“Teenage Dream.” Teenage Dream. Katy Perry.
When Perry and McKee first met in 2004, they both were “really into Lolita” and “had a mutual fascination with the adolescent state of mind.” They explored the themes in their first records: Perry wrote One of the Boys, which touched on the early stages of discovering that boys could be more than friends, whereas McKee wrote “Confessions of a Teenage Girl”, which was about using sexual power to one’s advantage. For the Teenage Dream sessions, Perry and McKee had a “forever young” idea in mind. Perry at first wrote a lyric about Peter Pan, but they later deemed it as “too young” since “we wanted it to have more edge, more sex.” Another version included the lines “And the next thing you know / You’re a mom in a minivan”, which made them laugh uncontrollably for an hour. There was a final version that was based around the metaphor of “trying me on” comparing clothes to sex, in a similar manner to Madonna’s 1985 single “Dress You Up”. It was rejected by the producers, as McKee explained, “Luke always makes us ‘Benny Proof’ everything. He says that if Benny doesn’t get it, America won’t get it.” Blanco showed them The Teenagers’s 2007 single “Homecoming” and asked them to write in a similar style. McKee said that “[We] looked at each other with dread, knowing we had to start all over again. […] We were both so over it we just called it a night.” McKee continued working on the song the following days. She explained,
“I thought about my own adolescent years, my own first love. I thought about watching Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ [sic] and putting on a little mini disco ball light and just dreaming of Leo. I thought about me and my friends sitting around at slumber parties in the 90’s, giddy even just THINKING about boys. […] I thought about what Benny said and I listened to the song again, and I was like The Teenagers… that’s such a great word, Teenager. It is a very descriptive word; it packs a lot of emotion and imagery into three syllables. […] I couldn’t believe after all of our agonizing over ‘youth’ themes, that we had overlooked such an obvious one – the teenage condition.”
The following week, Perry invited McKee, Luke, and Martin to write at her hometown of Santa Barbara, California. McKee tried to approach Luke about her idea, but he was upset about the amount of time he had spent working in the chorus, so he banned them from changing it. They started working on the verses, where Perry had already prepared most of the imagery. Perry described the process “a very pure moment for me” and continued saying, “[It was] where I started my creative juices. And also it kind of exudes this euphoric feeling because everybody remembers what their teenage dreams were — all the girls that were on your poster walls.” After she recorded the vocals, McKee pulled Luke and Martin aside and told them her idea, to which they responded, “Well why didn’t you say that in the first place?”. The chorus was rewritten, and the line “Skin tight jeans” was taken from the early “trying me on” version. When the final version was finished, McKee said, “We were all so pumped that it had paid off. I remember Max sitting back and saying ‘I wish we could bottle this feeling’. It was really magical.” Perry commented that even though the song was rewritten many times, she was “so happy to finally get somewhere that we all agreed on” after it was finished. During an interview in June 2010, Perry confirmed “Teenage Dream” as the second single from the album, and said that the song was about “kind of like feeling that way when you were a teenager: really emotional, really invested. … It’s intense being in love and being a teenager.” After confirming that “Teenage Dream” was also the title of the album, she explained that it was a throwback to her teenage years, as she thought back to her youth while contemplating marriage to her boyfriend Russell Brand. She added, “To me, this year is pretty heavy. I am going to be getting married and putting out this record, and there is so much going on that it’s nice to think of those young dreams.”