Katy Perry puts a Smile back on our faces

Sept. 25, 2020, 12:26 p.m. | By Katalina Li | 3 years, 8 months ago

The singer’s sixth album uses purposeful pop to cheer us up amidst the pandemic

Pop singer Katy Perry released her sixth studio album Smile on Aug. 28. The album features Perry’s new style of “purposeful pop” (mainstream music with a deeper meaning) and its tracks focus on positivity during these hard times. While it differs from her past albums, Smile is definitely well-written and features a variety of styles that we haven’t seen from Perry so far. 

Smile is the epitome of growth in Perry’s singing styles. Perry’s earlier hits, which included record-breaking “Teenage Dream” (2010) and “Roar,” (2013) all fit the typical high energy style of 2000s pop bubbly, loud and perfect for parties. Perry’s earlier albums, such asPrism (2013) and One Of The Boys (2008), have an anthem-style pop vibe that is known to reliably guarantee hits, complete with Perry’s powerful belting and signature high-pitched choruses.

Over time, Perry has been trying to transition from her brand of bubbly and anthem-esque pop to what she calls “purposeful pop.” As its name suggests, Perry wants her songs to have a deeper meaning to them, not just vague songs for partying and dancing to. "I’ve seen behind the curtain, and I can’t go back. I used to be the queen of innuendo, everything done with a wink. Now I want to be the queen of subtext— which is a cousin to innuendo, but it’s got more purpose," Perry said in an interview with Vogue

With her 2017 album Witness, Perry started her transformation with an inclusion of more reflective music. The album featured a variety of different electronic styles, with influences from Swedish pop, 80s throwbacks, and 90s house shuffle. Perry collaborated with many different songwriters and artists, from Nicki Minaj on “Swish Swish” to Skip Marley on lead single “Chained To The Rhythm.”

Witness, with its wide range of different electropop styles, definitely opened up Perry’s musical range and versatility. However, it received negative feedback from the pop industry, making it Perry’s worst performing album to date. Many consider it to be too different without Perry’s signature singing style. As a result, the album peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 for only 15 weeks, a weak showing compared to her top hit “Dark Horse” (2013), which held the #1 spot for 57 weeks. 

Between Witness and Smile, Perry released a few singles that fit her “purposeful pop” vision. These songs also received largely negative feedback, especially her 2019 single “Harleys in Hawaii.” Critics deemed it unremarkable and repetitive, and reminisced about her old brand of high energy, chart-topping pop. 

Smile, which includes “Harleys in Hawaii” and previously released single “Daisies,” continues to explore the “purposeful pop” vibe that Perry was looking for in Witness. However, unlike Witness, this new album  doesn’t seek any particular deep meanings in fact, Perry’s main purpose simply seems to be to bring a smile to our faces , and offer insight into her own life right now.

The album contains numerous “stay strong” songs, including slow-tempoed and powerful “Resilient” as well as quicker and more anthem-esque “Not the End of the World.” Both send the same relatively simple message that we all need to hear right now: don’t lose hope. 

Tracks “Cry About It Later” and “Teary Eyes” are sadder songs that can help distract us from our own sorrows. Perry uses softer EDM backgrounds to give off dancey yet lowkey vibes, a combination that is becoming increasingly popular in the pop industry nowadays.

The album’s title track “Smile” is definitely more upbeat and high energy than the other songs on the album. While it might not be as unique as the other tracks, it still shares the same purpose of making us feel better and hopefully putting a smile on our faces. 

The penultimate track, “Only Love,” addresses the feelings we all share during the COVID-19 pandemic loneliness, lack of motivation and uncertainty. Perry turns these feelings into an endearing homage to her loved ones, reminding us that love can prevail even in times of darkness. 

Perry ends the album with “What Makes A Woman,” a soulful personal reflection on her life experience as a woman. She pays tribute to the power of women and how indescribably unique they are in the chorus: “Spend your whole life but you couldn’t / Describe what makes a woman/ That’s what makes a woman to me.” As a new mother herself, Perry explores the ever-changing identity of women and what society defines them to be. 

While Smile may not have any particularly bubbly or high-energy tracks that you might’ve seen in Perry’s older albums, it serves as a comfort to listeners during these hard times. From empowering tracks like “Resilient” and “Not the End of the World” to soulful ballads like “What Makes A Woman,” Smile is sure to have something to lift your spirits.

Last updated: Oct. 7, 2020, 3:18 p.m.

Tags: katy perry album review pop music

Katalina Li. Hi there! I'm Katie (she/her). I'm a senior and a co-Editor-in-Chief of SCO! When I'm not writing or editing, I'm usually messing around on my trumpet, drawing Studio Ghibli characters, or making piano covers for my YouTube channel :) More »

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