Album Review: Katy Perry – ‘Teenage Dream’

Katy Perry’s début pop album ‘One Of The Boys’ was easily one of the most-anticipated since Take That’s reunion album ‘Beautiful World’. Unfortunately it was a very inconsistent affair, with some of the most irritating songs I’ve ever heard, so bluntly sexual it was almost unfair, but hidden underneath the sugar-coated campness, you could tell there was a decent song-writer, who Katy has said to have let out on her follow-up LP ‘Teenage Dream’. I agree, to a short extent.

Bursting out onto the music scene with her controversial protest boards, child-like lyrics, and songs that no other artists in that industry could get away with, it quickly played to her strengths; we in the UK as well as her homeland, the US, lapped up her début ‘I Kissed A Girl’, which topped the UK Singles Chart for five consecutive weeks. Declaring boisterously, “music should have more innuendos”, she made sure it did with her wacky bubblegum pop, an unstoppable sense of humour, and quite frankly, the most gorgeous face since Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

Her equally kooky follow-up single ‘Hot ‘n’ Cold’ sold her album well, helping ‘One Of The Boys’ reach Top 10 success, and she was cemented as artist who returned the cheeky, innuendo-charged lyricism we used to get from an all-male selection of anyone who could rap, but smothered it in more sass and lyrical savvy than we’d ever seen before, not only that, she did it with more interesting lyrics, tonnes more humour (like the transvestite bridesmaid in the ‘Hot ‘n’ Cold’ video, for example), and most importantly, no-one in the music business sounded like her: she was unique as anyone could ask for. We grew to love her, and by the last single from her début album, ‘Waking Up In Vegas’ (in my opinion, lead single material, right there), she left as quickly as she came, but she was now a household name in both the UK and the US.

Speaking about her third album (she released a gospel album of hymns before ‘One Of The Boys’, back when she was still devoutly Christian), she claims ‘Teenage Dream’ has a more serious balance to go with the typical party anthems and sugary-sweet pop songs like those on ‘One Of The Boys’, “there are more love songs, because I’ve found and lost love, and found it again whilst in the recording process of this one [‘Teenage Dream’]”, and whilst she stays true to her word for the majority of the album. In places, Katy excels ‘One Of The Boys’, proving she doesn’t need to sing like Beyoncé or Christina to show she’s grown-up and matured since her last album, nor does she need vocal ornamentation like melisma, favoured by many when emotion wants to be conveyed, Katy rather relies on her ability to sing in a dry, whispery tone and her dainty falsetto.

There certainly is a variety of styles on the album, from huge electropop anthems like the stomping, string-driven confidence-builder ‘Firework’, to the sparsely-produced, dainty ‘Pearl’, Katy shows her strengths far greater on this album, but there are points such as ‘Peacock’ when, like ‘Ur So Gay’ on ‘One Of The Boys”, her immature lyrics are a little too obvious to be classed as innuendos and you just wish she’d grow up.

01. ‘Teenage Dream’ (4.5 STARS)

Returning to her rock-pop roots, she sounds more at home with the guitars and thumping drums than she did with the electropop sound of ‘California Gurls’; ‘Teenage Dream’ reminds us just how strong a musical force Katy is, offering a warming vocal performance whilst singing the lyrics, which exercise her newly-acquired maturity very well – “Let’s go all the way tonight/You and I”.

A brilliant display of Katy’s song-writing skills, she sings about how a man makes her feel like a teenager again. The best thing about this song is how it illustrates a typical teenage life, like she really remembers to plus points about being young and free; expert lyricism and fierce-sounding guitars make this a fantastic open for the album of the same name.

02. ‘Last Friday Night (T. G. I. F.)’ (3.5 STARS)

Quite a decline in quality here, ‘Last Friday Night (T. G. I. F.)’ sees Katy continue the rock-pop genre, with your typical formula pop, accompanied with Katy singing about the typical teenage antics all of us get up to at sometime or other, but there’s something about the verses you just can’t get into. And by the time Katy recalls having a ménage á trois, it falls into the same trap ‘California Gurls’ does – it seems horribly contrived.

