WRITTEN BY: Caitlin McGeehan
It may be hard to smile sometimes, especially this year, and Katy Perry gets that. That’s why her upcoming album Smile (out this Friday!) takes on a new meaning that fits into the mood of 2020. The pop icon wrote Smile during a time of depression when she felt “flatlined,” as she described it in her virtual press conference earlier this month.
While there are glimpses of darkness and escapism throughout the album such as on the tracks “Teary Eyes,” “Cry About it Later,” and even “Smile,” hopefulness, resilience, and joy are the album’s overarching themes. While it is upbeat, poppy, and seemingly associated with a happy feeling, “Smile” reflects on the “Groundhog’s Day” repetitive loop Perry was facing which she eventually had to snap out of (which is easier said than done). In a parallel to the present, many of us are living this monotony, which Perry offered advice to combat based on her experience, saying, “Once I figured out there was another way to look at life, I started seeing it with a different view.”
In terms of the album art, the soon-to-be mother cited a clownery of sorts as an inspiration. She looked back on the humor from the Teenage Dream candy and pink clouds era, which turned 10 years old this week. “I wasn’t taking myself seriously…I know that, I’m in on the joke,” flawlessly sums up how she infuses humor into everything she does, such as when she used to spray whipped cream onstage.
In contrast to the lighthearted laughs throughout her career, Smile shines light on some failures that might not always be the easiest to acknowledge, especially publicly. The courageous lyric, “Had a piece of humble pie, That ego check saved my life,” addresses her past mis-steps. She had to some re-education in the spotlight in order to break out from her one-frame-of-mind childhood. While it was not fun when “the universe served” her, Perry understood that it would create a “greater foundation, character, and depth from going through those peaks and valleys.”
Smile harkens back to Perry’s pop roots with tones of Prism and Teenage Dream, which she loves. Her discography incorporates many styles, including acoustic and dance, but she enjoys, “leaning into the pure pop aspect” of her life as well. As current music charts support, it’s an “old narrative that you have to fit into pop” without experimentation with other sounds and styles.
Perry’s music has always displayed herself throughout her life, whether it is through the slightly suggestive song “Peacock” from Teenage Dream, or the exploration of the “beautifully complex” answer to “What Makes a Woman” on Smile. Over the course of her tours and albums, the songstress feels she has grown up with her audience, “kind of like raising each other.” In the same vein of growth, Perry revealed how she’d fought against being put into a box or being considered ‘one thing’ from 2008-2016. In countering that effort from outsiders, she’d said, “actually, there’s a lot of layers here, and I’m gonna start showing off more of them,” which she has continued to reveal in each of her consecutive albums.
With such a pertinent theme, it was only fitting that Katy Perry’s experience with writing Smile provided some advice: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but sometimes you have to walk through hell to get that strength.” She looks forward to seeing her fans connect to and embrace the difficult emotions and find resilence at the other end. Hopefully next year will allow the opportunity to bring the themes of Smile to life onstage. She went on to say, “I love when people connect, fulfill their purpose, feel, love, joy, [and] are on the right track.”
And as for this year, it is “a year of reckoning, coming to terms–it’s necessary, uncomfortable, and painful,” but we (the younger generation) are the “ones that are gonna get it done.”
While the times are testing us now, we can only hope we will emerge from it enlightened, and learn to smile again.