Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream is at last a teenager in its own right, celebrating its thirteenth anniversary on August 24. A stunning contemporary pop blend, Teenage Dream defined both the golden age of 2010s music, and the career of its marvellous frontwoman. It’s time for a deep dive back into the glorious candy-filled nostalgia of Teenage Dream to wish it the biggest and best birthday ever.
Famously, Teenage Dream is an album of unbelievable hit singles, making Katy Perry the second person in history to score five chart number-ones off one record. If previous hits like ‘I Kissed A Girl’ and ‘Hot n Cold’ didn’t already permanently live in your brain, Teenage Dream’s seemingly endless stream of bops certainly would.
It all began with a bang thanks to ‘California Gurls’, a summer anthem serving as Katy Perry’s Los Angeles answer to Alicia Keys and Jay-Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’. ‘California Gurls’ celebrates the dreamy beaches of the golden coast over bubblegum beats. Even one listen will have you hunting down a bikini top and a pair of Daisy Duke jean shorts. The song’s extra-goofy Snoop Dogg feature, where he utters the infamous line “no weenies, just a king and a queenie”, gives this song absolute icon status.
On ‘Firework’, Katy became a heartfelt balladeer, urging listeners to love themselves and feel confident in who they are. The track found its place as a gay anthem and one of Katy’s signature tracks, which would serve as her Super Bowl closing number only a few years later. Elsewhere, she experimented with dubstep and techno on ‘E.T’, offering up shuddering vocals for the perfect Halloween playlist addition.
Then who could forget the genuine songwriting of ‘Teenage Dream’ or ‘The One That Got Away’? Filled to the brim with nostalgic guitars and romantic lyrics devoted to loves gone by, both songs solidified Katy’s ability to craft earnest songs that cut deep to the heart without sacrificing their upbeat commercial sounds.
Finally, ‘Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F)’ closed off Katy’s reign at the top of the charts. Exaggerated, eclectic and unashamedly camp, this ode to weekend parties particularly celebrates Katy’s friendship to frequent collaborator Bonnie McKee, who she did indeed go “streaking in the park” with before writing the song. From cooking “Barbies on the barbecue” to smashing a “chandelier on the floor”, this banger made Teenage Dream a party we wouldn’t want to miss.
The music videos
Teenage Dream’s visual aesthetic truly transformed Katy Perry, from a pop-rock princess off the stages of Warped Tour, to a pin-up girl straight out of Candyland. In fact, ‘California Gurls’ depicted her dancing across a parody recreation of the famous board game, rocking a bright purple wig and posing nude amongst candyfloss clouds for the soon-to-be-legendary album cover. Her cupcake bra also functioned as a whipped cream gun, a clever costuming trick which would return to blast out pyrotechnics in the ‘Firework’ music video.
Then, if there was ever a video to embody the year 2011, ‘Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F)’ is it. Its star-studded cast featured Glee actors Kevin Mchale and Darren Criss, internet sensation Rebecca Black in homage to her own viral hit ‘Friday’, and musical darlings like Taylor Hanson and Kenny G. Inspired by John Hughes films, Katy adopted her goofy alter-ego Kathy Beth Terry for the eight-minute epic, complete with a cheesy makeover scene where she ditches her braces and headgear for teased-out hair and a neon 80s get-up.
‘The One That Got Away’ also saw Katy get into character, this time as an old woman mourning the passing of her teenage boyfriend. If the song itself wasn’t emotional enough on its own, this video’s heartbreaking plot twist guarantees to reduce you to tears. To cure this pain, the carefree joy of the ‘Teenage Dream’ video or the weird, inventive space visuals of ‘E.T’ are excellent antidotes.
The deep cuts
Although Teenage Dream has more than its fair share of hits, the non-singles certainly make their mark too. The edgy ‘Circle The Drain’ is undeniably one of Katy’s most intense moments. With biting lyrics about an ex struggling with substance abuse, this thunderous track puts her raw emotion on full display. On the opposite end of the spectrum, ‘Pearl’ beautifully tackles the end of a relationship from a place of sincere heartbreak. Katy describes a woman irrevocably changed by an unforgiving man, a “pearl” into a “shell”, who over the course of the song regains her power and escapes his grip.
‘Peacock’ is arguably a cult classic even without receiving any promotion. This comedic song barely disguises itself behind its double entendre, opting for a laughably direct metaphor that leaves listeners in stitches every time. Similarly, ‘Hummingbird Heartbeat’ walks the line between incredibly sexy and incredibly silly, capturing a sense of pure joy in its bright production and “sticky sweet” chorus.
Lastly, ‘Who Am I Living For?’ and ‘Not Like The Movies’ tackle Katy’s personal struggles from the perspective of a woman suddenly shot to astounding levels of fame. Across the two trembling ballads, she unpacks her preconceived notions of love and religion, battling the search for personal identity exemplified by the coming-of-age experience.
Taking the stage every night in a red-and-white peppermint bodysuit, the California Dreams tour cemented Katy Perry’s undefeated pop girl brand. Her larger-than-life outfits and set pieces presented her as a Betty Boop-like character obsessed with fruits, sweets, rainbows and all things summer. Across a whopping 124 shows, Katy told the story of a girl travelling through a sweet-themed world in search of her beloved “baker’s boy”. The setlist comprised fan favourites from both One of the Boys and Teenage Dream, as well as covers like Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ and Rihanna’s ‘Only Girl (In The World)’ (which Katy was once slated to release herself!).
In 2012, the tour was commercially released as Katy’s autobiographical documentary ‘Katy Perry: Part of Me’. As well as providing each performance in high definition technicolour, and featuring cameos from Katy’s close friends like Jessie J and Lady Gaga, the unforgettable film also offered insight into her personal struggles behind the scenes. Most notably, it showcases the breakdown of her whirlwind marriage to comedian Russell Brand. The finalisation of their divorce plays out on screen directly before a show, displaying Katy’s resilience and commitment to her craft in a way that provides significantly more depth to the otherwise light, fluffy approach of the Teenage Dream era.
Like many of us, Katy wasn’t quite ready to let go of Teenage Dream by the tour’s close. Wisely, she kept the party going by reissuing the record as Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection. This fun deluxe edition gave us two more impressive singles. Alongside a military-themed music video, ‘Part of Me’ celebrated Katy’s newfound independence after her separation from Russell Brand, whilst other deluxe tracks including the kooky ‘Dressin’ Up’ and the widely adored acoustic rendition of ‘The One That Got Away’ expanded her artistic range and songwriting brand.
But the cinematic ‘Wide Awake’ really gave the era its deserved flowers. Its lyrics saw Katy come crashing back to reality, waking from her Teenage Dream and ready to move on to the next phase of her life as an adult. Closing off one of pop music’s greatest fantasies, it’s a clear discography highlight.
Now, as it celebrates its thirteenth anniversary, Teenage Dream is well worth another listen. Escaping back into this album might have you learning something new about the always iconic Katy Perry. But it’s also stood the test of time as an eternal pop delight, that just might teach you something about yourself, too.
Shop the exclusive JB Hi-Fi Candy Pink 13th anniversary vinyl edition here!