Teenage Dream by Katy Perry was one of the first CDs I ever bought, back when CDs were still relevant for listening to music. It came in a paper case and smelled like cotton candy. I had never had a CD like that before and little did I know that I would probably never hear another pop record like it again either. At the time, between 2010 and 2012, Teenage Dream produced numerous hit singles, the most recognizable being “California Gurls” which was undeniably the hottest song of summer 2010. Soon after came the title track, “Teenage Dream”, “Firework”, “The One That Got Away”, “E. T.” and “Last Friday Night (T. G. I. F.)” which is still played a considerable amount on the radio even to this day. This was a huge record, being certified 3x Platinum and selling more than three million copies in the United States alone and still stands as Perry’s most successful work to date. Despite all of it’s accolades, nominations and certifications, this record at it’s core isn’t necessarily revolutionary or intricate in any way. However, most of it’s significance lies in the fact that it’s a down to earth, relatable record and arrived just when we all needed it.
Pop music at the time around 2010 was in a transition period which probably started around 2008 and lasted until maybe 2012. Everything was so different sounding and artists from all genres were borrowing from each other, creating a whole mix of pop rock, electronic and dance, with the beginning of the rise of EDM. Throughout all of this inconsistency comes Teenage Dream, the third studio album by Katy Perry supported by the lead single “California Gurls” featuring Snoop Dogg. “California Gurls” was played at least a hundred times a day on every radio station during the summer of 2010. That’s not even a joke. The song is regarded as one of the best songs of the year and is certified 8x Platinum. The thing that made this song work so well was timing, first of all. Compromised of a thick dance beat, some synthesizer and a cute guitar riff, the song carried an undeniable summer feeling. But with lyrics describing Perry’s love for her home state of California, the track soon became timeless and applicable well past the summer months. Before that spark even died out, we were introduced to even more soon to be hit singles. The title track, “Teenage Dream”, “Firework”, “E. T”., and “Last Friday Night” all went to the number one spot on the Billboard weekly hot 100 and were all released within less than a year of each other. The final single, “The One That Got Away” peaked at number three, breaking Perry’s number one streak but having five singles crack at least the top five is impressive, nonetheless.
So why did this record work so well among so many others? The biggest thing I can point out is the cohesiveness of it all in a scattered industry at the time. The production varies throughout however there are themes of Perry’s previous album, such as the pop rock feel on “Circle The Drain” and “Hummingbird Heartbeat” paired with futuristic songs like “E. T.” and “Who Am I Living For?”, but with a good mix of modern pop/dance songs such as “Teenage Dream” and “Peacock”. There are also some softer songs like the acoustic “Not Like The Movies” and somber “Pearl”, providing a break among the rest of the dance infused track list. Yet, even with all these different themes present, the central idea pertaining to what it feels like to be a young adult stays firmly in place. Each song has it’s own distinct story and theme but come together like a little puzzle to make an entire finished picture.
To further complete this idea of a teenage dream, we obviously need more than just instrumental. Cheeky without being explicit, the lyrical content of this record is simply something else. Katy Perry was one of those pop stars that was eye catching but in a quirky way and I think that was some of her major appeal. Her songwriting on this record (she co wrote every song on here, by the way) along with other notable songwriters such as Max Martin is so real and absolutely hilarious at times. The opening line of “Hummingbird Heartbeat” goes “You make me feel like I’m losing my virginity” and if that’s not attention catching, then I don’t know what is. The spacey feel of “E. T.” wouldn’t be complete without the alien inspired lines saying things like “I’m ready for abduction” and that her lover is “supernatural”. And let’s not forget the storytelling on “The One That Got Away” where this entire relationship is showcased from beginning to end in a few short minutes. Even “Last Friday Night” is so entertaining with the way this party scene is described, making it almost impossible to hate this song no matter how many times you’ve heard it (and I’ve heard it a lot, trust me). Vocally as well, Perry excels which is no surprise. She has always been an extraordinary and consistent vocalist, and this record contains some impressive moments such as all of “Teenage Dream” (which isn’t easy to sing) and all of the high notes in “Firework”.
A one of a time record from a one of a time artist. Teenage Dream is something that won’t be easily replicated. This is undeniably one of the most influential albums from the early 2010’s, featuring some of the best pop music from that time as well. Like I said in my intro, this record was rather straightforward; there’s not much deciphering to do and it’s quite an easy listen. With that being said, however, that idea doesn’t dull the fact that this album is so genuinely fun, where it doesn’t feel like Perry was trying too hard to be unique or trying to be someone else. She put her own twist on the pop formula and succeeded, which is something most artists can only dream of.