If you’re 24 years old like me, Katy Perry has been right by your side since pre-pubescence. And if you were closeted until your senior year of high school, like me, you’ll know that early Katy Perry bops were sweet nectar that you could only listen to on your orange iPod Nano in the privacy and comfort of your own home (and own earbuds). But that’s enough thinly veiled gay trauma for now!
Today, I’m attempting a feat no other human ever has: ranking Katy Perry’s ten best songs. Now, that might seem easy at first; she’s largely flopped since the cotton-candy-filled and sun-drenched first leg of her career which spawned early albums like One of the Boys and Teenage Dream. Then there was Prism, which had more tracks that sounded like ‘Fight Song’ than anything worth listening to, and then, of course, the Katy Cats were gifted Witness, known far and wide as the flop of the century.
But her singles from 2019 were enticing; ‘Never Really Over’ and ‘Small Talk,’ chief among them, delivered pure, glistening pop performances— the Katy we know and love! They didn’t reinvent Katy or really give us anything new, but we will surely take what we can get from her. If ‘Daisies’ says anything about her forthcoming album, it seems we’ll be getting something closer to Prism than Witness, which I would say is better than nothing.
Anyways, without further ado, let’s get to business. Here’s my list of Katy Perry’s top ten tracks, ever.
*Disclaimer: I am not including any of the pre-KP5 singles due to the fact that I’m not.
- Peacock — ‘I wanna see your peacock, cock, cock, your peacock, cock.’ ARE YOU SERIOUS? Not only is this song infectious, but the pure fun that KP is having here is delightful. I love this song!
- Birthday — I feel like nobody knows this song? But I play it 4x through, at least, every time it is my birthday. When she’s like, ‘hhhappy BIIIRTHdayy,’ I’m like, yes.
- International Smile — I only discovered this song two months ago, but it’s like a cute B-side of the Teenage Dream album; loud, jumpy, sunny pop.
10. Swish Swish (feat. Nicki Minaj)
Now, I can sense your nostrils are flaring and your cheeks are flushed. Please don’t be cross with me!
I’m one of the first people to admit that Witness is better left pretending it never existed, but this song ended up being incredibly influential. Backpack dancing kid (?) or whoever did his little dance to this song and popularized it on Vine (I think), bridging the gap between KP and her next young wave of supporters. Plus, we get Onika herself with the opening bar, ‘Pink Ferragamo sliders on deck!’ To cap off her fire verse, she nods to KP’s rightful spot as one of pop’s legends: ‘I only rock with queens, so I’m makin’ hits with Katy.’ Brava!
9. Last Friday Night (TGIF)
The 80s neon party vibe of it all! It isn’t hard to love the nerdy-girl-becomes-hot high school party gone wild MOMENT that this gives us in buckets. I simply love camp Katy! Admittedly, this could be campier, but it’s one of many instances where she delivers a crisp concept and goes all-out in every aspect. (I’m listening to the song as I write this and almost just cried thinking about what Katy Perry has done for us lol.) Anyways, Rebecca Black, Darren Criss and Kevin McHale (Gleeks rise up) are all in the music video, a music video that proves to the world that Katy Perry is hot and that parties are fun.
8. Hot ‘N Cold
While ‘I Kissed a Girl’ was released in April 2008, technically KP’s very first smash hit, this author prefers to recognize ‘Hot ’N Cold’ (released September 2008, which is, admittedly, after April 2008) as the pop queen’s true breakthrough into the mainstream. Yes, ‘I Kissed a Girl’ was raunchy at the time; it was the first time in recorded history, after all, that someone released a song about gay.
The song’s rebellious fervor, however, has at this point died down to a mere murmur. ‘Hot ‘N Cold,’ meanwhile, is simply never going away. It is embedded in every Gen-Z/millennial cusp’s heart and soul like it is mine! How could it not? This is the bar/bat mitzvah song, the song that was played at 8pm when it started getting dark outside at wedding receptions, the song you jump up and down for at the formal. It’s the KP song of 2008.
7. Dark Horse (Juicy J)
If there is the one track to be remembered on Prism, it’s ‘Dark Horse.’ We were all ready for a perfect storm when KP dropped this pulse-pounding hit featuring Juicy J with the most delicious psychedelic drop. The sound on this track did, unfortunately, foreshadow the sounds of flop album Witness, but this will stand as perhaps the most culturally impactful track of her post-Teenage Dream, mid-career era. ‘There’s no going back,’ says the warped voice at the song’s outro, perhaps warning fans that it was only going to be downhill from Prism.
6. E.T. (feat. Kanye West)
Nasty!!! We have Katy Perry at her sluttiest in the most amazing way — from the way she yelps sexily throughout the song to the outstanding lyrical euphemisms such as ‘fill me with your poison’ and ‘ready for abduction.’ When I play this song, I find myself wanting to be abducted, too.
