Most artists go into the studio with an intended vision to create an album, and in the past that’s always been what Katy Perry has done. But for her sixth studio album ‘Smile’, it sort of just organically came together with a stream of consciousness.
Following the conclusion of her Witness World Tour, the highly acclaimed singer-songwriter entered the studio to just create music with no real agenda. But what pieced together was an album about hope and celebration. ‘Smile’ is a record that some people will write off as a cookie-cutter pop record, and one that others will lean on as a form of inspiration and empowerment. The sentiment of the album is hope and finding strength in yourself, and more than ever before it is something that is universally relatable.
Opening with her most underrated single yet, ‘Never Really Over’ is the smash hit that should’ve been just as big at ‘Roar’ or ‘Dark Horse’ on radio and charts. This is a bold move as it puts it in listeners centre focus, and makes people realise that this pulsating synth-banger was such a creative catalyst for what was to come. Gliding into ‘Cry About It Later’ she immediately reclaims everyone’s attention and delivers you her biggest pop moment since ‘Prism’. This is a song that truly has huge potential to be that smash hit she needs as it intertwines the heavy guitar led production that ‘I Kissed A Girl’ honed, while also intertwining a disco-pop likeness that is currently on trend.
The playful track, that includes a epic guitar solo, is all about fixing your broken heart by going out to the club, getting drunk, and finding someone new. Or at least trying to find a distraction for the moment. “I’ll cry about it later. Tonight I’m having fun” she proclaims during the slinky hook. ‘Teary Eyes’ then turns up the galactic disco-pop vibes as she continues the concept of dancing your pain away. Sonically it feels like a ‘Roulette’ moment, so I expect an epic mash-up on tour. “Just keep on dancing with those teary eyes. Promise one day, baby, they’re gonna dry” she confidently sings.
The lead singles ‘Daisies’ and ‘Smile’ keep that hopeful sentiment strong as she shows people how strong she can be through a dark moment in her life. Managing to find a strength within herself, she realises that she is resilient, and she further explores that on the conveniently titled ‘Resilient’. The classic Katy Perry ballad is simple but memorable. Her vocals take charge as she paints this image of a flower in full bloom which feels like a homage to her ‘Prism’ era. “Cause I am resilient. A full flower moment. Won’t let the concrete hold me back” she beautifully declares.
Giving the world the post-covid apocalyptic anthem we didn’t know we needed, ‘Not The End Of The World’ feels stupidly relevant and fun. The production intertwines ‘Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye’ by Steam with a similar to ‘Black Widow’ by Iggy Azalea that you won’t be able to shake from your head.
Towards the latter half of the album, she incorporates a few gimmicky numbers that fail to create the same impact of the rest of the album. ‘Champagne Problems’, ‘Tucked’ and ‘Harleys In Hawaii’ lack the same memorability and empowering sentiment that cohesively glues the vision together. Luckily she manages to grab your attention again with the shiny-pop ‘Only Love’ that explores what she would do if she was told she had one day left to live.
“I’d call my mother and tell her I’m sorry, I never call her back. I’d pour my heart and soul out into a letter, and send it to my dad. Like, oh my God, the time I’ve wasted, lost in my head. Let me leave this world with the hate behind me, and take the love instead” she confesses. It’s a sophisticated sounding pop song, that is actually quite simple, but because of it’s strong and soulful melodies it really does feel quite mature and full circle.
Closing the record with the brief and simple ballad “What Makes A Woman’, she reflects on the common assumptions of what it is that makes a woman, and how tough and empowering it actually is to walk in any woman’s shoes. It’s another side to her maturity that has been highlighted through her pregnancy, and is a simple and poignant way to close this mixed bag of a record.
‘Smile’ embraces hope in a bright kaleidoscope of colours that include bold moments of empowerment, mature reflection and playful concepts. Some critics have already panned the cohesiveness of this record, but personally I don’t think they’re actually seeing this album for what it is; a reflection of hope. It showcases all the different ways that people address depression, anxiety, grief, heartbreak and pain, and takes you on journey of self reflection and celebration along the way. Yes there are a few songs that feel out of place in the midst of it all, but it collectively feels escapist.
Sometimes you need to dig a little deeper and read between the lines, and at it’s heart you will truly see why this record will have some people smiling from start to finish and leaning on it for the brightness they need in their life.