Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Teenage Dream is the third studio album by American singer-songwriter Katy Perry. It was released in the United States on August 24, 2010. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 192,000 copies in its first week. Teenage Dream has spawned three singles which attained chart success - lead single "California Gurls" featuring Snoop Dogg, "Teenage Dream" and "Firework" - all of which have peaked atop the Billboard Hot 100.
On December 1, 2010, it was announced that Teenage Dream was nominated for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album at the 53rd Grammy Awards. Additionally, the album's first single, "California Gurls" was nominated for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals and the title track and second single "Teenage Dream" was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
The album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, with first-week sales of 192,000 copies. As of January 2011, the album has sold 997,000 copies. In Canada, the album debuted at number one on the Canadian Albums Chart selling 26,000 copies. It has since been certified platinum by the CRIA.In Australia, the album also debuted at number one, as well as having been accredited with a Gold certification for sales of over 35,000 copies. In the UK Teenage Dream debuted at number one with sales of 54,176,doubling the sales of Eminem's Recovery.
"There have been countless great pop songs about "California Gurls," some of them by actual California girls. But Katy Perry's Number One smash is one of the girliest and most Californian. It sets the tone for Teenage Dream, Perry's album about Cali girls: their hopes, their dreams, their desire to hit the skate park in high heels. Throughout Dream, she chases an all-American teen-pop sound that's older than the Hollywood Hills. One of her best songs, "The One That Got Away," sets the scene: "Summer after high school, when we first met/We'd make out in your Mustang to Radiohead." From there, she just piles on the sun-drenched drama.
Perry loves to cite vintage movie stars like Jane Russell and Liz Taylor as her biggest influences, and you can hear that all over her music. Even when she's throwing down with Snoop, she vamps like she gets all her fashion tips from 62-year-old gay bartenders in Palm Springs. It just adds to the mystery that her uncle was the director Frank Perry, who made classic Hollywood movies about psycho ladies having drag-queen tantrums like Mommie Dearest and Mommie Dearest. When Katy Perry is flipping out in a ballad such as "Not Like the Movies," sobbing on the floor over her tragic love life, she's in a proud tradition of suburban girls who like their emotional meltdowns Hollywood-size.
Teenage Dream is the kind of pool-party-pop gem that Gwen Stefani used to crank out on the regular, full of SoCal ambience and disco beats. It's miles ahead of Perry's breakthrough disc, One of the Boys, with her clever songwriting boosted by top-dollar pros: Dr. Luke, Max Martin, Tricky Stewart, Stargate. In the 2010 style, her vocals are processed staccato blips with lots of oh-oh-way-oh chants. The tracks go heavy on Eighties beats, light on melody, taking a long dip into the Daft Punk filter-disco house sound.
Major themes include: how awesome it is having sex with Russell Brand ("Hummingbird Heartbeat"), how it sucks having sex with guys who aren't Russell Brand ("Pearl"), how true love rules ("Teenage Dream"), even though it's not like the movies ("Not Like the Movies"). Perry likes her songs chatty; in the kegger romp "Last Friday Night," she chirps, "Think I need a ginger ale/That was such an epic fail." Stargate's "Hollaback Girl" sequel "Peacock" bites a drum hook from Toni Basil's "Mickey" as Perry demands some action, chanting, "I wanna see your peacock-cock-cock" - subtle!
Her Christian back story only comes up once, in "Who Am I Living For," where Perry riffs on the biblical story of Esther, the Jewish orphan who married the Persian king and uncovered a plot to exterminate the Jews. It's dark and compelling, especially since she sings it like Rihanna. "Circle the Drain" - which Perry presumably wrote about her ex, "Billionaire" singer Travie McCoy - is even darker, a kiss-off to a rocker hooked on pills. But she's more at home with the mall romance of "The One That Got Away," where she and the guy get matching tattoos on her 18th birthday. When Perry sings, "I was June, and you were Johnny Cash," it's understood that she's thinking of the scrubbed-up Hollywood version of June and Johnny, from Walk the Line. But that's just part of what makes her such a true California gurl." - RollingStone
"Inciting a minor shit storm with her 80-character review of Lady Gaga's "Alejandro" video in June, Katy Perry tweeted: "Using blasphemy as entertainment is as cheap as a comedian telling a fart joke." Having declared flatulence beneath her, Ms. Perry's instead churns out maladjusted sleaze. On her latest release, she finds humor in drunken make-out sessions and single-entendre sex talk, finds that being a celebrity isn't always a walk in the Candyland porno park, and through it all, finds maybe two or three songs to justify her album's existence. From Ke$ha's Animal to Christina's Bionic, pop music in 2010 already looks like a trainwreck of over-produced bad-girl debauchery, and Teenage Dream only adds to the pileup. That anyone managed to make a pop album worse than Animal this year is both perversely impressive and hard to believe, but Ms. Perry has found a way to lower the bar.
