August 14, 2010

Katy Perry's Teenage Dream: Not Mine

I'm not a fan of Katy Perry as an artist. A month or so ago, I found myself turning to Facebook for help making sense of her video for "California Gurls," a degrading confection of lollipop licking, naked cloud laying, and low production value. Her songs are Frankensteins of lyrical clichés, grafted together with infectious pop beats. Along with her conventionally adorable appearance, these catchy beats are probably what make her songs a perpetual fixture in every retail store I've been in in the past month, and I'm shopping for freshman year at college, so that's a lot of stores.

Issues aside, I can't get enough of Perry's music, and I resent myself for it. In my defense, her songs are what can only be described as, "so fucking catchy." I find myself listening to them in my bedroom at least daily. I don't, however, listen to them in the car, in fear of a passersby hearing her voice through my open window and catching Perry fever. Honestly, I wish her music didn't exist. I imagine that the bulk of her listeners are teenage girls, an audience that really doesn't need more media enforcing the idea that women are merely sex objects and appearance reigns king. I'm not saying we can't take it, I'm just saying that we probably don't need it. Her music, however, does exist, and I am still listening to it. Lucky for me, her new video for "Teenage Dream" is a cesspool of misrepresentations of adolescence, so I finally have the chance to redeem myself somewhat in pointing how it goes wrong in capturing the true "teenage dream"....
The song begins with the lines, "You think I'm pretty/without any makeup on." At this point, I'm bobbing my head and telling Katy, "Yeah girl! Reject those societal conceptions of beauty!" But then she's all, "You think I'm funny/when I tell the punchline wrong," and suddenly I'm like, "Nooo Katy you don't have to be dumb to be funny." Then this guy is introduced, who is clearly not a teenager. He is the only thing in the video that is likely to ever make a cameo in any actual teenage dreams. Probably in this state of dress too.
Next they drive around and wave to their ultra-hip, also non-teen friends. One of these friends wears a Native American headdress for no apparent reason. Nobody wears their seatbelt. Chiseled Perry boyfriend speeds. Katy sings some generic lyrics about love and being ready to totally do It with him.
They go to a motel and have sex. It is appropriately PG-13 to ensure that people will blog about it.
At the end of the video, Perry says, "Let you put your hands on me/in my skin tight jeans/be your teenage dream tonight." I don't know how much thought was actually put into the meaning of these lyrics when they were being written, or if it was just a matter of a convenient rhyme, but I am somewhat bothered by the use of let. Ultimately, I don't think sex should just be one personal finally relenting and letting the other person do them, but a matter of mutual desire and consent between both parties. This sort of, "fine...we can fuck" attitude isn't the best to promote as a component of the teenage dream in my opinion.

In fact, the entire video seems more like a teenage reality than a teenage dream. Teens drink. They party. They drive around in cars. Hopefully not in that order. Teenagers have sex with each other. Dreams are supposed to be aspirational. Teens I know dream of careers, college, and great loves that do not reach their pinnacle with motel sex. Perry's teenage dream seems like something more nostalgic, thought up by a team of people way past their teenage years, dreaming of what it was like in their youth. Part of me is sad, though, that these are the conventions of adolescence they come up with, especially when the people listening to the song are only likely to have just begun their teenage experience.

82 comments:

  1. But, but, but, she is so fucking beautiful!

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  2. she's gorgeous.... but that's not the point!

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  3. I'm the same. I think that music like that is terrible but I love their catchy tunes :P

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  4. I may have interpreted the use of "Teenage Dream" as the song title. Looking at the lyrics, it seems like it refers less to dreams of teenagers than dreaming OF Being a teenager as an adult (which is probably why, like you said, the video and the song are closer to teenage "realities" than "dreams" and why all the actors are decided not teens). The idea is that it's supposed to refer to the trope of innocent, impulsive young love (and the stereotype that love in older people is less spontaneous and fresh).

    I do agree with your criticism of the passive voice, tho, and in general the song is catchy but doesn't say anything groundbreaking

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  5. Sorry, *interpreted differently

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  6. "Ultimately, I don't think sex should just be one personal finally relenting and letting the other person do them, but a matter of mutual desire and consent between both parties. "

    More proliferation of the misconcpetion that women don't enjoy sex - it's something we do for our boyfriends. You know, you can't fuck a nice girl type of bullshit.

    (p.s. it's Lea! How was greece?)

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  7. pop song in ill thought out & insubstanial lyric shocker

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  8. "Hot N' Cold" is the only Katy Perry song I will listen to. "California Gurls" is just plain annoying. I haven't heard "Teenage Dream" yet, but I'm guessing I will in the near future, due to this awesome blog post!

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  9. I really don't like the way he shoves her down on the bed...

    Otherwise, all I can think is that Katy Perry started as a Christian musician and I know she hails from an extremely Biblical upbringing, so maybe as a teenager her dream WAS to just get laid, already? And can we really blame her?

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  10. I resent this song not so much because of it's misrepresentation of teenage life, but because it's mistaken belief that if you just find the right fuck-buddy then life becomes just one great big party.

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  11. "Imma get your heart racing in my skintight jeans be your teenage dream tonight"

    That's a misplaced modifier there. Presumably, she means that she'll be wearing her skintight jeans when she gets his heart racing. But that's not what this sentence means. It means that his heart would literally be IN her jeans...which might be what she meant I suppose, although that seems like kind of an awkward position.

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  12. I have to say that she's always hit me as a bit of fun music and quite throw away - which is not meant in a bad way, but just of late ummm since around the time she got together with old Russell Brand she seems to have gone into over board mode of being almost like a blow up doll......it's a bit disturbing!

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  13. "Let you put your hands on me/in my skin tight jeans/be your teenage dream tonight."

    What bothers me about these lyrics is that she says "be YOUR teenage dream tonight." It's not her dream...it's her playing the part in his dream, which indicates that "fantasy" may be a more appropriate description of what's going on than "dream."

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  14. I was incredibly confused by that video, too, because it seems more like a college reality more than a teenage dream. Actually, I think college is the teenage dream. Because being stuck in it for another semester, I can tell you I feel thoroughly too old (at 22) for the whole thing. And the fact that she's pretending to be a teenager and he's clearly way older, and the quote that Anonymous brought up, make me think of statutory rape things--which, again, are more a college reality than a teenage dream.

    Really I just wanted to comment to say hi and commend you on your blog idea, because I think it's very clever. I hope you enjoy starting college!

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  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  16. I actually don't find this video as un-feminist as some of her other songs/videos (California Girls, for example). I think the "teenage dream" she describes is more about being an adult looking back on teenage reality, and about having fun as a teenager. It's not supposed to be a realistic "this is all I want in life" for teenagers.

    Additionally, with so many other musicians and cultural things in general promoting abstinence (Twilight and Taylor Swift come to mind), I find it kind of refreshing to hear a song that's about someone being happy because they're having sex with someone they love. I know there's self-objectification mixed in there, but I think the core of this song is about being happy with someone else. Not a particularly novel concept, but not a very damaging one either.

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  17. Sorry to be late to the party. I found your blog via Sociological Images and really wanted to comment on this one.

    "This sort of, "fine...we can fuck" attitude isn't the best..."

    Agree, wholeheartedly. As others have said, this has to do with the perception that women don't like sex and merely relent for men.

    I've heard a number of women comment that they went on a date with a man, didn't want to do "it", so did him some other "favor" instead to get him off their back. Every time I've heard this I've thought, wtf!?? If you haven't made me want to do "it", you certainly haven't deserved any parting-gift favors. How about doing Nothing? The message hasn't gotten out to all women that sex (of any kind) ought to be something SHE'S interested in too.

    Lily Allen has a song about an otherwise good boyfriend who doesn't please her in bed with the lyrics "It's not fair and it's really not ok." At the risk of possibly giving Lily Allen too much credit, I thought this was awesome and revolutionary. Yeah, it's NOT ok. The woman deserves satisfaction too -- being left unsatisfied should NOT be the expected default, with only rare extra special lovers surpassing it. I'm glad someone can promote this message instead of the tired old "oh well this is how it is for women, lay down and bear it." Go Lily.

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  18. Respect Is Sexy--I don't see what's wrong with him pushing her onto the bed. A lot of people LIKE that and find it incredibly sexy. Even though the implication is that they're having sex for the first time (which is really the only time anyone says "go all the way"), if they've been together for awhile and made out a lot, he could easily know she finds it a turn on. It doesn't have to mean he's pressuring her at ALL.

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  19. In response to the controversy over her "letting" him put his hand on her, I don't get the same read at all. Considering how psyched she seems about him, a grudging relenting seems to be incredibly out of context. It seems to be more likely that, instead of indicating grudging relenting, that let here simply means to allow, as in, she is not being sexually assaulted, she let him touch her.

