SINGLE REVIEW OF TEENAGE DREAM- KATY PERRY / INTERVIEW WITH ITS SONGWRITER BONNIE MCKEE
Following the rapid success of #1 single “California Gurls” comes the new single (and title track) to Katy’s forthcoming album, Teenage Dream,” out August 24th.
“Teenage Dream” tells the stories of the youth of today: getting drunk at the beach, having underage sex in motels behind parental’s backs, and pseudo love. The Dr. Luke beat and youthful lyrics make the track listenable and reminiscent of 90’s pop like “The Cardigans” and “Ace Of Base.” I didn’t know Max and Luke could do something out of the electro trash pop bubble that they seemed to be stuck in.
To commemorate the release of “Teenage Dream,” I spoke to singer/songwriter Bonnie McKee who told me about the “Teenage Dream” sessions, inspiration for the album, and expectations for her upcoming release.
Alex Kazemi: What inspired “Teenage Dream?” While writing did you have any idea that it would become the album’s title track?
Bonnie Mckee: Katy and I have always had a mutual fascination with the adolescent state of mind. When we met six years ago we were both really into Lolita, and we both explored those themes on our first records. Her song “One of the Boys” touched on the early stages of discovering that boys can be more than just friends, and my song “Confessions of a Teenage Girl” was about realizing my power as a young sexual creature and using it to my advantage. So it was fitting that we would end up writing a song like this together. I had no idea it would go on to be the title of the album.
Kazemi: What was the song like in its rough/early stages?
Bonnie: Katy and I wrote and rewrote this song 4 times. It started off being kind of a “forever young” idea. That was always the spirit of it. Katy started with a lyric about Peter Pan that was cool, but it just kept feeling too young, and we wanted it to have more edge, more sex. There was a version that included a line that said “and the next thing you know, you’re a mom in a minivan” that kept us laughing uncontrollably for an hour. We literally wrote it front to back three times and were rolling around on the studio floor delirious.
Finally, we thought we had cracked the code, we wrote something that was based on the metaphor of “trying me on”, comparing the feeling of wearing new clothes to sex, kind of a “Dress You Up in My Love” deal, and we thought we had it, but then Benny Blanco came in and was like “no.” Luke always makes us “Benny Proof” everything. He says that if Benny doesn’t get it, America won’t get it.
Katy and I looked at each other with dread, knowing we had to start all over again. He said, “something more like this” and played us The Teenagers “Homecoming”, but at that point we were both so over it we just called it a night. Katy had invited me to write with her in Santa Barbara with Doctor Luke and Max Martin the next week, and I really wanted to bring my best, so I took it home and sat with it for a while. I thought about my own adolescent years, my own first love. I thought about watching Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo and Juliet” and putting on a little mini disco ball light and just dreaming of Leo. I thought about me and my friends sitting around at slumber parties in the 90’s, giddy even just THINKING about boys. Back when love and sex were still mysterious and magical. I thought about what Benny said and I listened to the song again, and I was like The Teenagers… that’s such a great word, Teenager. It is a very descriptive word; it packs a lot of emotion and imagery into three syllables.
That’s what songwriters are always looking for- powerful, familiar themes in simple packages, and there it was. I couldn’t believe after all of our agonizing over “youth” themes, that we had overlooked such an obvious one- the teenage condition. That night I had to leave for Santa Barbara, and with this word under my belt I was confident I could piece it together from there. I was texting myself rhyme schemes all the way up PCH, trying to unscramble the puzzle before I walked into that studio. When I got there, I was all excited to tell Doctor Luke about how I’d finally cracked the code, but he was pissed off that we had spent all this time just on the chorus and banned us from spending another second on it. So I bit my tongue, and we went in and started on the verses. Katy already had some beautiful images mapped out- building forts out of tents, running away and never looking back, etc, and we wove a beautiful story together. I am really excited about the video because it is just exactly everything we talked about when we wrote it. So finally she went in to put down vocals and I was freaking out that i wasn’t able to reveal my “Teenage Dream” version yet, and it wasn’t until she had recorded the whole thing that I pulled Luke and Max aside and told them about my idea. When I sang it to them they said “Well why didn’t you say that in the first place?!” Ha ha. I tried! Anyway we recut the chorus and Katy was much happier with it, which was the most important thing to me. The “Skin tight jeans” line in the bridge was a scrap that came from our “Try me on” version, and it happened to rhyme with Teenage Dream, so I guess it wasn’t a complete waste of time!
When we listened back we were all so pumped that it had paid off. I remember Max sitting back and saying “I wish we could bottle this feeling”. It was really magical.
Kazemi: The youth inspiration clearly came out to be a success! This may be difficult but do you have a favorite track on the record that you wrote?
Bonnie: Teenage Dream. California Gurls is amazing too, Katy was brilliant to bring that title back and spin it the way she did. We had a lot of fun thinking up 90’s themed lyrics for that one- the gin and juice line was a must, and then the Jeep line was pretty funny. Jeeps are SOO 90’s!! Haha! When I heard Snoop was on the song I could have died. It was a dream come true- Teenage Dream come true! Literally! Haha. TGIF is pretty much a word for word description of our trip to Santa Barbara, so I love that one. It’s really kitschy and fun and makes me nostalgic.
The other one I wrote on, “Part of Me” I heard is gonna be on a bonus version or something. That one is beautiful. Katy sings with so much emotion and when I heard the chorus for the first time it gave me chills. It is a very real, raw song. I didn’t write on ET but I wish I did. That is my fav besides Teenage dream. But Teenage Dream is my ultimate favorite because it felt really personal to me. I feel like I contributed to it the most of the four songs I worked on with her, and I seriously wanted to cry when I heard it was the album title. I had so much fun working with Katy, Luke and Max. We make a great team! Who knows? You might just hear some more from us on my own upcoming album