At that, it's hard to imagine a song crasser or more aggravating than "Peacock." Every review of Teenage Dream will mention this track, and that's because it's potentially historic in its badness, to the point that, once you've heard it, you too will have to describe it to other people just to convince yourself that it really exists. The short of it is that Perry wants to see some guy's peacock, and by peacock, she, of course, means penis; she says the word "cock" somewhere around 100 times, and the only thing she successfully rhymes it with is "cock" (some of the misses include "biatch," "payoff," and "shoot it off"). It's one of those viscerally embarrassing musical moments where you start to feel ashamed of yourself just for witnessing it, like Fergie rapping on "My Humps," or that YouTube video where Fergie pees herself on stage, or Fergie misspelling "tasty" ("T to the A to the S-T-E-Y") in "Fergalicious."
And Teenage Dream doesn't come off much better when discussed in terms of its highlights. "California Gurls" became a summer anthem by force of will: As a frothy club track about beaches and babes with a high-budget video and a big-name guest spot, the song's inevitable rise to the top of the charts was pretty well bought and paid for. But the chorus lacks a strong hook, the verses lack melodies, and Perry's vocals aren't any closer to on-key than they've ever been. Second single "Teenage Dream" is much better. It realizes the Cardigans-meets-Madonna sound that Perry talked up in pre-release interviews, and, as a genuinely enjoyable track in the company of so many unmitigated disasters, suggests that the intermittently pious Perry may have earned herself a small miracle by choosing God over Gaga.
"Firework" will probably be a single at some point too, on the grounds that it's not an actively painful listen. Sure, the would-be inspirational lyrics ("Baby you're a firework/Come on show them what you're worth") are nonsensical, and the vocal lines, which sound like they were written for someone like Leona Lewis, are well beyond Perry's capabilities, but the chorus gains some momentum and the song would work well enough in a club setting that you could forgive its otherwise glaring weaknesses. And with that, we have concluded our brief tour of the listenable songs on this album.
The remainder of Teenage Dream is a raunchy pop nightmare, with A-list producers lining up to churn out some of the worst work of their careers. Over the last decade, DJ Luke's production has gone from brilliant ("Since U Been Gone") to serviceable (Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend") to nearly unlistenable (every Ke$ha song you know). The god-awful "Tik Tok" signaled that his metamorphosis into an artless industry hack was nearly complete, and onTeenage Dream he bursts out of his cocoon like a horrifying electro-pop Mothra. "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" is a lifeless roller-rink jam with a "T! G! I! F!" shout-along that will no doubt provide the soundtrack to any number of trashy sorority parties this semester, and on the inscrutable "E.T." Perry compares her lover (favorably?) to a space alien and Dr. Luke nabs the backing track from t.A.T.u.'s "All the Things She Said," presumably as a tribute to his forbears in the field of exploitative dance-floor schlock.
Perry's ironic persona - all gum-smacking, eye-rolling sarcasm - signals that those tracks are, if nothing else, shallow by design; it's the album's second half, when Perry dons her serious artist face, that Teenage Dream transcends its own middling crappiness and becomes truly, remarkably shitty. "Circle the Drain" finds Perry telling off a self-destructive ex, but she's almost less sympathetic than the pill-popping object of her scorn. Her put-downs are alternately pedantic ("Wanna be your lover, not your fucking mother") and hypocritical (she's offended that he takes drugs before foreplay, but wasn't she the one blacking out and hooking up "Last Friday Night"?). Tricky Stewart's "Who Am I Living For?" is a one-note wallow in self-pity, weighed down by clichéd lyrics, a leaden beat, and a tone-deaf vocal turn from Perry.
