Katy Perry – Teenage Dream (2010, Capitol)
(hopefully you won’t have to watch a Vevo ad before it starts)
Why It’s Perfect: Whenever I read William Blake’s Jerusalem, I’m always conscious of the fact that the answer to every question posed in the hymn is no. No, the Lamb of God was ne’er sighted gallivanting amongst Glastonbury sheep, nor did the Countenance Divine contrive to undertake radical changes to Sunderland’s urban planning. (I mention this because I’m a pretentious fuck who has to make reference to reading high brow lit before defending shit pop music. No, sorry, that was just an outburst of self-deprecation; I’m seeing a counsellor to deal with that.) Anyway, I mention it because the speaker in Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream is likewise almost certainly wrong about a great many things; We can dance, until we die (unlikely), We’ll be young forever (probably not), Every February, you’ll be my Valentine (outlook dim). But being wrong is not a sin, as Blake knew, nor is hoping and loving.
Teenage Dream is about surrendering to the moment and feeling of first love, the breathlessness of experience and the memory of fire. It’s no regrets, just love and walls come down and most crucial of all, let you put your hands on me. Great teenage love songs exist to give this euphoric sensation some sort of expression, something outside your fluttering stomach that feels like you do; hormones as a hum. And golly but fuck, Teenage Dream is a great hum.
Many of Perry’s biggest singles are based on blocky, percussive sorts of melodies (You! Make! Me! *pause* Feel like I’m livin’ a Teen! Age! Dream!, or Cal! If! Ornia! Girls! You’re Un! Denia! Ble!) that allow her to play to her fist-pumpy tomboy strengths. The verses, by contrast, have Perry straining at the top of her range (almost falsetto in fact), giving them a fragility and softness that gradually develops into confidence and swagger as she grows more certain of her love, most notably on the absolutely sublime bridge. That bridge is the apex of feeling, openly accepting her lover without reservation. Perry’s not a superb singer, but she can emote and project, and as such this is a perfect fit for her.
The production trio of Dr. Luke, Benny Blanco and the legendary “Sugar Swede” Max Martin (I made that nickname up) don’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but the music is a nice synthesis of all the trends of today’s pop, without really subscribing to any of them. There’s a glossy, subtly processed effect on Perry’s vocals, with some of those ‘80s retro keyboards everybody digs these days, and a sexy disco hook hidden in the chorus; its great accomplishment, aside from being catchy as all hell, is that it is both pristine enough for modern mechanically-inclined pop audiences, and heartfelt enough for some dagger of feeling to slice through the manufactured bombast.
So, allow me to crown Teenage Dream as the pre-eminent teen (and hell, probably pre-teen) panty dropper of its time. It’s probably not love, and Christ still probably never chilled on Brit foothills, but for 3:48 it feels okay to be together a while, and dream.
Defining Moment: I love the way the bridge (Let you put your hands on me in my skin-tight jeans…) comes in and takes the chorus melody in another direction, really up into a realm of pure melodic sweetness that can rarely be endured for a whole song, but feels wonderful in such brilliantly timed increments.
Other Great Songs by Katy Perry: If I watched the I Kissed a Girl vid twenty-seven times it wasn’t for the music, but it supported its shock value appeal with a kind of Soft Cell-esque New Wave groove that got into your ass and elbows. It’s not a great song like Teenage Dream, but it’s probably her second best. In lieu of other great songs, here are the most outrageously hot pics from the first page of the Google image search, in a transparent attempt to garner some prurient search traffic: