This week, Katy Perry dropped the lyric video for “Wide Awake,” which is the kabillionth single she’s released in the last two years.
Okay, okay. She’s only released eight singles in two years, but still… that’s a lot. Especially since they’re all from the album Teenage Dream (both regular and expanded editions). However, Perry’s said that after “Wide Awake,” she’s taking a vacation, which means she’s officially ending this phase of her career.
So let’s reflect on what she’s done so far. In order of awesomeness, I’m going to rank every Katy Perry song that has reached the top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100. Because if we don’t rank her songs, how will we know what’s she accomplished?
(13) “I Kissed a Girl”
Hot 100 Peak: #1 (7 weeks)
In chart terms, this is Perry’s most successful song, but you know what? I don’t care. I don’t care how trashy-sexy the beat is, and I don’t care about the taste of cherry Chap Stik. I have always hated this song for its exhausting, ignorant attitude about girl-on-girl action. Perry kisses a girl and says it “feels so wrong” even though it “feels so right.” She says it’s not what “good girls do.”
So apparently, a lesbian encounter is taboo! It’s naughty and a little shameful! But don’t worry: The forbidden, terrible kiss doesn’t mean Perry’s in love. She doesn’t even know this girl’s name. This girl is just her experiment. Because real feelings are for girls who like boys.
And look: I know lots of straight people feel this way about fleeting gay encounters. I know that sexual experimentation can be thrilling and that gay kisses are taboo in many places. But forgive me if I don’t want to sing along with a song that’s just so scandalized about a lesbian encounter. If you think you’re a rebel for having a sloppy same-sex kiss at a bar… go tell someone else. And if I kiss a woman, I promise not to think it makes me cool.
(12) “Thinking of You”
Hot 100 Peak: #29
This is Perry’s first attempt at a power ballad, and god love her, it just doesn’t work. Everything is strained, from the desperate-to-sound-epic production to Perry’s sub-par vocals. For all of her talents, she can’t always hit the big notes—especially in live performances—and here, that works against her.
(11) “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)”
Hot 100 Peak: #1 (2 weeks)
I can’t be mad at this song: It’s silly, bouncy fun, and it suggests that drinking ginger ale will help you recover from a night of heavy drinking. But at the same time, it feels lightweight next to Perry’s signature hits. If it hadn’t been for the momentum of “E.T.” and “Firework,” it never would have reached number one.
(10) “California Gurls (feat. Snoop Dogg)”
Hot 100 Peak: #1 (6 weeks)
Two years later, this song doesn’t seem nearly as cool as it used to. Is it catchy and frothy? Sure. But like “Last Friday Night,” it’s also kind of lightweight. And I’ve always felt like it was trying too hard to have a good time. I’ll bounce around to this hit, but I won’t feel good about it tomorrow.
Hot 100 Peak: #1 (4 weeks)
I know, I know! People loooooove “Firework.” I just… don’t think her voice sounds that great. And I don’t really buy the “love yourself” message, considering what’s going on in “I Kissed a Girl.” But at the same time, I know every single word. No matter how I feel about the message or the power notes, I cannot deny the hook.
(8) “If We Ever Meet Again” (Timbaland feat. Katy Perry)
Hot 100 Peak: #37
A lost classic! Even though it was a moderate hit, it’s possible you’ve never heard this song, which came from an unsuccessful Timbaland album. But do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s a flirty duet with a soaring chorus and a killer dance track underneath. Like all good Timbaland songs, it’s full of weird little scratches and yelps that always get my attention. I’m grooving along, and then I’m like, “Wait… that’s so interesting!” And Lord knows, I’m always happy to be intrigued by a hot hit.
(7) “Wide Awake”
Hot 100 Peak: TBA
Now this is a power ballad I can get behind. Perry’s voice sounds great. Maybe she worked out some issues or got better studio help or who knows, but she really kills the vocal here. For instance, at the end of the verses, when she shouts phrases like “on the concrete,” she adds these little growls that give her performance texture and personality.
Production-wise, “Wide Awake” reminds me of 90s hits like Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World” or PM Dawn’s “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss,” which wash you in an ocean of elegant sound. It’s a great fit for Perry, who can sell the drama of that style, and it’s a great fit for these lyrics, which are about seeing the world (and your life) as they really are. Since the words are about seeing clearly, the dreamy music is a nice contrast.
(6) “Waking Up in Vegas”
Hot 100 Peak: #9
When Katy Perry releases a greatest hits album, I’m pretty sure this song won’t be included. They always leave something out, you know? And this song just didn’t peak high enough to muscle past those number one hits. But I still love it. The story of this song is so specific and funny that I can imagine entire scenes that Perry never even sings about. Like, she doesn’t have any idea why she’s wearing this guy’s class ring, but I can picture the moment when she was drunk and said, “Baby, baby! Let me try that on!”
Plus, the song is meaty. The rock guitars are loud, the drums and like a wall of sound, and the chorus is great for shouting along. Unlike “Last Friday Night”—Perry’s other song about getting wasted and forgetting what happened—”Waking Up in Vegas” feels massive, which is why it gets my vote. In the election for songs about getting wasted.
(5) “E.T. (feat. Kanye West)
Hot 100 Peak: #1 (5 weeks)
I like this song because it’s such a curveball. Space age and vaguely threatening, it doesn’t sound like any of Perry’s other singles (and especially not her sunny beach hits.) Kanye’s rap also feels really integral, making us understand the sexy menace of the guy that Perry is obsessed with.
(4) “Hot ‘N Cold”
Hot 100 Peak: #3
On her first album, Perry spent a lot of time shaming people for not upholding gender norms. There’s “UR So Gay,” which mocks a guy for acting too feminine, and there’s “Hot ‘N Cold,” which blasts a dude for PMS-ing “like a bitch.” That’s insulting to both men and women, so… yay?
But honestly, I am not made of stone. All qualms aside, I love this song. How can any human being resist the electro-pop perfection of the chorus?
(3) “The One That Got Away”
Hot 100 Peak: #3
This song is just so grand. It would make my Katy Perry Top 5 just for the soaring melody on the line “in another liiiiiife,” which is so much fun to sing and which tells you right away about the intensity of the regret Perry’s feeling. The rest of the track is just as stirring.
(2) “Part of Me”
Hot 100 Peak: #1 (1 week)
I have been working out to this song for months, and I am still thrilled by the thundering drums underneath the chorus. They drive the declaration of independence—”this is the part of me that you’re never gonna ever take away from me”—to anthemic heights. The structure of the entire song is that exciting, pounding away with force in the verses, exploding in the chorus, and then pulling back in the bridge so we can catch our breath. And I love the lyrics of the bridge, too: “Now look at me, I’m sparkling. A firework, a dancing flame.” That’s a great image, and it lets you know that this diva will not be broken.
(1) “Teenage Dream
Hot 100 Peak: #1 (2 weeks)
Not only is this Katy Perry’s best song, it’s one of the best songs of the decade. Let’s start with the lyrics: “You think I’m pretty without any makeup on.You think I’m funny when I get the punchline wrong.” That’s a sweet, specific explanation of how Perry feels vulnerable and appreciated, and even better, it gives you a clear sense of her character in the song. She’s kind of dopey, she sometimes gets the joke wrong… right away, we can relate to her.
And then we get that chorus, which is just so uplifting and delightful, both lyrically and musically. I will never get tired of singing it. It’s just so satisfying to shout out those one-syllable words (“You! Make! Me!”) and to hit those last-minute high notes (“don’t ever look back!”)
Add the excellent storytelling to this brilliant songcraft, and you’ve got a timeless hit.