The queen of candy pop (and my heart) AND new mother (one word: p o w e r h o u s e) proves once more her skills as a performer with her new album ‘Smile.’ 10 years after her second album ‘Teenage Dream’ was released, which dominated the charts one single at a time, Katy has shown again that while she is proud of her pop legacy, she is a diverse singer and able to master a variety of styles, and continues to shine in both realms.
Katy Perry is a strong force in the music world. Beginning as a singer in a choir, she released eponymous studio album ‘Katy Hudson’ in 2001, while still a teenager. Since her debut album with Capitol Records, ‘One of the Boys,’ was released in 2008, she has since released three more – ‘Teenage Dream,’ ‘Prism’ and ‘Witness.’ Her 2015 Super Bowl performance is the highest-rated in the history of the event, and she is one out of a mere five artists to have topped 100 million certified units with their digital singles. She is also the first artist from Capitol Records to have scored a place amongst the RIAA 100 Million Certified Songs club.
And she has certainly been busy during the lockdown period. Building up to the release of ‘Smile,’ she has not only released several of the songs, but she has also performed them while in quarantine, on shows such as the Good Morning America Concert Series (her performance of ‘Daisies’ on the finale of American Idol was an artistic, mind-bending euphoria). She has released an acoustic performance of ‘What Makes A Woman,’ both released AND revamped her soft but powerful song ‘Daisies’ (check out the original and then the Can’t Cancel Pride version – proof of her ability to expertly shapeshift her songs), revealed Smile-themed merchandise, and now, has begun to debut the Smile Video Series. I am so excited for the music video series, as I love when artists expand their music into the visual – and Katy Perry is certainly providing an aesthetic wonderland in her Smile-era styles, videos and lockdown performances.
I can’t deny how excited I was to listen to Katy Perry’s new music, even more so to be reviewing it. ’Teenage Dream’ shaped my teenage years, and I was truly awestruck when I saw her perform live at the 2011 ‘California Dreams’ tour. ‘Smile’ was therefore a complete burst of nostalgia for me – it possesses that iconic Katy Perry signature stamp through her distinctive voice, while still embedding a maturity to match the life events that Perry has experienced.
The songs ‘Smile’ and ‘Daisies’ in particular embody this journey. While the former expresses a sense of pure relief in overcoming a dark period in her life and now embracing the sunshine, the latter reinforces her resilience in remaining committed to herself, and her powerful stance of not changing for anyone. And I think this is what has always struck me about Katy Perry without me even realising – her strong sense of identity.
‘Smile’ has a real electronic-discotheque feel to it, and teaches listeners that sometimes, “Rejection can be God’s protection,” and that the road to success is worth the curveballs thrown into the mix. The music video depicts Katy navigating herself through a circus-themed video game, culminating in her championing the enemy with a cream pie…which she smashes into her own face. She literally releases herself from puppet strings, as she evolves from the puppet to the master of her own destiny. The moral is obviously that in order to succeed as your true self, sometimes you must embrace the silly, and learn to be easier on and ultimately laugh at yourself – the key to freedom. The happy-go-lucky song is the musical embodiment of confetti, and shows great gratitude; as she admits herself, it is “a great reminder that I made it through” those dark times. While this song really grew on me, I was instantly in love with ‘Daisies.’ It is ethereal, a real outpouring of emotion, and a reminder to persist, with the hard-hitting chorus line “They tell me that I’m crazy / But I’ll never let them change me / ‘Til they cover me in daisies” reinforcing this. It almost laments the loss of hope that dreamers go through, with “When did we all stop believing in magic?”, but powers through by reminding listeners they they can be the “long-shot,” the “One in seven billion” – why not, Katy sings, her voice mystical, soaring through the song. Despite both songs varying in style and mood, they both hark back to the same moral – to just be yourself.
Yet the singer once more displays her diversity with the chilled, beachy ‘Harleys in Hawaii.’ A dreamy song that could get you lost in the fantasy, Katy sings “There’s pink and purple in the sky, / We’re ridin’ Harleys in Hawaii.” It is alluring, deep, and makes a fantastic holiday song, harvesting the art of being both laid-back but also intense.
The stripped-back, acoustic ‘What Makes a Woman’ reminds me of ‘Thinking Of You’ from her first album ‘One of the Boys’ – you’re welcome, fellow-veteran fans. In this one, Katy hits hard that there is no perfect ideal for women, and that they are at their most powerful being unapologetically themselves. She highlights how women can both show their emotions and be beacons of empowerment, as she admits herself, “I need tissues for my issues / And band-aids for my heart.” It is softly sung, but interjected with “I feel most beautiful doing what the fuck I want,” a real middle finger up to anyone who does try to impose standards and change her. The song concludes with the answer – “Is it the way we keep / The whole world turning / In a pair of heels / Yeah that’s what makes a woman / – There it is, Katheryn.” What I love about it is that the title suggests that she is searching for this ideal, but once the song starts, this message of individuality comes shining through – it is immediately evident that she already knows the answer.
‘Smile’ shows that Katy Perry can still be the colourful, sugary-sweet singer we all know and love, but she has such depth and diversity to her too. As she has always proven in her varied range, and listening to her latest music, it is clear that she is an undeniable performer and a true artist. She can illuminate a room with her energy, her animated, almost cartoon-like performances bringing her music to life, spit out the words to her hardier, edgier songs with real conviction (‘Circle The Drain,’ I’m looking at you), and belt out those high notes, but she knows how to capture and indeed, captivate an audience with her softer songs too. Katy Perry’s candy era will be forever iconic, but her new album is a real force to be reckoned with – and long may her music reign on.