Katy Perry returns to pure pop in new album ‘Smile’

Katy Perry’s album cover art for “Smile.” (Photo courtesy of Universal Music Group)

With only four days left before the release of her highly anticipated fifth studio album, “Smile,” Katy Perry joined the °1824 team of Universal Music Group for a virtual press conference, revealing details about her personal growth and how that transcends into the various themes and backstories of her songs on the album. 

Preceded by her singles “Daisies” and “Smile,” the album is finally coming to life Friday after what she cited as necessary production delays, which pushed the original release date back by two weeks. 

Perry began working on songs for “Smile” without a formal record in mind two years ago. It was a way for her to create something she felt her soul needed to say. 

Wearing a matching pink and white daisy outfit (possibly as a wink to her single, “Daisies”) complete with a silk headscarf, Perry hopped into the Zoom call with a smile on her face. Just like her song says, she “finally got back that smile.”

During the press conference, Perry confessed that she wrote the record during one of the darkest times of her life. 

“I didn’t really plan for the next day or didn’t necessarily want to,” Perry said. “I was very flatlined, and I was kind of clinically depressed, which is something I had never dealt with.” 

The 35-year-old pop singer, who has opened up about her clinical depression before, found it challenging to go about her everyday life facing the darkness. 

“I’d only dealt with depression in short, small bouts [and when I did] I felt like I could solve it,” she said. “[But] this time, I couldn’t solve it. I definitely could not get out of bed.”

Perry is also expecting her first child with fiancé Orlando Bloom any day now. She said that, despite the obstacles she’s faced on her darker days, she’s elated to bring life into the world, to choose to live and to make plans for the future. 

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but sometimes you have to walk through hell to get that strength,” Perry said. “This record really speaks about my own experience of walking through that and coming out alive.”

The pop star said her latest album was inspired by a darker period in her life and was the culmination of a soulful deliberation. (Photo courtesy of Universal Music Group)

Finding that strength and courage helped Perry write some of the most hopeful and empowering songs on her album. One of those songs is “What Makes a Woman,” which Perry calls a trick question.

“If you can actually answer what makes a woman … if you have some definite statement, you may not be a woman,” Perry said.

The acoustic music video for the song was released Aug. 20 and features Perry in an intimate concert-like setting wearing a purple dress with white polka dots and singing directly to the camera as if performing for listeners in the same room. It is a power ballad filled with emotion, power and grace.

“What Makes a Woman” is a nod to all women of the world with lyrics that read, “Could spend your whole life but you couldn’t / Describe what makes a woman / And that’s what makes a woman to me.”

The “Teenage Dream” singer also revealed that songs on the album such as “It’s Not the End of the World,” “Teary Eyes” and “Only Love” discuss how it can be difficult to shift your perspective on life when every day feels like you’re going through the motions and hiding behind a happy face. 

“Only Love” is a beautiful, deeply emotional song. Beginning with a mellow-paced chord progression, the song quickly picks up for the chorus with classic pop beats. The messages in the track are personal ones to Perry. She mentions calling her mother and pouring her heart out in a letter to her father. 

“I was just in this negative loop, and I had to snap out of it,” Perry said. “Obviously, it wasn’t as easy as snapping my fingers, but once I figured out there was another way to look at life, I started seeing it with a different view.”

The singer also revealed a lot of parallels in the album that have taken on a completely new meaning due to the pandemic and current events. There’s a synonymous feeling of heaviness around the world, and Perry admits she’s been in and out of her smile these days because of it. 

Consequently, Perry said themes of hopefulness and resilience are present in the record. 

Even though resilience and joy are significant themes throughout “Smile,” Perry revealed that she’s typically feeling the opposite when she writes a song in that headspace. The songs become a reminder from her higher self that she can get through even the toughest times. 

Perry also revealed that throughout her career, she uses humor to bring levity to the seriousness of life, and in that same way, the overarching theme of this new record has a degree of clownery to it. 

“I’ve always felt a little bit like the court jester,” Perry said. “And I’ve always had a little bit of humor injected into everything I do and self-deprecation.”

Perry said she is thrilled to see her creative fans lean into the theme of the album, as she hopes to bring it to life next year in a more in-person, 3D way. 

For religious reasons, Perry “wasn’t allowed to participate in Halloween” so she’s making up for lost time. 

Not only does Perry enjoy experimenting with her eccentric costumes, but also with her music. She continues to experiment with different sonic landscapes and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. This record, she said, is a lot like the pure pop tones in “Prism” and “Teenage Dream” with a hint of escapism.

With her fifth studio album, Katy Perry hopes to reveal her evolution as a multigenre artist. (Photo courtesy of Universal Music Group)

“There’s a song called ‘Cry About It Later’ which is really about drinking too much champagne on ice and getting under someone to get over someone,” Perry said. “Sometimes you just need that.”

With the uncertainty of what the future holds for herself, her family and her child, Perry said she sees this record as a reminder of the many emotional peaks and valleys she’s made it through. She’s glad she can always hit play and remember she has the strength to overcome anything. 

“I understand why people are like ‘When the bars open, I will be there and I will be there all night because I no longer want to listen to what my thoughts say,’ especially during this time,” Perry said. “It’s too fucking intense.”

Given the stress of the pandemic, Perry admits she will enjoy a couple of dirty martinis herself after she gives birth to her daughter.

“Life gets real the longer that you live it, but it does get more expansive if you can survive it,” Perry said.

The pop star admits many people publicly would like to put her in a box, especially from 2008 to 2016 with her trademark blue or black hair and all the sweet candy props.

Perry admitted that in her 20s she thought life was going to be wild forever. But when it begins to shift slightly and reality sets in, she explained it acts as a check and the lyrics in the title track “That ego check saved my life, had a piece of humble pie” allude to that. 

“I’m just grateful for the journey and the growth,” Perry said. “I think every day you gotta push yourself to evolve mentally.” 

Perry, born Katheryn Hudson, signed a record deal with Capitol Records in 2008. But music didn’t start there for the singer. Her teenage years were spent pursuing gospel music and later transitioning to creating music separately from religion. Being more sheltered and restricted in her younger years, she felt she had the opportunity to break out of that one frame of mind her upbringing gave. 

“I really broke out of that mold but had to do some re-education, and I’ve done a lot of that re-education in the spotlight,” Perry said.

Moments before the livestream came to a close, Perry said “I think this year is really a year of reckoning and coming to terms. I think it’s so absolutely necessary and uncomfortable and painful, but rebirth was never meant to be neat and tidy.”

It’s been ten years since “Teenage Dream.” Whether you remember her for her jet black hair or her chandelier costume at the 2019 Met Gala, the pop star seems happy to share her journey and voice on “Smile” with fans Friday. She hopes “Smile” will bring light, hope, happiness, strength, fun and fantasy to listeners.