In The Ones of the ’10s, I’m reviewing every single that hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 2010s and working my way up into the present.
Katy Perry- “E.T.” feat. Kanye West
HIT #1: April 9, 2011
STAYED AT #1: 5 weeks
During a performance of “E.T.,” Katy Perry joked, “This next song is about falling in love with a foreigner, like far away… not even in England.” She wasn’t joking. For the fourth consecutive #1 single from her Teenage Dream album, Perry wrote a song about how much in love she is with a foreigner comparing it to being in love with an actual alien and invoking alien sex. All of this is done in a song so loud and abrasive with a ridiculously high budget music video that despite being a big hit at the time has left little cultural impact nearly a decade later. And it’s a song that was not initially planned for a single release until the fans made their voices heard.
“E.T” came about one day when Perry was listening to beats that her regular producers Dr. Luke, Max Martin, and Ammo were making including one they made for the rap group Three 6 Mafia (Three 6 Mafia have never gotten a Top 10 single. Their highest-charting single, 2005’s “Stay Fly” peaked at #13. Member Juicy J though will eventually appear in this column as a featured artist on a future Katy Perry song.). After hearing the Three 6 Mafia beat, Perry told her producers that she wanted to use it for an alien, futuristic type song she was writing despite the beat being more hard-edged compared to the music she was making at the time.
From this video, Perry describes “E.T” as being about a boy who is so hot that he might not be human. There could be a planet of hot guys that we might not know exist Perry further talked about while also mentioning being influenced by alien and futuristic themes. In the same video, Perry hits it right on the nose in regards to the song’s sound “It’s a bit R&B. It has a bit of a hip-hop element to it and it’s also got kind of European club elements to it.”
From Perry’s accounts, her producers weren’t sure about the hit potential of “E.T” which looking back at it isn’t all that surprising. Up until this point, each of Perry’s hits were largely upbeat silly pop jams. While each of the #1 singles off of Teenage Dream thus far had a different theme, they all still fit into Perry’s image up to that point. And as the case with many style shifts, producers and the record label naturally get hesitant not wanting to mess with a formula that has brought continuous success so far. They would eventually give in and it would pay off big time.
What helped get “E.T” released as a single was a Twitter fan vote. In December 2010, Perry asked her fans to pick what they wanted as the next single released from Teenage Dream. Apparently, the fans really liked this ugly sounding ode to alien banging. The fans have spoken!
In heightening the song’s profile, Perry recruited Kanye West to guest on a remix version broadening its appeal to an urban market. By 2011, West had already cemented himself in music as a major infleunce in the rap field by helping to bring electronic production styles to hip-hop with his best-selling albums Graduation and 808s & Heartbreaks. When “E.T” hit, West had come off of releasing My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy which while critically acclaimed didn’t exactly come close to his 2000s success with its four singles peaking outside the Top 10 with the second single “Runaway” performing the best peaking at #12.
In a way, this type of futuristic style production and theme doesn’t sound too out there for West so it makes sense for Perry and her people to get him on “E.T.” But that doesn’t mean the song’s any good. Lyrically, “E.T.” Katy Perry sings about how in love she is with this guy and how good sex is with him that it feels like having sex with an extraterrestrial, “Kiss me, ki-ki-kiss me/Infect me with your lovin’/Fill me with your poison.” Meanwhile, Kanye West’s part destroys any sense of subtlety making the sex angle very explicit, “Tell me what’s next? Alien sex/I’mma disrobe you/Then I’mma probe you/See I abducted you/So I tell you what to do.” You can’t get any more direct than that.
It’s possible that Katy Perry made “E.T.” trying to do something different than what people expected from her at the time and became restless as most artists do. But it still doesn’t make this song any better or realize how out of her depth she is here. Perry is just not a powerful enough of a singer to sell this loud bombastic hip-hop electropop annoyance with a drumbeat that rips off the stomp-stomp-clap pattern of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
I’ve mentioned in previous Katy Perry reviews that she’s never been a spectacular singer but that type of quality can sometimes work for a silly fun pop song not here. She wounds up sounding forgettable and overpowered on her own song. It’s enough to make you wonder why anyone thought this song was in any way a good idea. And West’s contributions don’t make it any better. Like a lot of modern-day guest features, it wounds up sounding tacked in at the last minute without any cohesion to the original ultimately sounding forgettable.
These days, “E.T.” exists mainly as a reminder of Katy Perry’s incredible Hot 100 imperial streak in the early ‘10s. You don’t hear it much in pop culture and even for Katy Perry songs, “E.T.” doesn’t get brought up or played a lot. And yet this song is considered one of Perry’s biggest hits and was Billboard’s fourth biggest single of 2011. Sometimes massive chart success isn’t a guarantee that your song will linger on years after the song is a hit. In the case of “E.T.” that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Kanye West wouldn’t get back to #1 after “E.T.” though he’d land in the Top 10 a few more times through the rest of the decade including as recent as 2019’s “Follow God” (“Follow God” peaked at #7. It’s a 5.). But Hot 100 success became more of an afterthought for West in the 2010s as well as most of the music he’s released since. He’s kept releasing a bunch of albums and collaborations to declining quality that often get big amounts of attention due to his celebrity and fanbase. And of course, these days he’s famous more for his erratic behavior and politics than his music which I will not be getting into.
As for Katy Perry, the Teenage Dream hot streak wasn’t over yet. She’ll be back in this column soon enough.
BONUS BEATS: Since “E.T.” hasn’t left much of a cultural impact aside from the 5 weeks in 2011 it spent at #1, here’s Katy Perry and Kanye West performing “E.T.” together on a 2011 episode of American Idol during its run at #1