The Ones of the ’10s: Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)”

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.

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Katy Perry- “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)”

HIT #1: August 27, 2011

STAYED AT #1: 2 weeks

In July 1988, Michael Jackson hit #1 with “Dirty Diana,” which became his fifth number-one single from his best-selling album Bad. (It’s a 9.) At the time, it broke the record for the most #1 singles off one album, a record previously held by the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and Whitney Houston’s Whitney with four #1 singles. Five artists came close since Michael Jackson: George Michael, Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, and Usher each netted four #1 singles from their albums but no one got to five. 

That is until August 2011 when Katy Perry capped off her incredible imperial streak when she landed her fifth and final #1 single from Teenage Dream, “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” tying Michael Jackson’s record and becoming the first female artist to land five #1 singles from an album. And she tied the record with a song that celebrates wild partying and getting wasted on Friday night complete with a big-budget ‘80s inspired video featuring cast members of Glee, Hanson, Debbie Gibson, Corey Feldman, Rebecca Black, and Kenny G jamming out on his saxophone. 

“Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” came from Perry and her longtime songwriting partner Bonnie McKee who co-wrote Perry’s previous #1 singles, “California Gurls” and “Teenage Dream.” Perry and McKee were inspired for the song by their wild partying days as teenagers. As Perry herself put it, a lot of what she sings about in “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” actually happened, “There’s nothing better than an impromptu dance party with my friends. My track ‘Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)’ is a song about debauchery because I had one of those nights in Santa Barbara. We went out to this place called Wildcat and got crazy. We had a couple of beers and danced until we died, then brought the party back to the hotel room. Most of that song is actual truth, apart from the ménage à trois unfortunately! But, yes, streaking in the park, that’s what we did, so we had to write a song about it the next day!”

The video does a good job illustrating the lyrics: Katy Perry wakes up from a wild night of partying and sees the destruction that’s occurred. The house is a mess, people are passed out, Perry is a wreck. Her car’s been towed, an arrest warrant is out for her, pictures of her from the party were posted online. On the chorus, she describes doing various reckless activities on a Friday night like skinny dipping, kissing, drinking too much, threesomes, streaking among other reckless activities. She says they’re gonna stop it the next time but it’s all so fun that she’s going to do it again the next Friday.

Perry delivers the verses in the feeling you get when you wake up from a wild party. She’s confused, she’s hungover but eventually resigns to what happened. On the chorus, Perry sounds like she doesn’t give a fuck for what she does and revels in her debauchery. And the crowd chanting of T.G.I.F. on the bridge emphasizes the careless attitude of the song. Perry delivers all this in her typical singing style where she strains to hit the high notes. Considering this type of tasteless mindless fun is part of Perry’s appeal, it works out well with her singing. 

Musically, Dr. Luke and Max Martin’s production helps add to the bouncy fun and ridiculousness of the song with the processed guitars, funk slap bass, and simple drum beat that creates this fun retro party atmosphere. It’s not the best production from this time but it helps add flavor to the song. If anything, it almost sounds like their attempt at creating a retro ‘80s party song for the early ‘10s pop landscape.

Contrary to what the video shows, the saxophone solo is not played by Kenny G. Instead the solo is played by Lenny Pickett, currently the saxophonist and musical director of the Saturday Night Live band meaning he’s the guy who plays on the sax-lead opening credits of every SNL show. Dr. Luke had been the guitarist in the Saturday Night Live band before becoming a big-name producer so he pretty much used his connection to get Pickett to play here. You can definitely hear the SNL influence here. Pickett’s solo, even in its processed form, adds a lot of liveliness to the track and makes it feel like you’re at a fun party.  

Now I haven’t been to many wild parties and I certainly don’t recommend any of you try out any of the activities described in the song but “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” makes it all sound like the best fun you could have in your entire life. And at its best, pop music is meant to be an enjoyable fantasy which is what this song is. It also helps that the song is fun and catchy as hell.

“Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” was probably going to be a big hit in any situation considering Katy Perry’s massive popularity at this point but it probably also lucked out due to another popular song at the time. In 2011, teenager Rebecca Black was riding high off the viral success of her song “Friday” which was originally meant as a local hit but caught on when online blogger and television host Daniel Tosh posted about it spreading from there. Now as most of you know, “Friday” for its viral success, quickly became a punching bag for its insipid lyrics about looking forward to the weekend, its cheap music video, cheap production, and Rebecca Black’s nasally AutoTuned vocals. Black began getting ridiculed for the song a lot to the point where she had to be taken out of public school. (“Friday” for all its popularity did not chart very high. It only peaked at #58 on the Hot 100 meaning I thankfully don’t have to rate it. “Friday isn’t even Rebecca Black’s highest-charting single. Her highest charting-single, 2013’s “Saturday” peaked at #55.) People were apparently in a Friday mood in 2011.

Having Rebecca Black in a music video for a song with Friday in the title works as a nod to her song. In the video, Black plays herself and gives Katy Perry’s character, Kathy Beth Terry, a makeover from nerd to the pretty girl in order to make her more attractive. Speaking to ABC News in 2011, Black recalled her mom getting a call from her manager saying Perry wanted her to be in her music video to which she expectedly was ecstatic about. And from Black’s account, Perry was genuinely excited to have her in the music video. Good for her.

Teenage Dream would launch one more single, the nostalgic romantic lament “The One That Got Away,” which would wind up peaking at #3 in January 2012 ending Perry’s #1 hot streak. (It’s a 5.) This made Teenage Dream tie with Michael Jackson’s Bad, George Michael’s Faith, and Janet Jackson’s Janet. for the second most Top 10 singles off of an album with six singles behind the four-way tie of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A., Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, and Drake’s Scorpion for the most Top 10 hits off of an album with seven singles. While most songs that peak at #3 would be seen as impressive enough, for Perry’s standards at that time it underperformed. 

Katy Perry still remained one of the biggest names in music after Teenage Dream but she would never have this level of success again. That’s a given. It’s practically impossible to top a hit-making success like Teenage Dream. But Katy Perry, like all artists, tried and continued to succeed having more hits soon after. We’ll be seeing her again in this column. 

GRADE: 6/10

BONUS BEATS: Here’s the cast of Glee returning the favor performing “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” on a 2011 episode of Glee:

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