The Good: Themes on three songs are worthwhile.
The Bad: Vocals, Lyrics, Most of the music, Thematically mindnumbing.
The Basics: Katy Perry's album Teenage Dream highlights how bad music from the current class of pop divas can get and illustrates a lifestyle devoid of responsibility, thought or any sense of personality.
The other day when I reviewed the Avril Lavigne album Goodbye Lullaby (that's here!), I offended some of my readers by calling the album thematically whorish and comparing Lavigne's style direction to Katy Perry. I'd like to take a moment, here at the beginning of my review of Perry's latest auditory travesty to clarify, not retract. I believe everyone is fine to follow their own path, so long as it does not harm others, and I do not subscribe to any Puritanical notions of sex or sexuality. But, having been involved with a younger person who left me because they were "at the age when they are supposed to go out and make mistakes, be promiscuous and stupid" after getting me to trust them, I am wary of young people. The idea that there are no consequences for saying what you want to get what you want and then discarding people when you're ready, justifying it as "age appropriate" does not sit well with me. Instead, it is a lack of responsibility, it does hurt others and most of all, it is cheap. So, when I write that I am disappointed that Avril Lavigne thematically mimics Katy Perry and created an album that is whorish, I'm not judging the sexual looseness as much as I am condemning the "I want to be young and dumb" attitude that encourages people to get drunk and/or high and have sex, glorifying not remembering whom one is with at the time. That is whorish and it is beneath Avril Lavigne.
With Teenage Dream, I am not surprised. On it, Katy Perry once again illustrates that she is cheap. Or, to be accurate, the professional persona in the music of Katy Perry is cheap and disturbingly insubstantial.
With fourteen tracks (twelve songs and two remixes of songs that appear early on the album) clocking out at 58:31, Teenage Dream is an ode to youthful stupidity and the blame rests largely with Perry herself. All twelve of the songs were cowritten by Katy Perry, though she was not involved in the production of the album. The lead vocals are all by Katy Perry, though she does not play any instruments on the album. Even so, if Perry is not calling the shots for the album's direction, she is allowing it to happen and Teenage Dream appears to be an album she is happy with, even a year later as the fifth single from it appears on the radio.
Musically, Teenage Dream is as assembled as the persona of Katy Perry is. The music is all synths, drums, guitar sounds. It is a sugary dance-pop album that sounds like it is trying to get people to dance . . . and it is. Similarly, Katy Perry's vocals are frequently inorganic and overproduced to the point that there is little of a human voice on the album. Instead, Perry's voice - while she articulates all of her lyrics so 95% of them can be easily understood (or repeats them enough so that only someone who is not paying any attention will miss what she is saying) - is so altered as to sound mechanical at points and the result is that much of the music and vocals blends to sound created or assembled. It's like looking for something that tastes like an actual food in a meal made of chemicals.
Katy Perry's vocal style is characterized by breaking words up. She makes staccato stops mid-word and this breaks up her otherwise fluid vocals, making the sound of her lines sound even less human, realistic or sensible. Sadly, the broken sound of Perry singing only makes her seem less mature, which is pretty terrible considering thematically Perry is exceptionally immature on Teenage Dream.
And Perry comes across as ridiculous when she is not sounding so immature as to make any sensible adult cringe. With storysongs about getting drunk and having blackout sex and an eagerness to repeat the same, Perry is hard to listen to and enjoy for anyone with adult sensibilities. While pop music is often oriented toward young people, Perry seems on top of the "young and dumb" demographic with lines like "Last Friday night / We went streaking in the park / Skinny dipping in the dark / Then had a ménage à trois / Last Friday night / Yeah I think we broke the law / Always say we're gonna stop / Whoa-oh-oah / This Friday night / Do it all again" ("Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)"). The whole idea of getting drunk repeatedly to have sex is . . . well, young and dumb, utterly irresponsible. It's not enjoyable to listen to, despite the simple beat and up and down music that defines the song.
My wife is a fan of the song "Fireworks" and I have to admit the most pleasant surprise on Teenage Dream was discovering that the inspirational message of "Fireworks" was not alone. The song encourages people to be strong and grow and while the vocals are done better by the warblers on Glee, "Fireworks" is not the only song that tries to motivate the audience when it isn't glorifying nudity, dumb sex and intoxication. I was excited to hear Perry sing "You fall asleep during foreplay / 'Cause the pills you take are more your forte / I'm not sticking around to watch you go down / Wanna be your lover / Not your fuckin' mother / Can't be your saviour / I don't have the power / I'm not gonna stay and watch you circle the drain" ("Circle The Drain").
Sadly, though, "Fireworks," "Circle The Drain," and "The One That Got Away" are the exceptions to the rule. The rule are repetitive, ridiculous songs like Perry's ode to checking out a man's penis with "Peacock." Destined to never be on the radio, the song "Peacock" repeats over and over again, "Are you brave enough to let me see your peacock? / Don't be a chicken boy, stop acting like a beeotch / I'ma peace out if you don't give me the pay off / Come on baby let me see / What you're hiding underneath / Are you brave enough to let me see your peacock" ("Peacock")?
Ultimately, Teenage Dream is boring after the first few listens because the songs are so dramatically lowbrow. Were it not for the three thematically sensible songs, this lemon would be an absolute zero.
For other works by female artists, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Timbre - Sophie B. Hawkins
300 Days At Sea - Heather Nova
Come On Over - Shania Twain
For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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