As she’s known to do, KP hits the concept (alien sex) right on its head; this is a song about aliens fornicating, no more, no less; she knows it, you know it, I know it, and we all love it! Also, the falsetto she goes to on the bridge in the non-Kanye version is simply spellbinding.
5. Waking Up in Vegas
“Shut up,” she says, “And put your money where your mouth is.”
Come through, storyline! Narrative-driven pop hit! Indeed one of her earlier, formative songs, ‘Waking Up in Vegas’ is the early KP we will hold up current KP to day in and day out; modern-day KP simply could never. This track exists as a reminder that Katy does not need cotton candy and left shark and blue wig and Orlando Bloom to be a star. Some would say this track inspired the heterosexual-favorite movie The Hangover, which came out a suspicious two months after this song’s release.
4. The One That Got Away
She knew what she was doing on this one. Here, Katy absolutely nails the vintage, romance, backseat-of-your-mustang-makeout concept into the FLOOR! Is this a ballad? A banger? It might be both. She might have just gone ahead and fucking invented the banger-ballad of the century.
‘The One That Got Away’ finds a way to make us dance to the biting nostalgia from recalling an old flame, an ex-lover whose memory you can’t help but envision when you encounter those Johnny Cash records. We’ve talked a lot about sad pop bangers in the last couple of years, but this was one of the first major sad pop hits. And, my word, the acoustic version! Thank you, Katy, for squeezing the tears right out of my tear ducts.
This song, further, has been co-opted into a TikTok meme that infuses dialogue from Stranger Things; while this Gen-Z/millennial cusp author does not understand the TikTok trend, this is another prime example of KP’s transcendence to younger generations.
3. California Gurls (feat. Snoop Dogg)
Okay, I mean, now we are really fucking getting into it. ‘California Gurls’ is a song that has done so much for the state of California and the state of pop music; the song was the first in history to paint California in a positive light, a massive turn for the Golden State, which had struggled with tourism and PR since it became a state in 1850. Not only that, but through this track, KP popularized Daisy Dukes, drinking gin and juice and going to the beach; all of which had, up until this song’s success, been widely considered unsavory trends of the past.
Truly, though, this song… What a statement hit. The beat bounces down the boardwalk and gives us salty air, sex on the beach!, sand in stilettos, gin and juice, FREAKING IN HER JEEP, being toned, tan, fit and ready, and Snoop Dogg!
Snoop calls, ‘home boys bangin’ out,’ to which KP responds, ‘all that ass, hanging out!’ In the sexiest way! This song truly is Katy in her finest, freshest and fiercest. Obsessed.
2. Wide Awake
The number of times I have drunkenly put this song on at 2 am, put on my over-ear headphones, laid in bed, and performed for my bedroom furniture groupies like I’ve never performed before. The timing and tempo of this song are formulated for exact scenarios like that one; the verse is exciting and upbeat, only to continue building over cascading synths (I don’t know what instruments are, generally, but I imagine there are synths in this song) and eventually tumble into a free-falling chorus.
‘Wide Awake’ begs you to star in your own performance; it grabs you by the wrist, not in an aggressive way, but in the way that your friend would grab you at a party when your crush is starting to make out with someone else. Now it’s time to walk out the door and be born again, right out of the lion’s den! You didn’t need that boy anyways.
The song blends a dreamy pop hook with lyrics that communicate that our queen, KP, is having a transformational, clarifying, coming-to-earth moment. It’s one of her greatest creations.
1. Teenage Dream
We’ve made it. I would not be surprised if many of my readers have come to this conclusion: ‘Teenage Dream’ is the best thing Katy Perry has ever made. To put it at the first track slot on the Teenage Dream album was bold, but it was necessary — she really has her foot on the gas pedal here. I mean, she is FLOOOOOOOOOORING IT! Run me over, mom!
When you talk about pop music. When you talk about high production value. When you talk about the virginal, electrifying fire that erupts within the first time you meet someone who ticks all your boxes… Look no further than ‘Teenage Dream’ by Katheryn Hudson herself.
This track is one of those tracks that makes me doubt MY OWN existence. That is how good it is. I can’t fathom that this song was crafted and it’s so beyond me that it’s easier to envision a world where this song exists but I don’t, because if I don’t exist, then I don’t have to try to logically understand and cognate how a perfect pop song like this can be real.
But ‘Teenage Dream’ is, undeniably, real! And it’s everything to me. Everything.
And it’s no surprise that this is her best, because at her best, KP gives us the pop fantasy of reliving our best moments. Her highest quality music offers itself up as a looking glass into our own personal histories. Every time I listen to ‘Teenage Dream,’ I can’t help but think about listening to her music with my orange iPod Nano in 8th grade, finger nervously hovering over the ‘Next’ button because I was so convinced that if someone saw me listening to Katy Perry, they would know I was gay and my life would be over.
But this song gave me so much at one of my most closeted moments, so, thank you Katy Perry. And thank you, ‘Teenage Dream.’