Bonnie McKee is one of Perry’s main collaborators on the successful Teenage Dream album, having co-written 3 of its 5 number ones. But their history together goes way back, back before the world was aware of either of the two’s name. McKee recalls their friendship as teenagers, as well as watching Perry gradually morph from a coffee-house singer-songwriter to the pop star filling arenas that she is today. When they first met back in 2004, both were fascinated with the adolescent state of mind, fueled especially by a mutual love for the classic novel Lolita. And although each of them approached such themes individually (McKee even wrote a song called Confessions of a Teenage Girl), they only came together to write from that perspective in 2010.
Teenage Dream was the resulting song, the follow-up to California Gurls and the 2nd in a series of 5 consecutive number ones for Perry. According to her, the song is about recapturing the feeling of a first love: “When you’re growing up and you’re falling in love for the first time, it’s such an amazing feeling that sometimes you can’t recycle again later on in your life.” The fact that she and Russell Brand were thinking about wedding plans around that time had a direct connection: “For me, being in love again now, it’s kind of the same feeling.” Another central theme to the song is the “forever young” idea, as is evident from the chorus: “We can dance until we die / You and I we’ll be young forever”.
The initial version of Teenage Dream was inspired by Madonna’s 1985 single Dress You Up and based around sexual metaphors. However, one of the song’s producers, Benny Blanco, showed Perry and McKee The Teenagers’ Homecoming single from 3 years before and urged them to write something more in that vein. Musically, the song reflects its throwback theme by having a retro feel, with power pop and disco influences.
Teenage Dream spent 2 consecutive weeks at number one in Billboard Top 100, before being dethroned by Bruno Mars’ Just the Way You Are.