In a summer bereft of that one addictive pop hit, it’s hard not to hearken back to 2010, when Katy Perry’s delicious “California Gurls” dominated airwaves. It’s perhaps the summery-est summer hit ever, stuffed with the syrupy bombast that separates No.1 singles from dusty filler tracks. Simply put, it’s a damn good pop song.
But little did we know what else Katy had in store for us in summer 2010. “California Gurls” was just the gateway drug to her near-perfect third studio album Teenage Dream, which came out August 24 of that year. It’s a pink, preppy and polished little LP; Ms. Perry co-wrote every song on the album and enlisted a team of top-notch hitmakers—including the omnipresent Max Martin and Dr. Luke—to cook up its kitschy sound. And what we received on that day—five years ago on the dot—is the most important pop record of the decade. It’s quite literally a dream. Puns completely intended.
Teenage Dream saved pop music in 2010. It surged a brand of silliness into the dance genre that had been dominated by Lady Gaga’s Fame Monster edge. (No offense to Gaga; The Fame Monster is brilliant, but sometimes we just want to groove without nightmares or symbolism.) TD brought the sun out. For the first time that year, we could finally roll down our windows and enjoy a warm, no-pretense breeze. A rare, simple pleasure.
Because that’s what TD is—a simple but effective pop LP. Its relentless dedication to the hook—on each track—keeps everything moving at a supersonic pace. Even TD’s less ecstatic moments like “Pearl” and “The One That Got Away” contain a certain effervescent sweetness completely on par with its other tracks. It’s a sugar rush without the guilt or hangover, which we didn’t know was possible. (Kesha’s Animal was the only comparable record at the time, but it’s a tad more rough-and-tumble. Ice cream with spikes.)
A major reason why Teenage Dream sits atop the decade’s past LPs is because it contains the most flawless pop tunes in recent memory. It’s the Thriller of the 2010s era. (More on that Michael Jackson comparison later.) This is a lofty statement, but we stand behind it. Each tune is filled to the brim with palpable, four-on-the-floor energy. Its choruses are akin to the greatest orgasm you’ve ever experienced, or the first bite of a molten chocolate cake on your cheat day. Sensing a pattern here?
Whether we’re talking about the bouncy cheers in “California Gurls,” the schoolgirl chants of “Peacock” or the dark electro naughtiness of “E.T.” — with or without Kanye West—these songs can turn even the most cynical doubters into happy-go-lucky jokers. You’d be hard-pressed to find a human who hasn’t jammed out to “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.).” Administer a poll and get back to us. We’re waiting.
Oh! We haven’t even mentioned the pop utopia that is the album’s title track. Rolling Stone ranked “Teenage Dream” No.4 on its list of 2010’s greatest songs, and Billboard placed it at No.2 on its list of best tunes of the decade thus far. We couldn’t agree more with either of these sentiments. The track’s big, booming chorus is why stadiums were invented. Mix in bridges that build in cosmic anticipation—plus Perry’s smoky, come-hither vocals—and you have something magical. A pop tour-de-force that still resonates today. (It also spawned the greatest Glee cover of all time. Bless you, Darren Criss.)
And we haven’t even talked numbers—perhaps the most logical way in determining an album’s impact. Teenage Dream broke records. Lots of ‘em. Most important, it was the first album to churn out five consecutive No.1 singles since Mr. Jackson’s Bad (1987). That’s pretty fantastic company. If you’re reading between the lines, this means Katy is the only female artist to accomplish this feat. Katy and Michael’s shared record completely justifies (and confirms) Bad and Teenage Dream’s comparisons. Like Bad transformed ‘80s pop both visually and sonically, Teenage Dream did something similar in 2010. She made pop music both fun and harmless. This seems like nothing, but it completely influenced the wave of plastic robo-dance fare that soon followed. (Britney Spears’ Femme Fatale (2011), anyone?)
As a superstar, it’s important to keep looking forward. So, we won’t hold it against Katy if she doesn’t mention the 5-year anniversary of what we feel is her magnum opus. We’ll do the praising for her. Whether you’re talking stats or the album’s DNA, there’s no denying Teenage Dream’s impact in top 40 history. It’s the shining star of pop albums—or firework, if you will.