Contrary to common perception, there are only two genres of popular music: music written and performed by teenagers, and music written and performed by people trying to remember what being a teenager was like. Count Katheryn Hudson, d/b/a Katy Perry, in the latter category. Although she spent her actual teenage years trying to make it as a Christian pop star, her 20s are being put to use reimagining her teens as a time of being a sassy and mouthy pop brat.
Her first stab at temporal re-creation had her spending three years with an army of producers on a major label's dime throwing songs at the wall and seeing what would stick. The resulting debut album spawned two #1's — ear borers helmed by producers Max Martin and Dr. Luke. Her sophomore outing shows greater focus: Teenage Dream is front-loaded with synthetic whump-pop that fuses Perry's singular vocal nag to irresistible songsmithery. Martin and the good Doctor are mad geniuses at a certain style of dog-whistle pop making: what might sound like a grating shriek to some is dance-floor gold to the music-buying public. Which means that prior to this album's release, most of the country is already involuntarily humming along to audio crack like "California Gurls" or the title track on the gym's stairmaster.
In some ways, however, the initial cavalcade of hits and would-be hits is a Trojan horse: you may be sucked in by office-Christmas-party-anthems-to-be like "Last Friday Night," but 20 minutes later, you find yourself slogging through somber relationship bombshells like the zesty-yet-uncomfortable dumped-ex anthem "Circling the Drain" and the existentially weird "Who Am I Living For?" In the latter, Perry intones, "I march alone to a different beat" — and even though the song's lack of pep signals the deflated-balloon portion of the album, the sullen 'tude finds her talking, at last, like an actual teenager.