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Album review: Katy Perry's 'Teenage Dream'

KATY_PERRY_TEENAGE_DREAM_24 Katy Perry signs the liner note acknowledgements on “Teenage Dream,” her second major label album and first as a certified superstar, “Love, the new & improved Katy Hudson-Perry-Brand.” If you didn’t know about her fiancé, Russell B., or the actress with her given name who beat her to fame, you might think the singer was referring to herself as a salable item. Something, perhaps, like Maybelline mascara in its familiar pink and green tube — a commodity so definitive in its category that it starts to seem original. 

Perry likely wouldn’t mind being compared to a feminine product. “I love an obvious innuendo,” she once told an interviewer. She also loves the God-given gift of her lovely breasts and the bad-girl business of rock and roll, which she approaches the way the ad men on “Mad Men” approach cigarettes and cold cream. How to capture its spirit and sell it? How to make it seem new, yet unthreatening to an average boy or girl? Bury the dark side, scrub the dirty parts with Ivory and insist, as Don Draper would, that it’s something your audience has never before encountered. That’s madcap Katy, both slap-your-face fresh and unapologetically calculated, a brutally effective advertisement for a self.

More than her Christian background or the chick-lit limits to her take on sexual liberation, what makes Perry a controversial artist is her essential hollowness. “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?” she sings in the power ballad “Firework.” Perry felt like that bag, but then realized what a bag was for: to be filled up with shiny, purchasable things.

Though her lyrics generally recount familiar scenarios on the road to romantic fulfillment, Perry’s real subject is consumerism. From the bouncy-house Scandinavian beats provided her by super-producers Max Martin, Stargate and her mentor Dr. Luke to the childlike enthusiasm with which she embraces lyrical clichés to the vocal style that combines sports arena chants with karaoke croons to her Halloween store look, Perry is the living embodiment of what it means to be bought and sold.

Her songs are like ads, with hooks that hit like paintballs and choruses that exhort like slogans; she delivers them with the gusto of a pitchwoman. On “Teenage Dream,” the songs alternate between weekend-bender celebrations of hedonism and self-help-style affirmations encouraging listeners to get an emotional makeover. Either way, acquisition is the goal: of a great love, a happy hangover, a perfect pair of Daisy Dukes.

To judge Perry as inauthentic or unoriginal would be wrong; as with any great ad campaign, uncanny familiarity is her greatest achievement. She can sing a line like “you make me feel like I’m losing my virginity,” and never once hint that she might be thinking of Madonna. She can feign a rocker’s stance on the Alanis-inspired “Circle the Drain” or a hip-hop diva’s stutter on the Rihanna-influenced “E.T.,” and convince you that it fits her perfectly. No tailoring required! Whatever person exists beneath Perry’s wigs and costumes is irrelevant to her music. Her process of self-creation is the purpose and sum of her art.

It’s enough to millions of listeners — especially young women — because this kind of constructed self has been a feminine reality since long before Peggy Olson started hawking Pond’s cold cream. “Put your hands on me in my skintight jeans,” Perry murmurs to a paramour in the title track, but it’s the clothing that matters more than the chance to get naked.

— Ann Powers

Katy Perry
"Teenage Dream"
Three stars (Out of four)

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Comments () | Archives (23)

I sense that AP is quite jealous of KP. Let's allow the party.

Soooo . . . three stars out of four means you liked it?

she is friggin everywhere these days.

Dragging in all the innuendo and history doesn't help this review, which should have simply stuck to the music.

An impressive passive-aggressive slam if I ever saw one.

I don't get the hype on this girl. She's totally new Britney Spears. Her teen bubblegum hollow songs are bad enough but I cringe at her strained voice. She sounds like she's going to pop a vocal chord any minute. She should have taken advantage of that auto-tune thing like Kesha. The chart toppers these days are full of no talents w/dumb songs, it's mind boggling. Music today really need to take a lesson from the yesteryears.

Katy Perry - there's no "there" there. Vacuous. Banal. This is what passes for pop music now?
Ann - great review.

