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Katy Perry: Teenage Dream

At least once a year I force myself to review a glossy pop album, if only because I would be remiss if I only ever critique music I already believe has merit. Even though I rarely enjoy the experience, I always come away having learned something. In listening to Katy Perry's latest offering, Teenage Dream, I learned how frustrating it must be to live as a talented pop producer. No matter how awesome your backing track is, no matter how artfully constructed and impressively mixed, it's almost guaranteed to have some interchangeable pop idol talk-singing over it with some prohibitively bad lyrics. That's the real tragedy of Teenage Dream, as with so many generic pop albums. It would be pretty interesting if, ya know, Katy Perry wasn't involved with it in any way.

The most common excuse I hear for the uniformly awful quality of music like Perry's is that it's aimed at teenage girls, so it's just too far outside my demographic for me to enjoy it. I don't buy that for a second. I remember being a teenager and I remember what the girls were like. I knew plenty of girls who had good enough taste to avoid music like this as if each sound wave carried sonic herpes. To say that Katy Perry's music is intended for teenage girls is an insult to teenage girls. Even when she's mining the well-worn subjects of teeny-pop (naïve love, a juvenile fascination with sex, generic melodrama), Perry can't even begin to make it interesting, in context or otherwise.

The cribbing on Teenage Dream is particularly egregious. “Hummingbird Heart” opens with what sounds like a fumbled early Madonna line, “You make me feel like I'm losing my virginity/ The first time every time when you're touching me”. That this lyric isn't immediately followed by “When I'm with you, it's painful and awkward and not at all what I expected” definitely blows any chance that the song is going to recover any of its conceit to realism. More troubling is how quickly the New Wave-ish instrumentals give way to beige, over-produced pop ballad tropes.

At times it seems like Katy Perry is an ingenious parody of pop music. Songs like “E.T.”, which may or may not be about having sex with a genuine space alien, sound like they come from Flight of the Conchords' catalog, only minus any winking self-awareness. Double that for the album's most confoundingly stupid/infectious/hilarious track, “Peacock”. Whereas Perry's pop rival in Lady Gaga has enough cleverness to hide the dirty lyrics in ambiguous pronunciation and good old innuendo, Perry herself just says the word “cock” over and over and thinks she's being cheeky. “Peacock” is remarkably well-produced and if I could get my hands on an instrumental-only version I'd listen to it on a loop. Get on that, absurdly-named Norwegian production team Stargate. For now I think I'll skip on listening to Katy Perry recite the most immature paean to male genitalia this side of an unsupervised schoolyard.

The only good thing to come out of Teenage Dream will be the inevitable techno remixes of tracks like “Fireworks” and the not-entirely-awful Snoop Dogg guest spot “California Gurlz” that are sure to go into heavy rotation at gay clubs across America. The record as-is should be used for skeet shooting.