katy perry recently released her sixth album smile, and much like her previous release witness, it was incredibly underwhelming, apart from a few tracks which have grown on me in the last few weeks.
i was all set to change this and do a whole post on the album to revive my throwback thursday series which i started last year, so imagine my surprise when i discovered a whole review i'd written for VIBBIDI in june last year that was never published on the site.
i've been trying to figure out why this is - the article was finished and ready to go, but after searching through my emails from around that time, i couldn't find any evidence that i'd actually sent it to my editor for him to upload onto the site, and it's nowhere to be found on my profile or perry's artist page.
i didn't stop writing for VIBBIDI until october last year, so either i never sent the article, or i did and it was never published.
either way, i've decided to post it here so i can finally put all these feelings i've been storing up about this album out into the world.
On Teenage Dream, Katy Perry Harnesses The Power Of Nostalgia to Create A Timeless Classic
For an album that spawned five number one singles, it’s hard to believe that Katy Perry’s magnum opus Teenage Dream received a mixed critical reception. On reflection, the male-dominated music industry was never going to take too kindly to a grown woman skipping through a brightly coloured candy land and shooting whipped cream from her bra, but if they’d actually taken time to listen to the lyrics, they might have seen a more vulnerable side to Perry hidden away behind the layers of artifice that came to define her second album.
While “California Gurls” and “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” topped the charts, critics seemed quick to dismiss them as frivolous party tracks and criticised her move away from the pop-rock inflections found on her debut album “One of The Boys”, but in hindsight, the electro-pop gem “Hot N Cold” should have served as a sign of things to come.
Looking back, the internalised misogyny from the largely male pool of reviewers is glaringly obvious as they criticised her lyrics that concerned partying and casual hook-ups, themes that have been rehashed countless times by male musicians without anybody batting an eyelid.
But by judging this album (literally) on face value, blinkered by their narrow definitions of what “real” music is, they failed to realise that these songs were created for not just teenagers but the dreamers and hopeless romantics of the world who seek solace in the safety of a carefully constructed chorus.
It was this complete and total disdain for pop music that meant I kept my love of albums such as “Teenage Dream” hidden, only embracing it some seven years after its release, but luckily those days are long gone.
Pure Bubblegum Pop?
It would seem that even the brightest stars aren’t above enjoying Teenage Dream; in a 2017 New York Times profile, New Zealander Lorde professed her love for the title track and pop music in general.
“There’s this sadness about it, where you feel young listening to it, but you feel impermanence at the same time”, she said, before continuing,“When I put that song on, I’m as moved as I am by anything by David Bowie, by Fleetwood Mac, by Neil Young. It lets you feel something you didn’t know you needed to feel… There’s something holy about it.”
Those same critics who decried the brilliance of Teenage Dream would no doubt recoil in horror upon hearing her compare it to David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac, but that’s precisely how I’ve always approached music. No genre is off limits and I despise the phrase “guilty pleasure”. Why should I feel shame over something that’s brought me so much joy in so many dark moments?
It’s this line between euphoria and tragedy that Perry tows so well, bringing to mind another ode to eternal youth, the hauntingly beautiful immortality of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”.
On the latter, the song’s subject is “young and sweet, only 17”, in the prime of her life, yet the song’s melody also has a touch of the melancholy, its joyful sound at odds with the personal turmoil experienced by ABBA at the height of their fame. Listening to the song from their perspective, it takes on a whole new meaning as they know that feeling won’t last forever.
“Teenage Dream” evokes a similar sense of sadness because despite Perry’s proclamation that “you and I, we’ll be young forever”, she later went on to divorce Russell Brand, who inspired the song. Footage of the fallout from their split was included in Part of Me, the documentary concert film released in 2012.
It showed a whole new side to Perry, who seems immobilised by the pain of their separation ahead of a performance as part of the California Dreams Tour.
A world away from the elaborate wigs and costumes, her vulnerability is on full display, and despite breaking down moments before she’s due on stage, she still manages to deliver an incredible performance, her fans none the wiser.
The criminally overlooked “Hummingbird Heartbeat” also evokes fond memories of a first love and being inspired by her relationship with Brand, it retains the youthful optimism of “Teenage Dream” while incorporating the same pop-rock sound found on “Waking Up In Vegas” and “Thinking Of You” from One Of The Boys.
Nevertheless, it’s impossible not to be drawn in by these tales of a love that has the potential to last forever and while it might be a rose-tinted view of the highs and lows that plague one’s adolescence, “Teenage Dream” and “Dancing Queen” serve as a reminder that it’s important to enjoy the good times while they last.
Leaving A Legacy
One of Perry’s greatest gifts is her ability to channel such heartbreak into a universal experience that resonates with everyone the world over, as all good music should. Whether a lover or a hater of pop music, I find it hard to believe that those who were quick to dismiss Teenage Dream wouldn’t have felt at least a shred of compassion as they watched her desperately try to keep her marriage alive in Part of Me.
Songs such as “Not Like The Movies” and “The One That Got Away” still tug at my heartstrings nearly ten years after the album’s release, even though I’ve never experienced that all-encompassing love she speaks of. What makes Teenage Dream so brilliant is Perry’s ability to keep believing in it despite the breakups she’s experienced, and nowhere is this more apparent than on “Not Like The Movies”, which urges the listener to never accept second best and wait for that fairy-tale ending, while “Wide Awake” sees her “crashing from the high” of her relationship with Brand, but also finding the strength to carry on as she’s “born again”.
She emerges from the ashes, bright and triumphant with the undeniably catchy “Firework” and “Part of Me”, a Female Empowerment anthem long before conversations around feminism and #MeToo became a part of everyday life, and they still pack the same emotional punch nearly a decade later.
Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Leah Greenblatt - one of the few women to review Teenage Dream - criticised its lack of cohesion, but for me it was an expertly crafted collection of songs that blended seamlessly into one another, all retaining the electro-pop sound first heard on “Hot N Cold” and translating it into one chart topping smash after another.
Not many albums will stand the test of time, but I can guarantee I’ll press play on Teenage Dream in another twenty years and feel that familiar rush of endorphins that made me fall in love with it in the first place, because all the big emotions that encompass the human experience - love and loss, heartbreak and hopefulness - never go out of style.