It’s not as tightly produced as ‘Teenage Dream’, nor is it as lyrically charming – “That was such an epic fail” is a good colloquial term but to use it in a song it just seems like Katy was just trying to find a line that would rhyme. So whilst it’s no doubt single quality with that great summer chorus, the rest of the song does leave quite a lot to be desired, and that’s nothing a synthesised solo sax section can rescue.

03. ‘California Gurls’ (featuring Snoop Dogg) (3.0 STARS)

The undeserved lead single ‘California Gurls’ is undoubtedly one of the global summer smashes of 2010, but even for Katy this is a bit underwhelming. It sounds far to overproduced and makes fun sounds as laborious as Saturday chores. The Dr. Luke/Max Martin-produced chorus sounds like it came straight out of Ke$ha’s ‘TiK ToK’ and takes away anything remotely Katy about the whole song.

Of course, there are the redeeming qualities, such as, by the time Snoop comes in the song is actually very good, and has built up to a very enjoyable, summery song. But once Snoop arrives, the whole two and a half minutes Katy spent building up momentum is thrown out of the window for a ridiculous rap I could do. Move along please, Snoop. You have no place on this record: you’re fourty-odd, now sit down and put away that pimp stick before you break a hip or something.

04. ‘Firework’ (4.5 STARS)

Thank goodness the track after the lukewarm ‘California Gurls’ is very much up to something. ‘Firework’, which exceeds expectation on every level; a Stargate production, ‘Firework” combines and tinny, swirling introduction an array of warming strings before exploding into the biggest chorus on the album. Katy really gives the vocals some welly here; with no auto-tune assistance, she bellows “Baby you’re a firework/Come on, show ’em what you’’re worth” as an ode to her lover who lights up like “the fourth of July”.

The strings and the electronic beat make this easily one of Katy’s and also Stargate’s best songs, a huge, anthemic song sing a sing-along chorus, slightly detached in places, the positives most definitely out-weigh the negatives with it’s confidence-boosting lyrics… even though the first line is a little underwhelming – “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag”. Of course Katy, we know the feeling exactly! *Looks shifty*

05. ‘Peacock’ (0.0 STARS)

Err… Well… It’s a peculiar thing if I stop the song I’m reviewing whilst I write it the review, because it usually means I’m being so distracted I have no idea what I’m doing or it’s so ground-breakingly amazing I’m lost for words and just want to stinge another listen. Three guesses which is the scenario for ‘Peacock’? Actually… Have another three and guess what she’s talking about in the song.

Yeah, it’s no mystery; here we see Katy return to her childish self, with one of the songs that would easily slip onto the track listing for ‘One Of The Boys’ without being second glanced. “I wanna see you peacock-cock-cock/Your peacock-cock”, Katy sings immaturely like she’s been super-charged with fifteen bags of Haribo and an espresso. The poorly produced song is riddled with quite frankly disgusting imagery and metaphors, and because the production is so weak all you hear is Katy’s voice cutting through it all; you could imagine her in the studio recording it: camp expressions, wide-eyed gasps… possibly even wearing that blue wig she’s now so fond of.

The lyrics are horribly eloquent, I feel like I’m listening to porn as it happens, and not in a good way – “What you waiting for/It’s time for you to shoot if off”, and the middle eight will give parents plenty of reasons to worry about their kids turning sixteen. This is an awful attempt at stamping your own personality on an album; it’s quite possibly the worst song I’ve ever heard, like Christina and Nicki’s ‘Woo-Hoo’… that kind of awful.

06. ‘Circle The Drain’ (2.5 STARS)

Released as a promotional single, I don’t get all the fuss about this song. Clearly this is Katy’s rockiest effort to date (we can tell that from the Kelly Clarkson-esque introduction) and it’s all very catchy, but when she sings, her voice grates like pebbledash to your face, she sounds far too distant too, like she singing but has noticed there’s a wig stall going by and she’s paying more attention to the array of sickly coloured wigs than what she’s singing. It’s like it’s trying too hard to remind us that Katy has a hard side, and comes of as incredibly contrived, plus the auto-tune potentially ruins what the song has going for it (not much, to be honest).

Laced with too much over-production, ‘Circle The Drain’ also features pointless amounts of profanity, but thankfully, it’s only used where it’s needed; the song is about walking out on a relationship where your partner is a good-for-nothing lowlife and a drug addict, but still, we saw on ‘I Kissed A Girl’ that Katy was ‘naughty’, we don’t need it proved to us on this album.


07. ‘The One That Got Away’ (5.0 STARS)

Do you know the kind of songs which are easily listenable and are then made absolutely amazing by one single line? The opener to ‘The One That Got Away’s chorus is beautiful, and the lyrics in the rest of the song are again, showcasing Katy’s song-writing skills. ‘The One That Got Away’ is a very personal song, with Katy recalling her teenage years again – “In another life/I could make you stay/So I don’t have to say/You were the one that got away”, with an uplifting production, a simple piano refrain and near-militant drums. They all work together to make a truly stunning love song.

Again, the lyrics are very detailed and emulate a typical teenager’s life – you find yourself thinking – “Actually, I would do that” and “Aww, I remember doing that” whilst listening, just you do with the title track. There’s something very charming about this song, as well as having that line – “In another life” before the drums pick up again for the chorus.

08. ‘E.T. (Futuristic Lover)’ (2.5 STARS)

From the outset, we can see Katy’s going forward into the year 2100 with this song: recurring bleeps, monotone vocals, retriggering, it’s all there. This is clearly one of those ‘marmite’ songs that’s going to repulse some and hypnotise others. Me? I hated it at first, but it grew on me. Not only does Katy write appropriate lyrics and sing them in an apt way for the futuristic feel, she’s also been backed up with a production that wouldn’t look out-of-place on The Black Eyed Peas’ last album, only ‘E.T (Futuristic Lover)’ has ten times the texture and body of any of those half-baked ‘musical’ attempts.

Of course, there are points which are a let down, like, upon your first listen, then chorus sounds (or at least, gives the impression is it going to sound) quite a lot like t.A.t.U.’s #1 hit ‘All The Things She Said’ (“Mo-ther looking at me/Tell me, what do you see?/Yes, I’ve lost my mind”), but once the first two note of ‘E.T.’ have hit you, i’’s like the music goes where it should, but Katy’s voice has been caught on repeat and instead retriggers the words “Kiss me” like a broken robot. There’s so much potential for that chorus, but it takes quite a few listens to get into, considering upon first impression it sounds like Katy’s just fallen on her face.

09. ‘Who Am I Living For?’ (1.5 STARS)

The introduction this song really does set the tone to the rest of the song. Essentially, there’s absolutely nothing to shout about in the music department; a couple of electronic beats and some blips that could’ve been nicked from previous track, ‘E.T (Futuristic Lover)’. Other than that, all that’s left is Katy’s voice, and she pulls a Leona.

She over-sings every lyric. It’s almost like she realises the backing is awfully poor and decides to do something about it with her voice, trying to carry the song by blasting out one of her most impressively powerful vocal performances to date, but that said, it doesn’t escape the fact the Katy is basically shouting, conveying about as much emotion as a plastic goldfish.


10. ‘Pearl’ (5.0 STARS)

With a hypnotic, trance-ish production from Greg Wells, ‘Pearl’ is a brilliant example of a song that carries itself without any flourish of camp, gimmick or schtick. It’s a poignant song about a mystery girl who “used to be a pearl”; a metaphor for a girl who “ruled the world” and shone out independently, but then we find a man kept her in the dark and she became “a shell of herself”.

Cleverly switching the lyrics, we soon find out this girl was in fact Katy. Obviously referring to her relationship with Travie McCoy and how Russell Brand changed that, the song boasts more artistic and emotional flair than any other on the album. On it, Katy doesn’t hide behind any of her typical visages; no cherry-pie bra, no wigs; she offers a piece of her past, untainted, and turns it into a warming ballad about her vulnerability in love.

Ending the song with a single line “She is unstoppable”, it ends with that lump hard in your throat as you try to hold back the tears.

