Album Review: Katy Perry, “Teenage Dream” (2010)

I don’t really *get* Katy Perry or why she’s so famous.  It’s not that I dislike her- I just don’t understand what the big fuss is about her.  What’s so great about her music?  It’s stereotypical pop.  Why do people like her?  She’s never said or done anything that’s made me think, “Oh, I like that girl!”  Why does she have so many die-hard fans?  Why did she marry Russell Brand?  Why is John Mayer dating her now (why, John, why?)? Every time I look at Katy Perry, a billion little question marks pop up in my head.  She just confuses me.

I’ve stayed pretty clear of her music – happy only to hear most of it at a club or when I occasionally turn the radio on in my car. I’m not sure what possessed me to download Perry’s third studio album,Teenage Dream back in 2010, but somehow I ended up with it and it still sits in my iTunes – mostly unlistened to – to this day.

Perry surprisingly co-wrote all of the songs on her album (it just seems like she’s so…I don’t know, manufactured, that I assumed she didn’t do any of the writing herself), but that doesn’t really say much, as most of the disc is an offering of over-produced, poorly written pop fluff.

The album’s title track (and the second single) start things off.  You may remember Max Martin as one of the big songwriters/producers from the Britney Spears/pop-princess era of the late 90’s.  Martin is back in action and did a lot of the songwriting and production on Perry’s album.  He’s credited as one of the five writers (yes, five– how it took five people to write this song, I’ll never know) on this track as well as a producer.  It makes a lot of sense- Teenage Dream is a bubbly, pop song about being in love and feeling like a teenager again, and sounds like a lot of the music you would’ve heard Martin write/produce during his heyday. Perry’s voice isn’t really anything remarkable, and the lyrics are just as colourless (“You make me/Feel like/I’m living a teenage dream/The way you turn me on/I can’t sleep/Let’s runaway/And don’t ever look back/Don’t ever look back”), but the thudding beat and flashy electric guitar in the chorus makes for fun pop music.

Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F) sounds like a Ke$ha leftover; Perry gets in touch with her “bad girl” side and sings about an epically shameful night out (“There’s a stranger in my bed/There’s a pounding my head/Glitter all over the room/Pink flamingos in the pool/I smell like a minibar”).  The backing music is cheerful and bouncy and I’m sure so many girls in college used this as their Friday night party anthem.  There’s even a little cheer of “T-G-I-F!” during the bridge, just adding to the let-your-hair-down theme of the track.

Rapper Snoop Dogg is featured on the album’s lead single, California Gurls.  Snoop’s appearance and affiliation with Perry makes little sense to me, other than the fact that the rapper just wanted a chance to make some money.  The thing about this track is that well, I’ll admit that I kinda- okay, I totally do– like this song.    But it’s mostly because I’m from California too, and it was fun to sing “West coast represent, now put your hands up!” to my friends in Nevada, and the song came out in the summer, and every pop song is instantly better in the summer and- alright, I’ll stop.  I like this song.  I just do.  It’s infectious, surprisingly appealing, and fun.  Please don’t take back my “I’m a grown woman and I like serious music” card.

I’m not sure how Firework became such a big hit, but alas, it was one of the top singles released from the album.  I can see the basic appeal of the track- it features a danceable beat, and you can’t help singing along with Perry during the chorus as she screams, “Baby, you’re a FIREWORRRRRKKKK!”- but the lyrics?  Dreadful.  “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?” the song opens.  Uh, actually, no, I don’t ever feel like an inanimate piece of plastic, but thanks for asking, Katy Perry.  “You’re a firework, come on show them what you’re worth!” cries the chorus.  If I’m a firework, then all I’m really “worth” is ten seconds of pretty glittering in the sky before I burn out, right?  I know, I’m taking these nonsensical lyrics too seriously, but I can’t help but be bothered and shake my head sadly each time I hear this song.

Peacock is a brass, thinly-veiled song about a man’s…ahem…genitalia.  No, seriously.  The chorus is as such: “Come on baby, let me see, what you’re hiding underneath. Are you brave enough to let me see your peacock?”.  Then Perry chants (sounding much like Toni Basil in “Hey Mickey”), “I wanna see your peacock, cock, cock, your peacock, cock, cock!”   I’m not even sure where to start about what is wrong with this song.  The fact that Perry is so aggressive about seeing this man’s private parts (she even calls him a “beeotch” during the chorus for being so shy about it) borders on sexual harassment, but I guess because Perry is a pretty girl, it’s okay.  The lyrics are ridiculous, and so is the over-the-top production.  The whole track is incredibly cheesy, and the first time I heard the song, I just listened to it with my mouth agape thinking, “Is this for real?!”  Sadly, it was.

