Katy Perry called her now officially inescapable “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” a little engine that could,” which is plausible only if you imagine it as a little caboose hitched to a bullet train. As the record-abetters will tell you, Teenage Dream now ties only Michael Jackson’s Bad for most No. 1 singles off an album. Ignore the fact that tying a record and setting one are two different grades of achievement; lots of people heralded her topping the dinky Pop Songs chart weeks before. There was no way “Last Friday Night” wouldn’t hit No. 1. You could gauge it from her hits: last year's “California Gurls” and “Teenage Dream," now almost antiques, to those few months of dirty do-si-do with Rihanna for the No. 1 spot, full of dirty tricks like the send-in-the-cavalry mixes that, months later, would push Perry past the weirdly lasting LMFAO. You could gauge it from Dr. Luke priming the charts with the beats he and Perry did best. Or you could listen to the words.
Calling “Last Friday Night” irresponsible or debauched is like calling “Party Rock Anthem” dumb: so obvious it’s pointless. Saying that teens like to party these days is even more obvious, ignoring millennia of music about drinking and its next steps. Naturally, this includes music from this millennium. Party soundtracks have always been lucrative, especially if you’re on Single No. Record-Setter like Perry or No. Umpteenth-Try like Rihanna’s “Cheers (Drink to That)” and need a sure hit. On Perry’s track, though, the party is so impossible that cynics might doubt she’s ever been to one. She’s played with time and space before – “Teenage Dream” casts herself as a slightly-Old reliving the first stir of emotion, during which she vacations in the state her last single celebrated like a native Californian. But if Perry hopes to remember her Friday night, she'll need to fight much more than a hangover. We'll do it for her, sticking to the lyrics to keep Kathy and Rebecca out of things.
There's a stranger in my bed
There's a pounding in my head
Glitter all over the room
Pink flamingos in the pool
Katy starts in grand comedic tradition: waking up with a stranger. This is not new for her--“Waking Up in Vegas” began the same way--but he’s not important, and neither "Last Friday Night" nor anything else on Teenage Dream has the venom of "Vegas" or any of the preceding singles. This is the last you’ll hear about this guy. What’s more important are the surroundings: a pool with felled flamingoes, enough glitter litter for a Ke$ha song, a passed-out DJ in the yard and Barbies on the barbecue because, one can only imagine, someone found it funny when he was drunk. The yard's not trashed so much as mussed like a music-video set, and Katy's hangover consists only of a headache and lingering smell. "Last Friday Night" wears consequences like Katy wears lollipop-colored wigs: as decoration easily swapped out.
LOCALE: House party of someone rich enough to have a pool and hire a DJ.
AGE: Probably high school, but could be anything.
Katy then faces her first real problem: pictures ended up online! She’s screwed! This wouldn't even be much of a problem in real life--most people would untag themselves or, if more paranoid, message the deux and trois from their ménage (more on that later). Katy is too blithe a partier to worry about even this. "Oh well!" comes right after "I'm screwed," and a second later, all fear melts into rebellious tweenage memories. Well, sort of--judging by the chorus, Katy Perry does not remember whether she kissed someone (it's never clear whether "we" means the entire party, making her not herself tonight, or whether it's just one other person, meaning Katy's party was kind of tiny.) She does, however, remember table dancing, shot-taking and credit-card maxing--which would require buying more shots to kill everyone fifteen times over, although maybe that's how she bought the DJ and pool. It also means they left the house at some point to hit the boulevard, streak in the park and get kicked out of the bars. Maybe Katy got kicked out for having fake IDs, which would explain the law-breaking. She also remembers a "ménage a trois," which is the term used by someone who's either a) never had one, or b) too family-friendly to use the terms teens really use. This sounds less like one party than the pasted-together memories of five, but it isn't meant to sound real. It's less a drunken memory than a clip show, edited to leave out all the frustrating bits. Even the line "always say we're going to stop," which is probably in the AA handbook somewhere, sounds innocent enough. Every party happened last Friday night, and Katy remembers only the upbeat parts.
LOCALE: A night on the town taken to the park, the streets and back home--maybe they just picked up the DJ at one of the bars they were kicked out of.
AGE: Either high schoolers who party much more than the lyrics would suggest, or college kids who--well, who party much more than the lyrics would suggest.
Trying to connect the dots
Don't know what to tell my boss
Think the city towed my car
Chandelier's on the floor
Now Katy faces her second problem: work repercussions. These aren't quite believable either--she's hungover, which makes this Saturday morning, so either she works weekends (again, something we hear nothing further about) or else her boss is the sort of guy who hangs out at high school/college gatherings. The Phantom of the Opera also hangs out with them, or maybe the kids behind Ryan's Wreck, judging by the crashed chandelier. By now you've already noticed how little any of these lines are connected, as if they're separate tweets piecing things together. How else to explain "epic fail," a Web term that belongs only there, without resorting to songwriter conspiracy? It's not enough of a fail, anyway, to merit further comment. And how to explain arrest warrants, which definitely don't rule? From what we've seen, her only offenses include possible underage drinking and parking where she shouldn't. How did she get the warrant anyway--stumbling down to the magistrate's office in her ripped party dress? Maybe her semi-hungover memory blocked out yelling at the cops or resisting arrest. Maybe the cops dove her home, because without a car, how'd she get back? Maybe she used Mr. or Ms. Trois's car. Maybe she walked for miles. We'll never know, because these are the last new lyrics besides "T.G.I.F."!--and it isn't even Friday, making it a flashback. Whatever consequences Katy faces are not important here.
LOCALE: Who knows anymore? Anywhere the listener is.
AGE: She's got a car, so over 16, but that throws the video right out. Under 21, possibly. Again, it could be any age; enough details are provided that anyone can plausibly relate to pieces of "Last Friday Night."
Last Friday night
Yeah, I think we broke the law
Always say we're gonna stop, a-whoa
This Friday night, do it all again
We're then whooshed back through the party, hijinks and joy intact, even the hints of regrets gone. At the end of "Last Friday Night," Perry swears she'll "do it all again," and there's no need to complain about the message, because no actual damage is done. Katy's hangover takes up all of three lines, and the repercussions of her escapades take up zero. Replacing her parents' home and poolside decor? Dealing with her newfound bad credit? The arrest taking place? Not in Katy Perry's world. Her story has as much relation to its real-life counterpart than "California Gurls"' candyscape has to California or anyplace else, or her costumes have to real outfits that don't shoot sparks. Her pinup-costumed, candy-dabbed parties don't recall the present so much as an idealized past, the world of teen movies and bygone decades people imagine were much happier.
And who wouldn't want to live in the ideal past? When this year's high-charting parties got compared to the apocalypse or an action movie, and when the relationships afterward involved metaphorical S&M, glass-breaking emotions and dying by grenades, it's little wonder that every successive No. 1 this summer was cheerier than the last, from "Give Me Everything" to "Party Rock Anthem" to "Last Friday Night." People can only escape into darker-than-life singles for so long until they start to resemble life. Then they turn to Katy Perry, so relatable and thus successful because throughout Teenage Dream, she ignores the harsher consequences music and life provide by the day. A Katy Perry single is a song in which self-esteem is easy as lighting a firework, love is a Valentine's-card reverie and even alien abductions can be glossed up. When "Last Friday Night" might be a half-senseless blur, Perry insists that it ruled, and people believe her.