That track is intended as a stark confessional, but if Perry is indeed baring it all, it's only because she gets off on you watching. Her career has been one voyeuristic stunt after another, and at this point, it's hard to read self-exposure as anything but another surface - just like the "California Gurls" video, where she sheds her cutesy Zooey Deschanel dresses to reveal a spray-on tan and a pair of synthetic foam-spouting tits." - SlantMagazine
"K-K-K-Katy, not-quite-beautiful Katy / You're the g-g-g-girl that you desperately want me to adore. Or at least whose singles you want me to buy, and on that count, your moon has, in fact, risen pretty high over the cowshed.
But at what price has Katy Perry risen to pop stardom? One that will have her singing bubblegum-raunch about spring-break lesbianism to live audiences for the rest of her career, and Perry is already old enough to know better. Now, instead of making an attempt at an artistic leap forward, Perry has, with her candy-coated follow-up, Teenage Dream, doubled down on the formula that got her here.
Perry's pop-conquest strategy has, sure enough, billowed her right to the top of the charts. It's one of pop's curious cases of delayed exposition. She aborted a career in musical Jesus-sniffing after 2001, at which point she changed her name, reinvented herself as a careless party gurl, went through record labels like she was changing her Facebook status, and, apparently, met the devil at the crossroads and sold her soul to him in exchange for the devotion of electro-pop's most platinum-lined producers.
All Perry needed to do at that point was pretend to be sexy, bitchy, and wild enough to sell the shamelessly frothy excess of 2008's One of the Boys. Once upon a time, Katy Perry might have run screaming from her Puritanical upbringing and turned into Joan Jett, saving a fortune in cosmetics alone, but at the end of the aughts, Perry instead became a shrewd enough observer of shallow shock contrivances to deliver a mecurial pile of low-attention-span synth hooks, even if, in a more authentic yesteryear, Perry might have fostered her reasonably tough vocal punch and her melodic instincts to become a more convincing rock figure.
"California Gurls" was, of course, the radio jam of the summer, the gargantuan singalong fantasy that delivered on the promise built by the disco thump of hits like "I Kissed a Girl" and "Hot N Cold". As pop fizz goes, "California Gurls" is pretty fab - even the boys have to cop to sort of liking it, if only because it makes the girls at the party dance on the coffee table. The smash hit has plenty to admire: funked-out flanger guitars, new-wave synths, sun, water, plagiarism, dick jokes, car horns, Snoop, and a chorus you know by heart halfway through your first listen.
The title track and second single is even better, mostly thanks to Katy's lusty belting on the chorus, which soars over a filthy grind of industrial-pop programming. The song is all about romantic prom-night neverlands, updating old rock-drama archetypes ("Let's run away and don't ever look back!"), but she also promises that if you put your hands on her skintight jeans that you can be young forever. This girl knows how to sell it.
However, if you fall for "California Gurls" and "Teenage Dream", much of the rest of the record sounds like a dirty trick, a lugubrious series of weak melodies and general imbecility. "Last Friday Night (TGIF)" is catchy enough, and features the cheesiest sax solo ever played on a keyboard, but the verses are hammered down into a monotone catalog of girls gone wild cliches. Last Friday night, we maxed out our credit cards, got kicked out of the bar, had a menage a trois - you know, the usual. By the end of the song, the girls are chanting "TGIF!!" It's the kind of song that's mildly smirk-worthy on the first lesson, tolerably infectious on the second, and forever annoying thereafter.
So goes most of the album - except that part about being infectious. In fact, compared to the feloniously stupid "Peacock", "Last Friday Night" is friggin' "Imagine". "Peacock" is a noble attempt to empower a nation of men who are embarrassed of their packages, but that Toni Basil-inspired cheer-squad chant ("I want to see your peakcock-cock-cock") is a nadir on an album with plenty of them.
"Firework" is the record's last hurrah; though nothing particularly memorable, it features a swelling, anthemic chorus that forces Perry up to the top of her range, where her hiccup gets raspy, and with a thumping club beat, stabbing synth-strings, and Perry's pep-talk psycho-babble, "Firework" has at least a bit of staying power.
The rest of Teenage Dream? Look out below. After some severe front-loading, the album is filled out by songs that are too dark or lifeless to work alongside the Candyland motif of the cover and sunbeamy splash of "California Gurls". Plus, songs like "E.T." or "Circle the Drain" are neither strong nor edgy nor clever nor sonically interesting enough to lend any genuine credibility to Perry as a serious artist with anything to actually say.
