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A Star Is Born: How Katy Perry Became One Of The Biggest Names In Pop

How a Christian rock songbird turned into pop's lady-kissing megastar

With Katy Perry’s latest sure-to-be smash “Roar” now clogging the airwaves, and her new album Prism set to take over our lives imminently, it’s as good a time as any to take a close look at Perry, and how her big hits have come to be.

It’s now impossible to imagine a time without “I Kissed a Girl,” “Teenage Dream,” or “California Gurls,” but this of course wasn’t always the case. The vibrant, colorful pop star Katy Perry used to be, as most fans know, a Christian rock singer under her given name, Katy Hudson.

So what turned a niche artist into one of the biggest pop stars of our time? The answer starts in 2007, when the singer’s then-new record label, Columbia, introduced her to songwriter/producer Łukasz Gottwald, a.k.a. Dr. Luke, in order to come up with a hit or two that would push her otherwise strong debut pop LP over the top.

Did it work? Well, have you ever heard of “I Kissed A Girl” (#1 for seven weeks) and “Hot N Cold” (top of the charts in 15 countries)? The massive success of those tunes set up the nexus of the team that would continue to bring Perry her greatest successes. “IKAG” was written by Katy, Luke, Simon Fuller’s go-to songwriter Cathy Dennis, and Swedish pop maestro Max Martin.

Martin is responsible for the prior wave of teen pop, having helmed many of the Backstreet Boys’ and Britney Spears’ biggest hits. He was at this point in the middle of a career renaissance sparked by his work on “Since U Been Gone,” which made him suddenly yet again the center of pop music. He was also Luke’s mentor, and they had been collaborating for a few years by this point.

The tune was co-produced (with Luke) by another very important part of the Perry empire: Benny Blanco. Blanco was originally mentored by Luke, and so fit naturally into the team’s process.

As with much of the team’s work, this tune was all about the artist. Perry came up with the initial concept and hook, and everyone involved made sure that the end result was true to the artist. This last part had been part of Martin’s M.O. since the Britney Spears days. A 2001 Time article talked about the Swedish producer’s early days working with the then-teenage star:

“Just as he has his finger on the musical pulse of fandom, Martin also grasps what his artists want to sing. That doesn't happen by chance. Before he starts writing for Spears, he talks with her, sees her shows and finds out what's in her CD player. ‘I want the input because that makes the chemistry of the song,’ he says."

Martin, Luke, and Blanco, individually or in combination, would go on to be involved in some of the hugest hits of the next half-dozen years, from “Moves Like Jagger” to “Tik Tok” to “U + Ur Hand.”

Back on planet Perry, while everything went amazingly well with “IKAG” and “Hot N Cold,” there was still a missing piece to the puzzle. This would fall into place with the addition of Perry’s long-time friend Bonnie McKee to the team in 2009. McKee was at that point without a record label (Reprise had dropped her as a solo performer) and was more interested in acting than music. But a call from her old pal Katy would change all that.

McKee, Martin, Luke, Blanco, and Perry formed the core team that would write and produce all three of Katy Perry’s massive #1 singles on her second album—“Teenage Dream,” “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” and “California Gurls” (the last sans Blanco). There proved to be gold (and platinum) in them there hills, as the group sans Perry also created “Hold It Against Me” (written by Luke, Martin, and McKee and produced by Martin and Luke), “Dynamite” (written by all four of them with Taio Cruz, and produced by Luke and Blanco) and other hits.

A great idea of how the team works can be found in a New York profile of Luke, which traces the creation of “Dynamite”:

“[Luke] created a basic beat track with his fellow producer Benny Blanco. (Dr. Luke has a slate of producers signed to his company, Prescription Songs.) The track was originally intended to go to the rapper Flo Rida, but it wasn’t a good fit as a rap song, so Luke sent it to Sweden, to Max Martin, who wrote half of a hook for the chorus. Luke wrote the other half, then sent that track to Bonnie McKee, a lyricist. Then Luke started looking for the right vocalist to attach.”

The gang gets back together on Perry’s new single “Roar,” which is produced by Luke and Martin, and written by Luke and McKee. If the initial rush of attention is any indication, it looks like the powerful hit-making squad has added another chapter in their plan to turn a California girl into a pop powerhouse. —Shawn Setaro

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White Man Sentenced To Life In Prison For Running Over Black Teenager

A white man who ran over and killed a black teenager with his car in Oregon in 2016 was sentenced to life in prison for his crime. The decision marks Oregon’s first hate crime murder conviction in 30 years.

According to The Oregonian, Russell Orlando Courtier will not only serve time for killing 19-year-old Larnell Bruce Jr., he adds an additional four-year term to his sentence for a bar attack in 2015. He will have to serve a minimum of 28 years before he’s eligible for release.

Per the report, Courtier and Bruce got into a fistfight outside of a 7-11 in August 2016. Prosecutors do not know what prompted the fight between Bruce and the 40-year-old.

“Courtier was a member of a white supremacist prison gang [“European Kindred”] and was wearing the gang’s logo on his baseball cap and had it tattooed on one of his legs when he encountered Bruce outside the convenience store,” The Oregonian writes.  “A moment later, surveillance video captured Bruce sprinting down a nearby street and then a sidewalk in a desperate attempt to get away from Courtier and the Jeep.”

During the trial, witnesses say that they heard Colleen Hunt, Courtier’s then-girlfriend and passenger in the Jeep, yell “Run him over!” and “Get him, baby!” She pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in the case, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

“[Bruce’s] family also has started a nonprofit organization -- Love and Live #LarnellBruce Foundation -- to help victims of hate crimes and their families get through the enormous anger and loss that results from such crimes,” The Oregonian concludes.

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LL Cool J, Mary J. Blige And More Appear In American Cancer Society Campaign

Hip-hop and R&B heavyweights and legends such as LL Cool J, Mary J. Blige, Remy Ma, Salt N’ Pepa, Jhene Aiko and more appear in the newest campaign for the American Cancer Society. The campaign and message is clear: “Beat Cancer Like A Boss.”

The video features Meek Mill’s “I’m A Boss,” and the stars featured in the video send encouraging messages to those battling the disease about what it means to use your inner boss to beat it.

“Boss is battling cancer my finding your inner strength,” Simone I. Smith, LL’s wife of 24 years, says in the video. “Cancer left its mark, but it couldn’t beat the boss within.” Smith was diagnosed with stage III chondrosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, in 2004. Today, she celebrates nearly 15 years of being cancer-free.

“With the help of ACS and a few friends, this campaign was created to empower women to lean onto their support system and tap into their strength to ‘Beat Cancer Like a Boss,’ a message I carried with me throughout my journey to recovery,” said Smith in a statement.

More info about the “Beat Cancer Like A Boss” campaign can be found at cancer.org. Watch the video above.

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HBCUs Got To Watch Beyonce's 'Homecoming' At Exclusive Screenings

Thanks to Beyonce and the good people at Netflix, HBCUs were able to watch the artist’s highly-anticipated release of her documentary, Homecoming, at advanced, on-campus screenings.

“Homecoming is nothing but fun, laughs, and amazingness,” one fan in attendance said in a video of the various screenings. They took place at Howard University, Morehouse College, Spelman College and Texas Southern University.

"More than anything it uplifted HBCUs and it empowered HBCUs,” another fan continued in the brief clip.

During the documentary, which was released on Wednesday (April 17), Beyonce discusses her appreciation of HBCUs, stating in the doc, “there is something incredibly important about the HBCU experience that must be celebrated and protected.”

See some reactions from students at these HBCUs below.

"More than anything it uplifted HBCUs and it empowered HBCUs."

Last night, #BeyoncéHomecoming took over @SpelmanCollege, @Morehouse, @TexasSouthern, and @HowardU. pic.twitter.com/CnzsIMAqHh — Strong Black Lead (@strongblacklead) April 17, 2019

The line is lit as we anticipate the doors opening for our exclusive, early campus @Netflix screening of #Homecoming, a film by Beyoncé. pic.twitter.com/WUTBykukD8

— Howard University (@HowardU) April 17, 2019

Beyonce showing love to other hbcu’s besides spelman, Howard & morehouse is why she’s the goat

— ManiLou💛 (@y0urfav3emani) April 17, 2019

Beyoncé wore, and more importantly OWNS Morehouse gear. that’s it, that’s the tweet.

— capricorn hoodrat (@notoriouslang) April 17, 2019

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