Today, she’s one of the biggest pop stars in the world, but a decade ago, Katy Perry hadn’t yet found her voice. After trying to put together an “angry” tune called “My Last Cry,” her co-writer Desmond Child offered a suggestion: Why not write a fun, spontaneous tune that reflected the fun, spontaneous girl he’d gotten to know? They ended up writing “Waking Up in Vegas,” which set the blueprint for Perry’s incredible run of light-hearted pop smashes, including 11 No. 1 hits.
Bart Herbison: I hear that this song is part of the reason Katy got her record deal with Capitol. She was on another label that I don’t think got this song, right?
Desmond Child: Well, when I met Katy, she was actually the lead singer of (pop production duo) The Matrix. She had a deal there, and then she got a deal with Steve Greenberg at Columbia Records, and she was there for a while. Then they fired Steve and dropped his acts, including the Jonas Brothers and Katy. That was smart (laughs). There was Fountains of Wayne, too, it was like one hit act after the other left with him. And, so, then we had somehow written “Waking Up in Vegas,” I think while she was still with The Matrix. She was kind of trying to figure things out. I think it’s a pretty cool story because that song survived all of these record deals.
It was a very spontaneous and natural song. We had started writing a song called “My Last Cry.” It was me and Katy and Andreas Carlsson. It was kind of an angry, Alanis Morissette-type style that she had mastered. It was very dark and modern. But then when we weren’t writing the song, she was a barrel of laughs. She was so much fun … I said, “Why aren’t we writing songs like how you really are?”
One of the inspirations for the second verse, which is “We get married dressed up like Elvis” — my good friend Obie O’Brien and his wife, Denise, they’re very close with us because he’s Bon Jovi’s engineer. When they got married, Jon (Bon Jovi), behind their backs, flew everybody, including every grandma, everybody in their whole lives, to Vegas, and they all were dressed as Elvis. When they walked into the chapel, everybody was dressed like Elvis, from all different periods, including the littlest kids, with pompadours and all that. That’s where I got the idea.
Bart Herbison: I want to give you a big compliment, because I’ve seen Katy say this in interviews. That suggestion, “Why don’t you write songs about how you truly are?” That really led to the phenomenon, because it’s who she really was.
Desmond Child: Right. … (It) put her on the map in a great way. I just love all of her songs now. It seems like it just continues, and even when she’s writing a serious song, like “Firework,” just that opening line about the plastic bag that floats in the air. It’s just so artistic and cool. I just love it.
Bart Herbison: (“Waking Up in Vegas”) went around the world quick, didn’t it? I mean, it was everywhere. … I think that was the cement of what we know now as the phenomenon, Katy Perry.
Desmond Child: I knew the movie “The Hangover” was being made, and it all takes place in Vegas, kind of like the storyline in the song. I tried every which way to get that song into that movie, and I kept getting turned down. It was so frustrating, because they kept telling me, “Well, it’s a man’s movie, so there can’t be a woman’s voice.” How crazy is that? They all had girlfriends, you know what I’m saying? “That’s what you get for waking up in Vegas!” Nobody got it. The song and the movie were No. 1 at the same time. It just broke my heart.
— Compiled by Dave Paulson, email@example.com