Katy Perry: Teenage Dream

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Posted September 28, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

Candy-coated, cavity-developing pop swirls across Katy Perry’s sophomore release; leading to even more radio domination

Two successfully unbreakable singles, yielded by candy-coated pop, easily prepared the way for Katy Perry’s sophomore event, Teenage Dream. With us all enduring a long summer with “California Gurlz” dominating the #1 spot on the pop charts and with her and her fiancé’ Russell Brand dominating the big mag covers, the immediate urgency for more and the anxiety for an album release date definitely was in the forecast. Not that “California Gurlz” or the album’s title track didn’t have enough substance to tie listeners until then, but Perry’s pop debut, One of the Boys, was pampered with the same buttered-up treatment of sugary, radio-ready singles, including “I Kissed a Girl” and “Waking Up in Vegas,” and was panned for its deliberate outrageousness and rebelliousness while not pumping enough blood into making the product all-that believable. Even with all the heavy pop production and snarky fun hampering over Madonna antics, Katy’s choosing to rebel actually worked a bit against her after learning that her debut album was actually a Contemporary Christian album and really digging into her quest for fame. The record gave off an eerie scent that kissing a girl was just her way of stealing the spotlight, at any cost, and deep inside Perry still had that “Dammit, I’m a good girl” spirit (see “Hot ‘N Cold” for an example). Still, playing with Gwen Stefani pop allowed her easy-access into the upper trenches of the pop charts and gave her a second chance at crafting a work that best suits her.

Vocally, Perry has proven to be a certified gold card carrier; belting in places that makes her sound like a cross between Kelly Clarkson and Christina Aguilera. Don’t let those bamboozle Ke$ha comparisons and those CandyLand music videos give you the wrong impression of her. There’s a good voice behind all of this pop fizzle.

The first half of Teenage Dream is where the party’s at, for sure. Not only does the energetic rhythms and pulsating structures gel well together, but the voice feels freer, stronger and flirtatious. Spiced with Dr. Luke’s perfect choice of syncopated guitar and drum beats, “Teenage Dream” opens up the account of love-at-first-sight.”California Gurlz,” featuring an uncanny cameo from L.A. ambassador Snoop Dogg, does a pretty decent job of blending Chic disco and Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” ‘80’s pop. It’s done in such a way that it makes the last four minutes seem way too short.

The others in the near front are appetizers at best. “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” is a Disney feel-good groove set to familiar “Waking Up In Vegas” hangovers. And “Firework,” probably the last of single-bound efforts, is medium grade Black Eyed Peas, yet it uses the strangest and driest metaphors to describe a good time (“Do you ever feel like a plastic bag/Drifting through the wind/Wanting to start again”). Tucked in the second half, “Hummingbird Heartbeat,” which squeezes in Taylor Swift pop with Bon Jovi guitar, is also poised to eventually rocket to radio.

Perry has a sneaky way of maximizing cute, jingly melodies, even with the excursion of halfway naughty lyrics and playful parochial girl-meets-Playboy. The “Hey Mickey”-influenced “Peacock” is inches away from being an outlandish porno. Even with its obvious entendre, Perry drags it through the California dunes by exaggerating and repeating the phrase like a 8-year old learning their first cuss word (“cock/cock/cock”); a bit overdone especially when compared against Ke$ha’s “Dinosaur.”

Despite the album title and the questionable innocence of Perry’s cover art, some of the content lives light-years away from the average teenager’s dreams. “Circle the Drain” presents a surprising drugged world, thankfully abandoned by the song’s protagonist for a better way out. Halfway into the disc, the excitement starts to nimble up and gets a bit queazy. Probably because the beats tend to shrivel up along the way. “E.T” sounds like a mild Rihanna bonus track and “Who Am I Living For?,” a tribute to her Christian faith, possesses a pint of the excitement that paraded the first half. But “Pearl,” the ballad that ironically stands out amongst all the slower cuts, points towards a self-esteem booster for downtrodden insecure girls. It’s a subdued, reflective track that sounds much more believable on Perry than her racy stuff. Things do pick up with the rock-embossed “Hummingbird Heartbeat,” but it’s obvious that Teenage Dream will be interpreted as a mixed-bag, but better designed and executed.

Much of the content on the album has the sharp ability to make circulations around Top 40 pop radio, which is what Perry wanted in the first place. The album itself stands out as a better album than One of the Boys, but it still needs a little more cohesiveness in order for it to work. Still, she’s moving in the right direction and that’s very good news, coming from someone that originally looked and sounded like a desperate fame slut.

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 HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: August 24, 2010
  • Label: Capitol
  • Producers: Max Martin, Dr. Luke, Benny Blanco, Rico Love, Tricky Stewart, Stargate, Greg Wells
  • Track Favs: Teenage Dream, California Gurlz, Hummingbird Heartbeat, Pearl

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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