On the album's final song, a ho-hum ballad called "Not Like the Movies", Katy asks, "Am I a stupid girl?" The answer: No. But she's plays one on the radio." - PopMatters
"With her new album, Teenage Dream, Katy Perry is looking to do anything but break the mold, "Some people get full of themselves, and they think that anything they do is going to work or turn to gold or be the right move, and the reason why you're here is because of the people that like your music and the fans, so you always should keep an ear open to what they're saying." But is she successful in avoiding the faux pas of evolving as an artist, as she hoped to do when talking to Rolling Stone this past May? Let's just say: mission accomplished. The album's first single, "California Gurls," does little to divert from the path clearly paved with 2008's One of the Boys, and in doing so it landed Perry her second number one single. "I just know what kind of card this summer needs, and that's the one I'm playing," she told Reuters earlier this month; her insight was, and is, apparently dead on.
Perry's understanding of what her fans want isn't exclusive to her music however: in becoming the character of Katy Perry she's also feeding a persona that her fans want look up to. In her own words she has revealed that she prefers to play the role of the sexual tease - just as many hundreds of thousands of girls (and guys) around the world do - but nothing more. And while countless photos capture her bearing more than her soul she continues to take the higher ground, just as she did when she commented on the video for Lady Gaga's "Alejandro," "I think when you put sex and spirituality in the same bottle and shake it up, bad things happen." Similarly, she continues to make the clear division between what's "acceptable" and what's not in her music.Teenage Dream is overflowing with sexual innuendo, but nothing R-rated, because that's not what her audience would want. The title track opens the album with Perry innocently pleading, "Let's go all the way tonight, no regrets, just love." Things quickly progress from there, however. The very next song, "Last Friday Night," revolves around a story of getting blackout drunk, committing crimes, and having sex with multiple partners - or at least the two that she vaguely remembers - all the while explicitly keeping things "fun," rather than crossing into any sort of reality. "This Friday night, do it all again." Even Snoop Dogg, who simply doesn't work as a PG artist, is molded under the perception of Perry's character in "California Gurls." During his lackluster contribution to the song he raps "squeeze her buns." Seriously, Snoop "gang-bang-slap-a-bitch-nigga-out-to-get-a-grip" Dogg says "squeeze her buns." And why is Snoop used here despite being reduced to the point of childish irrelevance? Because his name still provokes a sentiment of edginess among the same crowd that's sexually excited by saying making love instead of fucking. The problem with this scenario isn't Snoop, but rather thatPerry's simply not above any of that, herself: "Yes, I said I kissed a girl. But I didn't say I kissed a girl while fucking a crucifix."
"Circle the Drain" is aimed at her ex, Gym Class Heroes' frontman Travis McCoy, condemning his excessive use of drugs and the role he wanted her to play in their relationship, "Wanna be your lover, not your fucking mother... Had the world in the palm of your hands but you fucking choked." The only difference is that Katy Perry's trying to justify her language based on context: "fuck" is OK if it's used under the pretense of raw emotion, but not OK if it's mixed in with sexual innuendo. But with songs like "Peacock" that innuendo is embarrassingly masked under a crass shroud of wordplay, "Are you brave enough to let me see your peacock? Don't be a chicken, boy, stop acting like a bi-atch." Context here doesn't mean a thing; it would be edginess if she refrained from such grade-school nonsense and simply said she wanted to check out this dude's dick. Then again, doing so doesn't rhyme as well as peacock and bi-atch, does it... ?
A bad song can typically still be salvaged by good production though, and if Teenage Dream was laced with nothing but forward thinking beats, any of the previous objections would likely be moot. A good tune's a good tune, right? But songs like "Peacock" are downright bad in that realm as well. Even as the album begins to shift towards bearing any lyrical substance, as it does with "Firework," the accompaniment of a generic beat impedes any real progression. "Who Am I Living For?" is about as fresh as the production gets on Teenage Dream, but even at that it sounds like a recycled Timbaland beat from a few years back; one which wasn't really all that original to begin with. "E.T." stands out as the album's most unique beat, floating somewhere near the brink of innovation, but producer "Dr. Luke" Gottawald himself has explained how the song wasn't even originally meant for Perry; it's a left-over Three 6 Mafia beat. So even at its high points, musically, Teenage Dream is essentially a collection of b-side beats and dated production.
