bill-swift - September 21, 2011
It's comforting to think that there's some kind of science that goes into making a successful song, the mysteriously complex composition of music that makes a lot of people like listening to something, as opposed to the purely random voodoo of artistic success. But, the fact remains, for every 'guaranteed success' in popular music, there are a million stories of letdowns and underwhelming reception by the music consuming public. Sure, marketing plays a significant role in modern music, but the fact remains, the music business is most definitely a crapshoot.
One year ago, Capitol Records released Teenage Dream, the seminal Katy Perry album. It debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 and in the subsequent 53 weeks, has never left the Top 40. Recently, Katy Perry became the only female artist to have five singles from one record reach #1 on the Top 100, tied with Michael Jackson, who had five singles off of Bad in 1987. Last week, Capitol announced that they would be releasing a sixth Teenage Dream single, "The One That Got Away," which, if the Dream juggernaut jeeps chugging along, would make Perry the only artist in the history of the Billboard charts with six #1 hits off of one album.
So, what is the secret to Katy Perry's unmatched success? Is there special magic in her voice, her long legs, or her Proactive commercial skin that separates Perry from her pop-singing peers? Or was Teenage Dream just the right combination of record company resources, timing, and luck? If you start listening to the chart-topping tunes, you start to notice some patterns, and even more emerge if you peek into their liner notes.
Here's my own cheat sheet on Katy Perry's singular successes.
1. "California Gurls"
Like many of the songs on Perry's record, the first single, "California Gurls", was co-written by Perry and songwriting giants Dr. Luke, Max Martin and Benny Blanco. The three have co-written countless top-ten chart hits, and if there's a formula to writing a hit, these three know the secret recipe.
Snoop Dog also surely helped this one rise to the top, and need I say more than "whipped cream-shooting nipples?"
2. "Teenage Dream"
Another Dr. Luke, Max Martin and Benny Blanco production, the title track off of Teenage Dream is one of those songs that possesses algorithmic qualities that imprint the lyrics and melody into your cerebellum after a single listen. If you listen closely, you'll hear sonic similarities to other Dr. Luke productions, namely Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone." There's just something about a stomp-clap and a slow build that is guaranteed to get you every time, and Dr. Luke, Max Martin and Benny Blanco have that something down pat.
"Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?" Perry asks, in the middle register of her strong pop voice. This is perhaps the most trite lyric ever, but somehow it works. Firework was the second single off of Teenage Dream. It has an epic, orchestral build, which reaches its apex in a violin-soaked house beat with Perry belting the chorus and empowering teenagers everywhere. Standard stuff, really.
By far the most maligned of the Teenage Dream singles, "E.T." features Kanye West in a stomp-stomp-clap (think "We Will Rock You") anthem to alien love, and, some say, rape. This last thing is due to the line "I wanna be a victim," and various other references to being taken by force and some really creepy verses on the part of Mr. West. Despite this, the song is one of Perry's strongest vocals on the record, stretching her range from it's top to bottom. Also, it was written by Dr. Luke and Max Martin, surprise. You're seeing a pattern here, right?
5. "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)"
Since she made a name for herself singing about kissing girls and liking it and waking up in Vegas, Katy Perry has always had a penchant for pop anthems. A California party girl at her core, Perry claims the song was inspired by a night of streaking through Santa Barbara, her home town, and going to a bar called Wildcatâ€”yikes. Guess who co-wrote the song with her? That's right, the dream team. It's another stomp-clap monster, and was the song that tied Perry with Michael Jackson on the hits list. If you say there isn't something more than just catchy songs going on here, you're not listening closely enough.
6. "The One That Got Away"
The sixth single off of Teenage Dream will be released in October, the official beginning of the oh-so-profitable Christmas season, thus driving continued sales of the record into the holidays. It's apparently Perry's favorite track off the record, was produced by Dr. Luke, and has a killer hook that shows of the strongest parts of Perry's range. It's part way between a ballad and a party-rocker, and is notably catchier than "Firework."
But, this is magic, not science; so stay tuned to see if Katy Perry sets a new bar of popularity excellence. Remember, there is no accounting for taste.
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