11. ‘Hummingbird Heartbeat’ (4.0 STARS)

The intro to this song could’ve been lifted straight from the 80’s but a single drum beat signals the intro to the guitars who’ve had too much glucose. ‘Hummingbird Heartbeat’ boasts an opening line that, like ‘Firework’, does appear to come across as underwhelming – “You make me feel like I’m losing my virginity again”… it’s quite an opener, and not necessarily a good one. But fear not, Katy has the rest of the song to wins us back.

And she does, the song gives quite a kick with it’s synths, drums and energetic guitars. It sounds very American, plenty of attitude and sass and the rock-pop style suits her very well. The song is essentially another ‘Teenage Dream’ though, albeit less charming in terms of lyrical content, even so, it’s a stonker of a tune and has an infectious chorus to boot.

12. ‘Not Like The Movies’ (2.5 STARS)

Going down the ballad route for the album closer, Katy’s breathy, feather-soft falsetto accompanies a simple piano refrain as she sings about how her love is “Not like the movies”, suggesting there’s a harsh reality that’s often over-looked on the star-studded screen. And she’s right, stripping back the theatrics, Katy goes all out in the slow-paced, minimalist production.

The opening lyrics are quite a shock considering they’re stacked up alongside songs like ‘Peacock’ and ‘Hummingbird Heartbeat’: Katy describes ever-so-subtly how she lost her virginity and that it wasn’t her ideal way of doing it either; she sorrowfully recalls “I put in on/It wasn’t right/I just didn’t know/I didn’t feel the fairy tale feeling” to show her audience that she was faking after her boyfriend talked her into it. It’s momentsa like this that prove she has progressed since ‘One Of The Boys’, so there’s no need for songs like ‘Peacock’.

It’s pretty touching stuff, but this isn’t the kind of song you optionally choose to listen to unless you’re a Katy fan because it’s quite depressing at some moments.

Post Mortem

‘Teenage Dream’ certainly does show a more grown-up side to the American singer/songwriter, showing she’s matured since her début effort. On songs like ‘The One That Got Away’ and ‘Pearl’, Katy demonstrates a degree of song-writing that hasn’t been seen in mainstream artists for ages, sure she’s no Amy MacDonald – Katy is, after all, just discussing love with some shiny metaphors but it’s far greater in comparison and less annoying to listen to then ‘Teenage Dream’s lowlights.

Apparently on a mission to exemplify how deep the inanity pool goes on songs like ‘Peacock’, she provides us with a collection of dumb lyrics that are so in your face that they don’t even pass for innuendo and on top of that, it can’t even be saved by calling it comedy. Reaching out to the “OMG she made a penis reference!” pre-teen crowd, Katy wants to see your “Peacock-cock-cock”, on what is clearly one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard, and not because it relies heavily on auto-tune or anything; because it’s just too much. If this is the only way Katy is to stamp her personality on album – sing songs that would probably get turned down by Ke$ha – then God help her because the rest of the album has no real personality about it, any of the songs could’ve been sung by a number of other artists so right now was Katy’s time to brush away the competition (Rihanna, Beyoncé, GaGa, P!nk, Kelly Clarkson) thanks to them all being on hiatus, but Katy would rather rely on auto-tuned, lifeless schtick than show of her real talents.

The album is basically a ‘One Of The Boys 2.0’, with all the fun of tracks like ‘Waking Up In Vegas’ and ‘Hot ‘n’ Cold’ replaced with more serious songs like ‘Teenage Dream’ and ‘Hummingbird Heartbeat’, and the awkward equivalent of ‘Ur So Gay’ (‘Peacock’) shoved in so people know it’s a Katy record.

Don’t get me wrong, ‘Teenage Dream’ has got it’s moments (see ‘The One That Got Away’, ‘Firework’, and ‘Pearl’), some moments greater than what can be found on her début but, as an album that’s meant to cement her as a credibly talented songwriter, it’s just as inconsistent in quality as her first.

Album Rating: 6.4/10

Download These: ‘Firework’, ‘The One That Got Away’, ‘Pearl’.

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