Katy Perry: Smile – Album Review

When I first I heard about Katy Perry’s decision to make a fifth studio album with some of the ‘droplets’ that she had released in the past year, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it, nor what to expect.

Yes, I am shamelessly one of those hungry fans that have been craving content since Perry’s fourth extremely underrated studio album ‘Witness’, and while her droplet singles ‘Never Really Over’, ‘365’ with Zedd (yes, I am counting this as a droplet), ‘Small Talk’, ‘Never Worn White’ and ‘Harley’s In Hawaii’ have been keeping us fans somewhat fed. In my experience, it made me more insatiable for a full body of work.

By the time ‘Daisies’ arrived, it was general knowledge that the song would lead up to an album and I had wondered how this would work, considering that the album wasn’t the initial goal for Perry to begin with, whereas all her other albums were planned.

Because ‘Smile’ was not planned for and instead compiled together, the album doesn’t flow well. Katy Perry’s clown concept for the record with the idea of ‘sadness being hidden behind a smile’ honestly sounds better than the execution. While I do understand that Perry does write uplifting songs when she is feeling down, I could not hear nor understand the concept within the songs, none except for the title song of the album.

When it comes to music, the music should speak for itself, as with all art. The artist shouldn’t have to explain on why and how the art came to be to help get the message across. I believe this is a major flaw of ‘Smile’ and would not translate well to those who do not understand how this album came to be. That being said, ‘Smile’ is not a bad record. In fact, far from it.

As inconsistent the flow of the record is, what Katy Perry is consistent with is always managing to produce great songs. If anything, Katy Perry does not have a bad song in her repertoire and this record is continuous proof of that. One can only imagine the gems that are left on the cutting room floor.

While we are aware of instant classic and endless romantic ‘Never Really Over’ being the ultimate bop of her catalog, ‘Daisies’ being an inspirational empowering anthem of Perry’s new era, and ‘Smile’ being the groovy chosen hero and album title, I was surprised the most, among the pre-released tracks of the record, with ‘Harley’s In Hawaii’. Yes, I had heard the song prior to this new album being released, but the song always felt odd amongst Perry’s other works. It is only now on ‘Smile’ do I feel that the song belongs. This is because (clown concept aside) ‘Smile’ is actually a dance record. I’m not sure why Perry didn’t go with a dance concept, but it would have made more sense had she gone this route.

For example, ‘Cry About It Later’ and ‘Teary Eyes’ are both about crying and dancing, however, one is about postponing crying to go out dancing, while the other is about crying while dancing on the dance floor.

‘Cry About It Later’ injects great unexpected guitar riffs, reminiscent to the live rock arrangement of Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl’ and also reminds me of Queen, not the monarch, but the legendary band that Katy is known to be a fan of. ‘Teary Eyes’ is a catchy track that I can see people losing themselves to on the dance floor and is the strongest of the two. ‘Teary Eyes’ is also extremely metaphorical, advising to “keep on dancing”; to keep fighting, keep moving on with your life, live through the pain, and one day you will get over it and your tears will dry.

Although not a bad song, ‘Resilient’ is the weakest of the album. I feel that the bridge was written first with the iconic lyrics “Look at me now, look at me now, I’m in full bloom” and the rest of the track was built around it much later. I do love the bridge and find it extremely catchy, but the rest of the song is quite underwhelming and I feel that Perry specifically wanted to write a song about flowers for both the metaphors it allows and especially for the play on her partner’s last name. While there is nothing wrong with this (the idea is quite clever), it does feel rather forced.

‘Not the End of the World’ is ironic, given all the crazy shit that we’ve been through in 2020 including the global pandemic, but that’s the point. The song is one of hardest hitters of the record, wasting no time to get into it. The song is almost perfect, however, I cannot unhear Steam’s Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye which Perry interpolates. I’m sure for those who don’t know the original, this won’t really matter much. ‘Not the End of the World’ is energetic and pumps positivity to listeners. The song advises, “don’t lose hope” and points out our own resilience in our existence during this unprecedented time with the line “what a time to be alive”.

Champagne Problems’ is the embodiment of 70s disco, makes you feel like dancing and I can totally imagine an animated music video or even a video of Perry herself happily roller-skating with a cassette tape Walkman surrounded by palm trees. The term ‘champagne problems’ itself is about having a problem minuscule in comparison to things such as poverty, national disasters, sickness and war. I know that the song means well to addresses that perhaps our problems aren’t so bad after all. But on the other side of the spectrum, it can be misinterpreted as a gloat of privilege. I know that Perry does not intend the latter, but regarding the current social climate, the song does not really sit well. Katy Perry and her partner Orlando Bloom are aware of these global problems and are both UNICEF ambassadors, so rest assured, the song is derived from big hearts and good intentions.

‘Tucked’ is a fun little track that continues the disco dance theme with a cutesy narrative of crushing on someone and giving way to imagination, which is the only place that you can explore the relationship because in reality it is impossible. It is an extremely lighthearted song and one could easily be convinced that it was intended for a previous Katy Perry record.

Personally, the real hero of ‘Smile’ is the incredible song ‘Only Love’, which is the only track with any real depth on the record. It is extremely honest and is the most self-aware of the times that we are living in right now. With lyrics, “I’d call my mother and tell her I’m sorry I never called her back. I’d pour my heart and soul out into a letter, and send it to my dad”, I found the song incredibly touching, relatable, and it moved me to tears and made me miss my family even more. Understandable, given that Melbourne is currently under Stage 4 lockdown restrictions; a curfew and 5km radius, with everyone unable to see their friends and family right now.

‘What Makes A Woman’ is the final number of the record and it is quite a suitable one, considering that the song celebrates the power of being a proud woman. The introduction sounds very country with a bit of acoustic guitar and the way that Perry vocalises emphasis in her lyrics. But within seconds it jumps into a funky beat, once again keeping with the underlying dance theme of the album. ‘What Makes A Woman’ is extremely feminist, anthemic, suits Perry’s journey of being a new mother and is a fitting end to the eclectic record.

While ‘Smile’ is a very vibrant and upbeat record with music that will make you want to sway, groove and dance to, I found myself missing the raw honesty and depth that Katy Perry held in her previous records (yes, plural). Understandable, she’s been through a lot. But it’s hard to feel emotional about songs that you can’t personally relate to.

The song aren’t bad per se, and I’m sure all would be incredible performed live, but they don’t currently connect with me in a way that I would have liked. I consider the lyrics behind ‘Smile’ very on the surface. Perhaps this would have been different had the record been planned, and if the concept made sense and was consistent throughout. However, I am well aware of how this record came to be and at the very least, I am grateful that I have an outlet to listen to the epic droplet singles (yes, epic) from 2019 all in one place, as underrated as they are.

Taste is subjective and I do know many who are having a blast listening to this new record. But if you’re like me and prefer lyrics and topics that hit you deep and tug at your heartstrings, you won’t really find what you’re looking for with ‘Smile’. If you’re all for partying while in lockdown and dancing your cares (and the night) away, then this is the record for you.

Overall, I do enjoy this record quite thoroughly and will listen to it for many years to come. I’m certain it will grow on me. But currently (and I feel incredibly guilty about this) it doesn’t hit me where I want it to.

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