rolling Stone last year, “I’m, like, both good and bad girl. I’m just girl!”
Don’t worry, she’s got the snacks covered. Food factors heavily into Perry’s image: The good girl cooks, and the bad girl gorges. She describes her appeal as “soft-serve sexiness.” She’s dressed as a sexy second-grade Girl Scout with a cookie on her head and had charm-sized tattoos of an anthropomorphic strawberry and a peppermint candy inked on her ankles. She makes sure to be photographed clutching Slim Jim wrappers and fellating oversized slices of pizza, but the leaked rider from one 2013 concert reveals a secret diet of rabbit food—celery, broccoli, figs. (Somehow, she maintains a size 2.)
Perry’s politics are also simpatico with the NFL’s. As Nitsuh Abebe wrote in 2010, Perry has made “being young, drunk, and starry-eyed sound incredibly wholesome—as if Girls Gone Wild videos long ago joined baseball, apple pie, water parks, and early Mellencamp in the canon of Americana.” She has a closet’s worth of American flag dresses. Her “Part of Me” video was an extended commercial for the U.S. military. She tries on Asian and black stereotypes for fun and in last year’s “Birthday” video, dressed as a Jewish caricature for gross-out purposes. When Perry finally called herself a feminist last year, she explained that “it just means that I love myself as a female and I also love men.” In Katyland, loving men is a defining aspect of being a woman.
Over the past several months, Perry has cannily leveraged the football world to extend her cultural reach beyond her female fanbase. She arrived at an October appearance on ESPN’s College Gameday wearing a fluffy pink football jersey and carrying a serving tray full of piping hot toddies. The Mississippi-Alabama game was her first-ever college football experience—her manager, Bradford Cobb, and mentor, Glen Ballard, are Ole Miss alums, and they urged her to travel to Oxford to cheer on their alma mater—but she took easily to the role as the only girl in the room. When asked to make predictions on the outcome of that day’s games, she put on the accent of a tipsy Southern belle (she’s from Santa Barbara) and exclaimed: “I was gonna pick them based on the colors!” and “I’m picking this one based on looks!” Later that night, she climbed onto a table at an Oxford bar called Funkys in a plaid schoolgirl skirt, chugged a beer, and surfed into the crowd.
Soon, Perry was proclaiming football her “new favorite sport” and gracing the cover of ESPN the Magazine, raising a pom-pom for Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. “Even my tippie toes are ready,” Perry Instagrammed in advance of the big game, with a shot of her toenails painted as tiny footballs. This weekend, she'll be performing songs young women adore, but the men in the audience will get the message—they're the ones Perry really loves.