Listening to Katy Perry's litany of belched alphabets, fruity boyfriends, Vegas hangovers, and lesbian lip-locks on her debut, One of the Boys, it's easy to assume she'll do anything for attention, and a close read of her history proves that suspicion true. Prior to her transformation into a teen tart, Perry was a Christian singer operating under the name Katy Hudson -- an appellation a little bit too close to Kate Hudson, so she swapped last names and started working with big-name producer after big-name producer, cutting sessions with Glen Ballard and then the Matrix. That was enough to get buzz touting her as a next big thing in 2004, but not enough to actually get a record into the stores, a nicety that often proves invaluable for wannabe pop stars. Given this long line of botched starts, maybe it makes sense that the 24-year-old trollop is singing with the desperation of a fading burlesque star twice her age, yet Perry's shameless pandering on One of the Boys is startling, particularly as it comes in the form of some ungodly hybrid of Alanis Morissette's caterwauling and the cold calculation of Britney Spears in her prime. This fusion is no accident, as Perry works once again with Ballard, the producer behind Alanis' breakthrough Jagged Little Pill, and Max Martin, the writer/producer of "Baby One More Time" -- and that's just for starters! She also brings aboard Desmond Child to give "Waking Up in Vegas" an anonymous anthemic pulse, Dave Stewart to give "I'm Still Breathing" a Euro sheen, and Butch Walker to amp up the amplifiers, giving her a different sound for every imaginable demographic.
All the pros give One of the Boys a cross-platform appeal, but there's little question that its revolting personality is all down to Katy Perry, who distills every reprehensible thing about the age of The Hills into one pop album. She disses her boyfriend with gay-baiting; she makes out with a girl and she's doesn't even like girls; she brags to a suitor that he can't afford her, parties till she's face-down in the porcelain, drops brands as if they were weapons, curses casually, and trades under-the-table favors. In short, she's styled herself as a Montag monster. Perry is not untalented -- she writes like an ungarbled Alanis and has an eye for details, as when she tells her emo meterosexual boyfriend to hang himself with his H&M scarf on "Ur So Gay" -- but that only accentuates how her vile wild-child persona is an artifice designed to get her the stardom she craves. Maybe if the music were as trashy as the style, she could get away with it, as it would have a junky thrill, but that's where all the high-thread-count producers actually work against One of the Boys. They flatten everything out, turning the stomping Gary Glitter beat of "I Kissed a Girl" into a leaden stumble and burying Perry's voice underneath Pro Tools overdubs so it all winds up as a faceless wash of sound designed to be placed in TV shows, movie trailers, and malls -- which is of course part of the plan, as this is music designed to be everywhere after Perry's taboo flirtations break down doors. The problem is not with Katy's gender-bending, it's that her heart isn't in it; she's just using it to get her places, so she sinks to crass, craven depths that turn One of the Boys into a grotesque emblem of all the wretched excesses of this decade. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine