Song: ‘Teenage Dream’
Artist: Katy Perry
US chart peak: 1
Release date: July 23, 2010
Writers: Katy Perry, Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Benjamin Levin, Bonnie McKee
Producers: Dr Luke, Benny Blanco, Max Martin
Quintessential Max moment: The staccato chorus
Video synopsis: Katy distracting a man while he’s driving in the sunshine
For me semi-ballad ‘Teenage Dream’ cemented Katy Perry’s pop star status in the same way ‘Paparazzi’ had previously with Lady Gaga. Up until that point I wasn’t fully onboard – I liked Perry’s earlier singles but didn’t really care that much about her as a pop star and had sort of assumed she’d disappear like Jessie J eventually did or like Meghan Trainor hopefully will soon. But ‘Teenage Dream’ is a stone-cold, critic-slaying, sun-burst of a pop classic, a nostalgia rush of stolen kisses and sand in-between the toes memories that will live on longer than you or I. It was the point that I thought ‘you know what Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson, now Perry, I like you and I allow you into my pop star galaxy. Welcome. Now go and stand next to Gaga and keep her away from the jazz’.
A lot has been written about ‘Teenage Dream’. We know that the song initially started because of Perry and co-writer Bonnie McKee’s obsession with all things Lolita. An early version of the song that focused on Peter Pan (!) was dismissed for being too young and not sexy enough, while another aimed at mimicking Madonna’s ‘Dress You Up’ and equating clothes with sex or something (the “skin tight jeans” line in the final version is a hangover from that one apparently). The latter idea was vetoed by Benny Blanco who suggested doing something around the idea of teenagers, which then lead McKee and Perry to start thinking about their own teenage years and obsessions with Leonard DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet.
McKee and Perry took these new ideas to the session with Max and Dr Luke, who were annoyed at the idea of having to re-write the chorus they’d already been working on for ages, but relented when they realised how amazing it was all going to be. “We were all so pumped that it had paid off,” explained McKee in an interview with Alex Kazemi that’s not online anymore. “I remember Max sitting back and saying ‘I wish we could bottle this feeling’. It was really magical.”
There’s also quite an interesting thing here by Arcade Fire apologist Owen Pallett, who takes an academic look at how and why the song succeeds, focusing on the way it communicates that sense of suspension and release (it’s all to do with the inversion of the chorus or something). To be honest, it’s quite dry and is more of a portal for people who don’t like pop music to feel like it’s AOK to like Katy Perry, but still, read it if you like. Maybe make some notes.
Anyway, right, ‘Teenage Dream’ is a near perfect pop song that encapsulates all the brilliant things pop songs are meant to be about – youth, lost youth, love, lust, sex, skin tight jeans, being young forever, memories, nostalgia, going all the way tonight etc etc and so on. It reached Number One in America, quite rightly, and has sold 4.7m copies there, which is quite literally a lot of digital downloads. It also set her on the way to breaking all kinds of chart records, which isn’t bad for a song originally about Peter Pan.