    If I were going to over-analyze a pop song I would be more inclined to go the route of Annonymous on Aug 15 at 1:23 PM. Saying she is his teenage dream seems to vaguely objectify herself. However, the only way we really exist to others is as part of their imagination, so maybe it is a witty commentary on the subjective nature of reality... no, you don't think so?

    Anyway, to Respect's Aug 14 at 6:30 PM I would like to congratulate you on respecting Christian culture (sarcasm, but not any animosity because I am used to it, and even find myself doing it sometimes). This seems to be on par with the sort of thinking that getting a tattoo, or dying one's hair, or any other irrelevant cultural decision, will make one more wild/promiscuous/whatevs. Anyway, just wanted to stand up for my Christian peeps.

    As usual, thanks for the interesting insight and thought provoking commentary.

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  20. I read something recently where she said Teenage Dream is about finding someone as an adult who gives you that same rush you got falling in love for the first time as a teen... so it's really not about *being* a teenager. Also, the line "You think I'm funny/when I tell the punchline wrong" gave me the feeling that he stills loves her when shes messes up, not that she was dumbing herself down for him. Keen observation about the motel and the reckless driving, though. And, I agree - KP songs are so damn catchy!

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  21. Was I the only one who read it as a glorification of underage sex? "Be your teenage dream tonight"? I mean, I consider myself pretty sex-positive, but on the other hand, considering the only satisfying sex as heterosexual sex with a much younger (and, like you mentioned, a submissive partner who "lets" you) female partner seems like a problematic message.

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  22. I would have been able to for give Perry for this if one detail had been included in the video: condoms.
    If you are going to go through all the harm of glorifying teenage sex, there might as well be something redeeming to go along with it. If, for less than a second, a condom wrapper was flashed, a strong message would have been sent to teenagers watching: condoms are a normal part of sex, even for Katy Perry. That would have counter-acted some of the more harmful imagery, and it might even warrant an appreciation of Katy Perry from me.; But no, like most of the sex industry, Perry chose to ignore one of the most important aspects of sex, especially for teenagers: safety.

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  23. I interpreted it in the same way Melissa did...and since I'm sadly out of college and no longer a teen, when I hear the lyrics I think of a romance that makes me feel the same excited-ness that I did when I had a crush on someone in high school.

    I feel old. :(

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  24. I agree with a lot of what you said, but I can't get past this: Katy Perry had a very Christian upbringing. I think that this song is about what she thinks being a teenager is about, rather than any actual experience of being one. I think she's observed a ton of media about what being a teenager is about (both now and as a teen) and has created this fantasy about being a teenager that she wishes she could have had (then, but possibly now too), if she had had a 'normal' upbringing.

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  25. "Ultimately, I don't think sex should just be one personal finally relenting and letting the other person do them, but a matter of mutual desire and consent between both parties."

    come on, you say taylor swift don't live in our world but neither you... (no offence) evrybody in a relationship knows that the girl is aways more resentful to do It than the boy, so in most of the teenage relationships it only depends on the girl to "let" him do It. it does depend on both, but he'll aways try, but he'll only acheve it when she let him.

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  26. get a life people

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  27. Here is a cover of the song that I personally like MUCH better than the original. First of all, this guy can actually sing, unlike Katy Perry. Secondly, these lyrics are a bit closer to my teenage dreams than Katy's version.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAUMU3QQE6w

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  28. @ Anonymous at 9:03

    A relationship where you resent someone because they don't respect your boundaries and are constantly trying to have sex with you when you don't want to doesn't sound that healthy. I think what Jamie is saying is that you shouldn't have sex with someone just because you're tired of them bugging you, or because they get huffy if you don't. And for the record, men don't always want sex more than women... I tend to want sex more often than my boyfriend, so there's at least one couple out there.

    I myself didn't get a coercive vibe from the song/video, "the way you turn me on" and "Imma get your heart racing" to me sounds like recognizing her own sexual agency and desire.
    I also randomly really liked that she had mismatched, kind of plain underwear. I mean, if all other TV/music videos are any indication, women wear fully matching lingerie at all times, JUST IN CASE! not that there's anything wrong with that, if you do it for you, but I just don't want to feel like I'm somehow ill-equipped for sex if my underwear is kinda ugly.

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  29. Hey guys, check out this amazing Katy Perry Remix...She's Amazing to me
    www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kDITzvJPLg

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  30. Anyone have an idea what's a teenage dream? Seems it's a hard phrase to define.

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