Single by single, impeccably and without rushing things, Katy Perry has made herself known over the past few years. But what's even more interesting is that she has gained some curious fans: from Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat – see his article in The Quietus called “Fuck it: I Surrender” - to The Wire writer Joseph Stannard, who said she's strangely irresistible. And then there are the countless renditions of her songs by people from the music underground, the references on her own record to Beach Boys ( “California Gurls”) and Jack Kerouac's “On The Road” (the inspiration for “Fireworks”, apparently), and the nostalgic 80s cast for the video of “Last Friday Night”. This way, after several failed attempts, Katy Perry has finally managed to become one of those American mainstream stars who dominate the sales charts and at the same time attract an audience that would normally shy away from these kind of omnipresent media figures. To celebrate the success, this extended version of “Teenage Dream” is released, which gives us the opportunity to look back and evaluate her achievements, even though the bonus tracks weaken the impact of her wonderful singles.
In order to understand why Perry has so many fans in so many different peer groups, we have to look at the different aspects of her music. Firstly, the lyrics: full of clichés, yes, but talking about stuff everybody's gone through - especially in their post-adolescence. More importantly, she does it with a sense of humour ( “Last Friday Night”) and in a spirit of celebration and unbreakable optimism ( “Fireworks”). Yes, they're songs about falling in and out of love, and about going out on the town - but it's not easy to make a song transmit or overlap those sensations. The result, on some of the singles at least, is truly irresistible.
With regards to the music, it's understandable that there's an audience that would normally be reluctant to accept a pop diva but still like Katy Perry. At a time when electronic Europhilia is ruling American mainstream pop, most of her songs feature more conventional instrumentation - with a somewhat bigger role for the guitars – a rarity in the mainstream now. Maybe that's why Simon Reynolds said her music is a prostitution of rock, without that being an insult, as he subsequently reminded us of a similar “crime” committed by Roxy Music, back in the day. The only song straying from the formulaic path is “E.T.”, which is her attempt at dubstep-pop, already almost a sub-genre in itself. It is the only track that musically comes close to the excitement provoked by Britney Spears' records, who's a lot more adventurous in that sense. Besides “E.T.”, the album was made according to the magic formula of traditional, North American mainstream music - between cheesiness and stadium super pop in the vein of artists like Journey and Shania Twain. But if there's one reason the fistful of singles that is “Teenage Dream” manages to overcome the probable limits of a sound like hers, it's that they have the same incombustible pop anthem potential ABBA's greatest hits have: they serve, and probably will do for years to come, as great karaoke tracks and are suitable for underscoring key moments in big films (see for reference the use of her tracks in “Glee”). They will also animate all kinds of parties.
In fact, “Teenage Dream” features one of the most addictive openings in years, with “Teenage Dream”, “Last Friday Night”, “California Gurls” and “Fireworks”. It's a pity that the rest of the record considerably weakens the impact. Compared – and contrary - to the singles, you don't really feel like listening to them more than two or three times. It's a mistake that becomes even more apparent on this deluxe edition, which includes alternative versions of “E.T.” and “Last Friday Night”, with stellar, but not very inspired guest appearances by none other than Kanye West and Missy Elliott. Often the unreleased tracks just don't cut it, such as “Part Of Me” - the controversial video for which, taken by many as Marine Corps propaganda, is a prime example of the ideological contradictions every American megastar seems to be unable to escape from. But the worst is kept for the end: an absolutely demented mega-mix by Tommy Sunshine. Listening to that piece of rubbish should give one the right to some kind of fiscal discount, in my humble opinion. As in most cases like this, you're better of sticking with the original.