Katy Perry is one of the worst pop stars we've seen in a while. Not only are her songs not very good -- the lyrics, when not outright offensive, are at best idiotic, and they hooks aren't catchy enough to excuse this -- she just seems completely phony in every way. She's one of those celebrities who wear so much make-up and ridiculous clothing that you have no idea what they actually look like. She always looks like the Saturday morning cartoon version of herself. It's like, if she's not musically talented, can she at least be worth ogling? "I Kissed a Girl" especially makes me angry (I've blogged about this before); she manages to objectify women in general and trivialize homosexuality in one fell swoop; there's no one I'm not offended on behalf of. And Jill Sobule already wrote that lyric into a way better song 10+ years ago, so the faux shock value is especially cheap.
Her popularity baffles me because I have a pretty high tolerance for stupid pop music. For instance I will happily listen to radio hits by any American Idol winner. I kind of like that Adam Lambert song "Whataya Want From Me" (Oh my god, I know, that is apparently how the title is rendered), even though the lyrics make no sense -- it's one of those songs where it's really unclear if he's trying to break up with the "you" or aver his love. I mean, one of the lines in the chorus is "Just don't give up," but wouldn't you give up if your BF wrote a song to you called "Whataya Want From Me"? It's a little confrontational. Anyway, coherence isn't really crucial in a pop song; probably the greatest pop song of the '90s is "I Want It That Way" which makes at least as little sense. Stupidity is also forgivable (see above) as long as the song is really catchy; see "Manic Monday."
I also think a semi-weak song is excusable if the video is really awesome. "Freedom 90" is actually kind of a boring song, and not much worth listening to on its own, but it's the perfect soundtrack to the video, which is one of the best videos of all time and basically short-film quality. Musically, "Father Figure" kicks its ass in every way. I have a half-baked theory that one of the elements of a good song is being able to tell where you are in its arc if you turn on the radio in the middle of it. "Father Figure" has an amazing build-up, and coming in at the end is a real let-down; "Freedom," unless you hit the bridge, kind of sounds the same all over; it's like, who cares. This is why "Total Eclipse of the Heart" is ultimately a ridiculous song and only has camp value, musically -- from the very beginning, it sounds like the final third of a song; it's all climax.
Have you seen Ander Monson's attempt at a canon of pop? He begins with Joy Division and Talking Heads and tours through the essentials of the past 30 years. I like it a lot, and he includes some of my all-time favorite singles ("Dancing with Myself," "The Boys of Summer," "With or Without You," "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out") but the list has obvious holes, too. Women are underrepresented, of course -- he includes the Backstreet Boys but no Britney. Still, I love when intelligent people talk about mindless music.
Who would be in your pop canon? (And I really mean POP here people; the comments on my recent post led to me believe some of my blog readers have strayed so far into the hipster fringe they've forgotten what "pop" means. So use your judgment. For example, REM probably counts, but does TMBG? That's probably a stretch. They were never on VH1.) I'd definitely include George Michael. And Britney! I'd also have to throw in the Avril Lavigne song "I'm With You" -- I hate pretty much everything else she's done, but I find this song oddly affecting and can listen to it over and over.