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The Atlantic logoKaty Perry and the End of Pop

“I am a walking cartoon most days,” Katy Perry told Billboard in 2010, and anyone who lived through the reign of Teenage Dream—Perry’s smash album that turned 10 years old on August 24—knows what she meant. Everywhere you looked or clicked back then, there was Perry, wrapped in candy-cane stripes, firing whipped cream from her breasts, wearing a toothpaste-blue wig, and grinning like an emoji. She titled one world tour “Hello Katy,” a nod to the Japanese cat character on gel pens worldwide. She made her voice-acting debut, in 2011, by playing Smurfette.

Perry’s music was cartoonish too: simple, silly, with lyrics stringing together caricature-like images of high-school parties, seductive aliens, and girls in Daisy Dukes with bikinis on top. Kids loved the stuff, and adults, bopping along at karaoke or Starbucks, enjoyed it too. (Maybe that’s because, like with so much classic Disney and Looney Tunes animation, the cuteness barely disguised a ton of raunch.) Teenage Dream generated five No. 1 singles in the United States, a feat previously accomplished only by Michael Jackson’s Bad. And it went platinum eight times, a haul no English-language singers besides Ed Sheeran and Adele matched in the 2010s.