"I'd like to be considered more of the tease," says Katy Perry. And on her last album, One of the Boys, she made great strides toward achieving that goal. With Teenage Dream, she's run right past it. "Let's go all the way tonight," she sings on the title track. "No regrets, just love/We can dance until we die."
Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson was born and raised in Santa Barbara, Calif., the middle child of two traveling-minister parents. By age 9 or so, "she began performing at the local farmers' market two days a week, collecting change," reported Rolling Stone writer Vaness Grigoriadis. "And [she] proved to be gifted at impromptu speechifying too: In an old video performance that she showed me, she grabs a mic to inform the crowd, smiling from ear to ear, that 'if you don't live your life for Christ—I'm just going to say it—life is pretty empty, and, well, there may be no reason to live at all.'"
By 13 Katy was pursuing a gospel-singing career in Nashville, and she landed a record deal with a CCM label a few years later. Now she's naked on her album cover and singing about "sun-kissed skin so hot it'll melt your popsicle" with Snoop Dogg.
"Somewhere along the way, full-on rebellion also crept in," wrote Plugged In's Adam R. Holz in 2008. "By the time Katy talked to Blender magazine in October 2004, any pretense of trying to live the good Christian life had evaporated."
"I still believe that Jesus is the Son of God," the singer told Rolling Stone. "But I also believe in extraterrestrials, and that there are people who are sent from God to be messengers, and all sorts of crazy stuff."
On her songs, though, what she believes in most is sexual experimentation. And in fact it was her same-sex attraction anthem "I Kissed a Girl" that cemented her pinup glam-girl status. But that was her last dream. This is her new one:
Katy wails out her encouragement that listeners shouldn't let doubts be limits, but rather use all their inner strength to explode like a "Firework." She appears to be saying that we must bear up under the (spiritual?) calling we're given and ask, "Who Am I Living For?" She sings, "So I pray for favor like Esther/I need Your strength to handle the pressure/I know there will be sacrifice/But that's the price/ … At the end/Who am I living for?")
"Pearl" tells a belittled and abused woman that she doesn't need to be crushed by a bad relationship. The album's closing piano ballad points out that love is "Not Like the Movies." It goes on to explain that even when a "fairy tale feeling" isn't there, a good relationship can make your world "stop spinning." While verbally obscene and utterly self-centered to boot, "Circle the Drain" still advertises the fact that drug addiction is a life-crushing dead end.
"We drove to Cali/And got drunk on the beach/Got a motel and/Built a fort out of sheets," goes the title track. Why does Katy think they should "go all the way tonight"? Because, well, he thinks she's funny and finds her pretty without makeup. Similarly, "Last Friday Night [T.G.I.F.]" takes a night of drinking, skinny-dipping and threesomes to its morning-after conclusion. "California Gurls" then moves the clothes-shedding action to the beach with "Daisy dukes/Bikinis on top/ … Sippin' gin and juice/Laying underneath the palm trees/The boys break their necks/Tryin' to creep a little peek." And a cheerleader-rock beat drives Katy's craving to see her boyfriend's "Peacock-c‑‑k-c‑‑k." She offers far more than enough explicit detail to rule out any sort of exotic bird he might have in the backyard. And it's not the only song on which she ogles the male anatomy.
"E.T." gushes over a lover's otherworldly sexual prowess. "Hummingbird Heartbeat" evokes creative poetry to explore intercourse and oral sex with a man who makes her "feel like I'm losing my virginity the first time every time."
The f-word-laced "Circle the Drain" grinds a stiletto heel into a former, drug-addicted partner. "Wanna be your lover/Not your f‑‑‑ing mother/Can't be your savior/I don't have the power/ … I'm not sticking around to watch you go down." And Katy reminisces about another past love on "The One That Got Away." Some of her thoughts are positive but her memories aren't ("We got matching tattoos/Used to steal your parents' liquor and climb to the roof").
Teenage Dream's album cover (which we only show a small, censored portion of) features a naked Katy adrift in cotton candy clouds. Liner notes photos continue the theme of a pinup-girl-dressed-in-candy.
"Transcendental" hookups mingle with "popsicle"-melting beach ogles, alcohol-blurred group sex sessions and drop-trou come-ons in Katy Perry's sensationally sexual dreamscape.
But does this former CCM singer really mean all that sleazy stuff she's singing about?
"After 'I Kissed a Girl,' I knew it would take time to not look like a one-trick pony," Katy told USA Today. "This album is a perfect snapshot of where I am mentally and emotionally."