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album review: katy perry, teenage dream

Packed with even more punch, sass and mischief than last time around, Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson (that’s Katy Perry to you) is back, coming to crash a slumber party near you.

The follow up to 2008’s hugely successful One of the Boys album sees Perry squeeze out much more of the same fruity-pop stuff as before, yet icing the cake with slightly too much frosting to make it just that little bit too sweet. ‘California Dreams’ teases us with a synth line that promises a genre conversion to trance or house music, then breaks this assurance by developing into a bright, bubbly pop tune with predictable content, but a shamefully catchy chorus. ‘Peacock’ draws similarities with Gwen Stefani in terms of vocal delivery and carries the cheekiness we expect from Katy, on and off the record, whereas title track ‘Teenage Dream’ is an angst-driven tone-setter that is almost the big hit this album strives for, but just misses the mark.

Lyrically speaking, the album is soaked in sexual connotations and splashed with questionable euphemisms: “Are you brave enough to let me see your peacock, what you waiting for it’s time for you to show it off, don’t be a shy kind of guy, I bet it’s beautiful.” It begs the question of whether the listener is aware that they are singing along to a song about a man’s private length or if they’re innocently enjoying the elementary melody. Either way, the thought of an underlying motive inevitably deprives Perry’s music of some validity.

This is somewhat restored when she reveals her darker side grazing over some more adult themes. In ‘Circle the Drain’, she probes: “You fall asleep during foreplay because the pills you take are more your forte, I’m not sticking around to watch you go down”. Sure, she might not have much of a dark side, but there are glimmers of some maturing that is yet to come.

As with many of pop music’s pioneers, the extent of the artist’s success is as much reliant on their image as it is their music. A crucial catalyst for Katy Perry’s triumph is that she has an openly sexual personality that is conveyed through her image. To take the image out of the equation could be treated as an unfair representation of her artistic integrity; almost like watching a movie without the sound. Her music is definitely designed for MTV, and for the most part it probably is delivering what it needs to: a soundtrack to her image.

We saw it with Madonna’s pointy bra, then Spears took it schoolgirl style and Aguilera got “dirrrrty”. So what did Perry do? Well, apparently she “kissed a girl and she LIKED it”. After a shaky start to her career, this was the obvious pivot point that made her a sudden success. But will mediocre tunes and sex appeal be enough to keep her afloat or will she have to play the controversy card again to get some attention?

Overall, Teenage Dream is boppy enough to make a thirteen-year-old’s bubblegum pop with excitement and controversial enough for their parents to turn off the stereo. Rebellion never tasted so sickly sweet.

- Callum Fitzpatrick

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