Perry is decent, but she has no range, especially with high notes.

Just another good-looking singer whose looks come first and vocal ability second.

Shallow music, shallow singer, shallow fans. How symmetrical.

Another attempt at social commentary masquerading as an album review. Does Ms. Powers get paid by the word?

As far as her musical talent or lack thereof is concerned, she is a one-hit wonder. Then why is she still famous? Because she continues to stir contraversy by going naked in every other photo-op that she has. Yes she is definetly beautiful, but come-on America. I won't be surprised if this album tanks and her name is finally put to rest.

I love pop music, but Katy's music is too childlike, even for me. She strains at her voice sooooo hard, it is just hard to listen to. She sings sugary cliches, and then act like she wrote something profound. I am sure the songs are catchy, with those producers they would have to be, but I always wonder if her songs would sound fresher sung by someone else.

She may be the flavor of the month, but she's a PHAT flavor!

Exactly what Lord Pendragon said - regardless of the fact that Ann gave this album 3 stars, read between the lines of this review and you'll find a brilliant, brutally scathing review of Katy: the person. It ain't pretty, and it shouldn't be. Enormously well written.

Funny thing - you've described Perry, the albim and its content but haven't given any intimataion as to whether you actually liked it or not.

That's kind of a crucial bit to omit, n'est-ce pas?

Are we to believe that the star rating - which seems to have nothing to do with the actual content of your review - just sort of appeared, randomly from Zeus' forehead, or what?

This review is idiotic and banal. James Parker wrote practically the same thing about Lady Gaga for The Atlantic, but used it as proof she was the pop star to end all pop stars. We get it: Pop is hollow. But hollowness is inclusiveness. Yadda yadda. Warhol. Yadda.

"Lovely breasts?"

They are droopy and too small to her body type. Poor under developed Katy Perry will never be Kim Kardashian or Christina Hendricks' size and boy does she know it. When Perry admonishes girls who have fake boobs or smaller ones as she did during a BREAST CANCER FUND-RAISING EVENT (as low as it gets) we should question what agenda this serves. Ultimately, I believe, it is to promote the sexualization of younger and younger girls. the majority of Katy Perry's fans base is under 18. Katy endorses women (and more obviously actual pre-adolescent girls) constructing themselves to cater to a paedophilia, Lolita-inspired aesthetic of sexual objectification, in addition to plastic throwaway consumerism. My question is how long will this continue? Actual porn stars have more professional credibility, talent and natural beauty than Perry.

How did Ann Powers arrive at 3 stars out of 4 after eviscerating this crap?

Brilliant writing... exactly what I've been trying to describe, but didn't have the words for. Fellow commenter Brett says, "Another attempt at social commentary masquerading as an album review. Does Ms. Powers get paid by the word?" To you, Brett, I say - this is what makes the writing great. She can read between the lines, see past the facade, and get at what Katy Perry is really trying to do here. There is no music content to comment on. Perry sure can sell herself, but the real question is, who is buying this? And why?

Could we ask that for Powers "the process of her creation" be "the purpose and sum of her art" if only by seconding what several commentators already have, viz. how does someone get blistered by such a review and then receive three stars? It's a case of the reviewer's knowingness playing her false, yes? Driving her into a paradox she has nowhere near the space, nor, it seems, the wit, to think through clearly?

Love the New Katy Perry CD, Teenage Dream. This CD will be on replay for quite a long time. There are so many great songs that I can't even pick one as a favorite. They all have great vocals and some great dance beats. There seems to be a song for whatever your mood is. Makes me enjoy the Summer!!!! ~ MR"

Katy Perry's album delivers. Not only are her vocals amazing but the beats and harmonies are great. No wonder her singles are breaking records. JC

Awful music, if you can even call it music. This is just some girl who was obsessed with "celebrity" or becoming famous and would do ANYTHING to achieve it. A disgrace to all of us young women out here who have integrity and care about the future of the humanity. This is the type of crap that only accomplishes one thing in our society.. it DUMBS US DOWN! (for those of you who are smart enough to not listen to this crap, I congratulate you!)


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