Katy Perry troops concert

One of the few songs with even remotely interesting lyrical content follows with Circle The Drain.  This time, Perry sings about a drug addicted lover, and it’s nice to see her tackle something with a bit of depth.  The lyrics- though still not extremely well-written- are a little bit more interesting, as she growls during the chorus, “I’m not sticking around to watch you go down.  Wanna be your lover, not your f—ing mother/Can’t be your savior; I don’t have the power/I’m not gonna stay and watch you circle the drain”.  I applaud the track for at least having a more interesting subject matter than barraging a man to see his penis or feeling like a plastic bag.

Mediocrity is at it’s finest with the ballad The One Who Got Away.  The thing that really sucks about hearing this album now, is that the majority of these songs were released as singles (this one included), and while I disliked them the first time I heard them on the radio, I really dislike them now after hearing them for months.  The tinkly music and cliched lyrics (“In another life, I would be your girl/We keep all our promises, be us against the world”) do nothing for this track, nor does Perry’s vocals, which just sound so bland and lifeless. It’s almost like she’s on autopilot at this point.

I won’t bother trying to hide it this time around, I really, truly like E.T.  The song starts with heavy drumming, and a stuttering beat that’s perfect for dancing to.  Perry’s staccato delivery of the lyrics (“Kiss me, k-k-kiss me/Infect me with your love, and fill me with your poison/Take me, t-t-take me/Wanna be your victim, ready for abduction/Boy, you’re an alien”) adds to the allure of this song, and even though it’s also cliched and cheesy, this song is also a hell of a lot of fun.  Again, I think my admiration of this song has a lot to do with the fact that it was released during the summer of 2011; there’s just something so perfect about driving around with friends with the windows down, blasting pop music and singing at the top of your lungs.  This song is perfect for that sort of thing, and is probably the only track on the album that I can listen to without feeling embarrassed for doing so.

The rest of the album is even worse than the first half, which is hard to believe.  Who Am I Living For? sounds musically similar to Circle The Drain, but is so incredibly blah.  The track just drones on, and Perry’s wailing of “Who am I living for?!” during the choruses does nothing but make me want to switch the CD off.  I actually think this is as far as I’ve ever really gone with this disc, as I don’t even recall listening to the three remaining songs before.  Perhaps I have, and they just didn’t leave an impression, but I digress.

Pearl is another ballad, and another example of Perry sounding just as bored as her listeners probably are at this point.  The lyrics are mostly uninteresting (“Oh, she used to be a pearl, oh oh oh/Yeah, she used to rule the world, oh oh oh”), and the music is flavourless and flat.  Hummingbird Heartbeat borrows some of the same electric guitar chords that were used in Teenage Dream, and that’s about the only thing worth noting about it.  The track has a late-80’s, wannabe Madonna sound to it, but it’s a pretty lame effort overall.  The disc comes to an end with Not Like The Movies, yet another ballad.  I’ve come to the conclusion that Perry shouldn’t do any ballads at all.  Usually, artists use ballads to showcase their vocals, but Perry doesn’t have anything vocally worth showcasing.  It’s not that her voice is bad, it’s just completely unremarkable.  She doesn’t hit any impressive high notes, she doesn’t have a unique tone- she just sings along to the lyrics like a karaoke singer.  I’m honestly not sure how she got discovered or offered a record deal, because it certainly couldn’t have been based off vocal talent.  Anyway, this particular song dawdles on for four minutes, with Perry’s unexciting vocals and banal lyrics, before thankfully fading out and putting an end to the album.

Even after listening to a whole Katy Perry album in full, I’m still not sure what the appeal is.  Sure, she has a few songs I like, but not because of her really- anyone could’ve sung California Gurls or E.T. and it would’ve been the same exact song, and I would’ve liked it just as much (if not more, perhaps).  There’s nothing offensive about Perry or the Teenage Dream album (well, except for Peacock, but maybe I’m just old-fashioned), but it’s just not “great music”.  Barely passable, somewhat decent pop music?  Yes.  Grammy-award winning, meaningful music?  Not in a million years.

Rating: 2_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Teenage Dream
2. Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F)
3. California Gurls (featuring Snoop Dogg)
4. Firework
5. Peacock
6. Circle the Drain
7. The One That Got Away
8. E.T.
9. Who Am I Living For?
10. Pearl
11. Hummingbird Heartbeat
12. Not Like The Movies

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGJuMBdaqIw]
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