BURBANK, Calif. — Prism's radiant and uplifting direction wasn't Katy Perry's first impulse while rebounding from a painful and public divorce. She started at the darker end of the pop spectrum.
"There were good songs that I left off, like Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Reborn," she says. "It's gritty and angry and has a dark side, and it didn't fit how I feel now. Sometimes you have to write those songs to get them out of the way."
Prism, out Tuesday, finds her crushed, exposed, defiant and hopeful, fortified by newfound wisdom and self-awareness.
"I'm very excited to unleash it to the world," says Perry, who turns 29 on Friday. "I don't think it's cheesy, the idea that light always wins over the darkness. People may say I'm not as cool as blah-blah-blah. I'm not afraid of that."
On break between rehearsals at a CenterStaging studio, Perry is picking at a salad. The new Cover Girl spokesmodel wears no makeup, her face framed by a floral headband covering black hair pulled into a ponytail. She manages to look stunning in an unglam beige hoodie and black leggings.
Inspired in part by best seller The Power of Now, Perry had a sunnier attitude by the time Prism sessions intensified in March. In Santa Barbara, she worked with producer Dr. Luke, studio whiz Cirkut and songwriter Bonnie McKee, then spent weeks in Stockholm to record with Max Martin, Bloodshy and Teddybears' Klas Ahlund.
"March through June is when I got my best songs," she says. "I had a lot of life-changing, life-turning, life-focusing events happen from the end of winter through spring."
A trip to Africa and a temporary split from boyfriend John Mayer led her to "a lot of soul-searching and reprogramming of my life," Perry says. "There was a pause button on my relationship. It was a splash of cold water on my face. It allowed me to look inside myself and ask, 'How can I make myself better and live more consciously?' I've always been a huge believer in therapy, and that really helped me.
"When you have loss in your life, you can go down a spiral and turn to alcohol or substances. I've never been down that road too hard. I went the opposite way. I went into a self-reflective, meditative, learning-of-lessons period. In astrology, it's called the return of Saturn. It happens when you're young, a quarter-life crisis. Either you welcome those lessons or you reject them and they come back as your midlife crisis."
Fired up, Perry wrote three additional songs in Stockholm after she'd pronouncedPrism complete. She credits collaborators for stoking the flames.
"Max and Luke push me harder than anyone else, which is irritating, but the stuff we end up with is incredible," she says. "They call my bluff if something's not good enough. Sometimes people you work with think everything you do is magic. I keep people around me who tell me, 'Everything you do is not magic and you need to make it more magical.' That keeps me on my toes."
Birthday, originally about communicating through Web slang, evolved into the sexy-sly Prince throwback with its suggestive lines, "Let me get you in your birthday suit" and "It's time to bring out the big balloons."
Perry toys with sexuality but stops short of graphic extremes.
"I like to have fun with it, and you can play with any idea as long as the music is represented," she says. "I'm not trying to be Doris Day but I'm not going to abuse the attention of people watching or listening. I love double entendres and puns. It's all done with a wink.
"I sometimes look at my peers and think I have to have as big a set or be as great a dancer," says Perry, a fan of Robyn, Lorde, Haim, AlunaGeorge, Ellie Goulding and Kacey Musgraves. "In reality, no matter how well you dance or how glitzy the set, if you don't have the songs, everything crumbles. I'm glad I have the songs."
In addition to the sugar highs of Walking On Air and This Is How We Do, Prismserves up meatier fare in personal tunes. Mayer inspired her favorite, Unconditionally, while they were separated.
"To this day, it gives me goose pimples," she says. "It's a pure, simple love song, a song about acceptance. I was thinking about how much I love this person. That word stuck out to me."
Ghost references the text sent by British actor/comic Russell Brand requesting the divorce that ended their 14-month marriage. And By the Grace of God finds Perry in a suicidal gloom, leaning on her sister and emerging renewed.
Both songs are "100% autobiographical," Perry says. "I was a ball of vulnerability. People say, 'How did you get through it?' I did vitamins, supplements, therapy. At the end of the day, it was by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening."
Love Me opens with, "I lost myself in fear of losing you," another Brand vestige that Perry recast as love's universal roadblock.
"I don't want to lose myself in a relationship, and I feel like people do that," she says. "They become complacent and fearful of speaking up. I don't think guys are attracted to that, when you don't have your own identity. They can smell the fear.
"This round, things are more balanced. Last time, I was on a professional high, but personally I was in a toddler state. I needed more watering in that area. Sometimes you don't win. It's not aces every time."
Why hook up with another celebrity?
"For people in the spotlight, our dating pool is kind of small," she says. "There's an understanding of what we do. When you come home at night, it doesn't take two hours to tell the story. It takes a rub on the back."
Besides, she says, "you love who you love."
She's in no rush to remarry, and she might have children before taking on a husband and after slowing down.
"When I decide to be mom, I won't be doing all this," Perry says. "That's why I'm not a mom yet. Raising kids in this society is the toughest job, and I'm going to want to be around them all the time."
For the moment, she's sticking to feisty pop "while I have the energy and collagen." She's plotting a tour next year that will incorporate all her hits, allaying fears that aRoar teaser clip of her torching a blue wig, the signature accessory from the Teenage Dream era, meant abandoning her back catalog.
She plans an acoustic record down the road as her music evolves and matures.
"I hope people will be along for the ride for decades," says Perry, who's looking forward with "a heart full of gratitude."
"I've dealt with my 20s pretty good. I faced reality. I've learned from it and I'm ready to take on my 30s, which I hear are great. Everybody says the sex is better, your finances come in order, you know who you are. Your 20s are about, 'What do other people think of me?' Your 30s are about serving yourself in a non-selfish way.
"Don't ask me about this when I'm 40, though."