Katy Perry’s bound to strike it rich with Teenage Dream (Capitol), since she can sell at least one of the tracks to NBC.
The success of Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl” was easy to write off as a degrading pander to fratboys who like watching girls kiss on spring break. Whatever Perry’s reasons behind it — and everything points to her being in on the joke — she, Kesha, and, to a lesser extent, Uffie, have taken Lily Allen’s Myspace nous and drowned Britney Spears’ and Jessica Simpson’s as they pretend to cling to the remnants of their womanly virtues. Theirs is a post-feminist argument — an irony invoked by exotic dancers and prostitutes — that sexuality can be used to challenge male-dominated society, and if they torch the Christian overtones of Southern debs, sobeit. Even if their argument is legit, however, and “California Gurls” is Perry’s latest stab at satire, the wrong audience is listening. And she appears to know it, and doesn’t know what to do about it.
Her is-she-or-isn’t-she-smart-enough game is the only thing that makes Teenage Dream mildly worth hearing. Musically, it’s an Auto-Tuned, last-three-years-of-Top-40 recyclery with a major-label benefactor. Her producers are shockingly unimaginative given the resources at their disposal. Perry’s strength — moral ambiguity — gets completely undercut by a self-seriousness that dominates the second half of the album and simultaneously exposes her chief weakness: an anonymous singing voice. Her largely teen audience is likely to overlook any lyrical sophistication — which, honestly, is sophisticated only in the context of TMZland — and latch onto perky pop nuggets (“California Gurls,” the title track) and schmoopy ballads (“The One That Got Away,” “Not Like The Movies”). As long as it sells, who cares?
It’s just that Perry clearly aspires to Madonna (even though her publicity photos recall a pedophiliac’s reproduction of a famous Jennifer Aniston shoot). Perry and Madge both try to equate pleasurable sex with losing virginity (“Hummingbird Heartbeat” vs. “Like A Virgin”), but Madonna was never so consumed with titillating teenage boys as Perry is with the limp (and ultimately NBC-friendly) “Peacock.” Madonna was after men, and more their brains and wallets than cocks.
– Steve Forstneger
About the Author: