(Capitol, Aug. 24)
When Katy Perry released her debut solo album, "One of the Boys," in June 2008, her musical peer group-cool big-sister types who titillate the training-bra set without threatening them-was in a dormant phase. Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were in various states of repose, and good girls Jordin Sparks and Natasha Bedingfield minded their manners on the pop charts. Perry's "I Kissed a Girl," magnificently constructed by Max Martin and Dr. Luke, and persuasively delivered by this daughter of two evangelical pastors, shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100-the first of three top 10s from the album-and established Perry as a Cyndi Lauper of the sexting generation: a girl who chases after fun with near-religious fervor.
Now, as Perry readies her second album, the shrewd 25-year-old is well-aware that her playing field is teeming with provocateurs.
"There are a couple of newcomers," she allows, "but my lane is still wide open. A lot of my songs are storyline-driven, and you don't really have that with the very top girls.
Perry began work on the new album in October 2009, pairing with producer Greg Wells on a love song for new boyfriend (now fiancée) Russell Brand, as well as more somber material that mined her breakup with Travie McCoy. Once she got the "anvil off her chest," she says, she was ready to "taste the rainbow," which, for Perry, meant collaborating on a couple of dance jams with Tricky Stewart and reuniting with Martin and Dr. Luke.
Thumping lead single "California Girls," which Perry boasts is a West Coast answer song to "Empire State of Mind," and likely follow-up "Teenage Dream" are textbook summer singles whose ingenious pop hooks and zillion-dollar drum tracks are stamped with Perry's knack for a memorable line and frothy, gum-snapping persona. She hasn't yet settled on an album title, but whatever it is, she promises, "It's going to be delicious, because the packaging is going to be edible."
Previous album and sales: "One of the Boys," 1.2 million (according to Nielsen SoundScan)