Yesterday Katy Perry's boppy single “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” rose to the number one slot, making Teenage Dream the first album in the near 19-year history of Billboard's Mainstream Top 40 chart to produce five number ones.
Big news. But today could bring Perry's career an even bigger boon: If “Friday” reaches the number one position on Billboard's Hot 100, Teenage Dream will become only the second album in the Hot 100's 53-year history to generate five number ones. The other? Michael Jackson's Bad. (Editor's note: Friday was held off by LMFAO…for now.)
Huh? How did this happen?
As noted in Genevieve Yue's feature on Bonnie McKee (the singer-songwriter who works with Perry) a few weeks ago, Perry is appealing to a new generation of girls, the ones who largely comprise pop's demographic: “There's pleasure — and power too — [in] having a broader range of expression, an expanded sense of what women can do, even if that means falling down drunk,” Yue wrote. “In the world she writes, trying often is met with 'epic fails' of the sort described in 'Last Friday Night,' but that's no reason to feel ashamed. Pick yourself up and 'do it all again,' as the chorus affirms.”
For better or worse, these girls are handling feminism far differently than any other generation. They don't want to be put on a pedestal, not only because it's too hard to balance up there, but also because it becomes an open-air cage. You aren't allowed to make mistakes — never mind fuck up royally. Like so many women in the past, you find yourself trapped, burying any slips internally. Eventually, the weight of those secrets tip you off the pedestal. See: Marilyn, and your mom.
But as with any drastic ideological shift, these young girls are guinea pigs–and Katy Perry has become their de facto leader. While Yue took their side, it's telling that in LA Weekly's staff pick for Perry's concert this weekend, the writer, a man, alludes to Perry's sexuality, saying “her chest gets more love than her chops.” When I asked a male friend what he thinks of when I say, “Katy Perry,” he responded with three things: “Lollipops. Sexy Betty Boop. Whipped cream.”
While men see her as a sex symbol with questionable choice in men, girls see her as relatable. She does Proactiv commercials. She talks about farting. Many–maybe all–pop and R&B divas are shaped to be sexy fantasies (Beyonce, Britney, Xtina, Rihanna, Keri Hilson), but would Beyonce ever be caught dead puking into a roller skate or discovering herself licking a guy's stomach online the next morning? Perry does all of this and more in the “Friday” video. Whereas pop starlets intentionally give off an air of unattainability, Perry isn't afraid to look stupid. Yes, she's Saran Wrapped in a mini and crop top, but when she gazes sexily at the camera, her fingertip uncurls her lip to reveal a full set of metal braces.
And when Perry plays dress up, as in the video for “E.T.,” it's not in a bra, hotpants, and knee-high boots; she's in breastplates and ballgowns. It's like Perry's secretly the sorta nerdy girl reading sci-fi novels who happens to have a nice body. Yes, that's a fantasy, too, but far less overt and more identifiable than Britney's infamous, blatantly manufactured schoolgirl.
Even though we're the majority, and men will wage war for what we (with)hold, girls still don't run the world. Beyonce comes close because any human with a pulse is aroused by her videos, but few girls believe they could ever fight in an army as glamorous as Bey's. Perry actually runs it because her pep talk is, “We all got too drunk last night. Who cares? Let's go out there and win anyway.”