However, to this day what continues to separate Perry from her contemporaries isn't her sound as much as it is her hands-on approach to the actual songwriting behind her albums - with Teenage Dream there isn't a single track where she doesn't receive a songwriting credit. No matter where you stand on any other aspect of the album, Perry should definitely be praised for that, especially when she could have easily relaxed on that front and gone with whatever was put on her plate. The only issue is that the end product, regardless of who's behind it, is so predictable that Teenage Dream only goes to further suppress the idea that she was much of a singer/songwriter to begin with (not that "Ur So Gay" was all that dynamic a song). "Pearl" comes close to a touching story (reflecting on a crumbling character who is in a suffocating relationship, only to reveal that the character is - surprise - her), but things don't really get much better from there: "Peacock" and "California Gurls" aside, the album only continues to stumble with lines like, "One hundred percent, with every penny spent, he'll be the one that finishes your sentences" ("Not Like the Movies"). Even worse, "Last Friday Night" finds Perry remarking on how much of an "epic fail" it was to tear her dress; really, "epic fail," that's what she's bringing to the table.
In the same May interview with Rolling Stone, Perry commented on how telling the album would be concerning the direction of her career, "The second record is really important to me because I think it shows whether I'm meant to do this, or I got lucky." Don't get things confused: One of the Boys was no fluke. And like that record, with her new album she had a vision and she did all she could to accomplish her goal. But the issue withTeenage Dream isn't whether or not the album's a success, whether or not it proves her to be a fluke or "the real deal," if it plays to her audience, how "sincere" it might be, or whether or not it's generally enjoyable to listen to: the issue is whether or not Teenage Dream provides proof that she's "meant to do this." The stab at Gaga is telling in that Katy Perry clearly has some sort of sense of her own values, and where she draws the line - near nudity is OK, but I doubt we'd see Perry wearing a machine-gun bra any time soon (because a bra ejaculating whipped cream is somehow less offensive). And she's entitled to her opinion just as I, or you, are ours. Don't get me wrong, you honestly can have it both ways: there is an art to being sexy, playful, and tasteful, all at the same time. That said, it's a fine line to walk, and as soon as you slip you set yourself up for an immense amount of criticism. That's where all of this non-music-related static becomes important: Katy Perry was "meant to do this." She can play the role and take the bumps along the way. Clearly things weren't working for Katy Hudson, so when Katy Perry found success, the only smart thing to do would be to continue the same approach, no matter how bland it might be. It's wise to play to your audience, especially when the financial stakes are so high. It's wise to dumb down your product so as not to offend your fans' sense of taste. It's wise to add a hint of scandal along the way - showing just enough of your personal character - so that fans get a sense that you're "real" and not some clown playing to their desires. But it's also boring. Teenage Dream will be a smashing success, and for as long as Katy Perry wants to make music (and money) she'll have no problem finding an audience. So congratulations Katy Perry: you're not a fluke. You're simply an inoffensive, tasteless, generic success." -CultureBully
Rolling Stone - "TEENAGE DREAM is the kind of pool-party-pop gem that Gwen Stefani used to crank out on the regular, full of SoCal ambience and disco beats."
Spin - 3 stars out of 5 -- "Perry delivers the gurl-gone-wild stuff with requisite sass..."
Entertainment Weekly (p.124) - "She seems to connect best in '80s leotard-lady mode, as showcased on the deliciously glitchy throwback 'E.T.'..." -- Grade: B-
Entertainment Weekly (p.80) - "Perry is clearly serious about the business of hit songcraft." -- Grade: B-
Billboard (p.28) - "[T]his new depth shouldn't surprise....Perry is primarily a smart and personal pop songwriter."
Recording information: Conway Recording Studios, Los Angeles, CA; Henson Recording Studios, Los Angeles, CA; Playback Recording Studio, Santa Barbara, CA; Roc The Mic Studios, New York, NY; Rocket Carousel Studio, Los Angeles, CA; Silent Sound Studios, Atlanta, GA; Studio At The Palms, Las Vegas, NV; The Boom Boom Room, Burbank, CA; Triangle Sound Studios, Atlanta, GA.
Photographer: Will Cotton.
Preceded by her second number one single on Billboard magazine's Hot 100, "California Gurls," Katy Perry's Teenage Dream is filled with dance-pop that made One of the Boys her breakthrough album, but this time there's a decidedly summer spin. Hitmakers like Greg Smith, Dr. Luke, Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, and even Weezer's Rivers Cuomo lend a hand for what Perry predicts "will be one of those records that is everybody's favorite guilty pleasure."