To understand this album, we need some backstory:

The only woman to achieve five #1 singles from one album has been Katy Perry. Achieving five hit singles in one album is something of a dream for most pop artist; The first and only other musician to do so (a man) was Michael Jackson with his iconic album, Bad. With her sophomore album Teenage Dream (2010), Katy skyrocketed into an international pop symbol. She quickly became one of pop music’s prominent faces of the 2010’s. But so many things can change in a decade, much more in a single year.

In only 7 years, she had 3 album cycles and 3 WORLD tours (One of the Boys – 2008, Teenage Dream – 2010, PRISM – 2013). She needed to rest. And with that rest came ideas for new music.

In 2017, an established Katy released her fourth album, Witness. Although it is a solid left-field pop album, it suffered from marketing, aesthetic cohesion, and an overall public disconnect. Marketing, marketing, marketing… it is ironically more critical in the streaming era more than ever.

The first single of Witness, Chained to The Rhythm, was a social commentary song. Katy said in interviews that the song was politically lenient, or “purposeful pop.” Unfortunately, the media took the keywords politically conscious and made it seem that the whole album would follow suit. As the singles and final album rolled out, we saw that it was a typical Katy pop album but with 80s throwback sound and no “political lyricism all over.” This set off a critic storm with Katy being labeled as fake woke.

With being on top of the world for so long, the Witness era started to feel like a tornado, causing Katy to spiral into depression and make somewhat questionable career moves. With fans coming after the pop star for bad lyrics and her blonde pixie cut, 2017 and 2018 was the fall of Katy Perry.

Marketing, marketing, marketing… it is ironically more critical in the streaming era more than ever.

Nonetheless, Katy has realized that her footprint in the music industry is set. It is up to her to continue her own story, not as Katy Perry, the pop-singer character, but as Katherine Hudson, now married, and as the mother of her first child. But as we can see with her new 2020 fifth studio album, SMILE, this unveiling of her true self is a small beginning.

SMILE may not be mind-blowing, but it is Katy at her best again.

Never Really Over does not set the tone of the album; and in honesty, neither does it make the rest of the track list.Anyway, we start with an electronic, calm, and airy track produced by Zedd. Interpolating Love You Like That by Norwegian pop singer Dagny, Zedd’s recent signature sound of ticking clocks and drums sprinkle around the background, giving this centralized synth song more depth than it has. In the background vocals, vocoders are heavily used for texture. Propulsive synth cords mixed with a tempo of 100 beats per minute makes this a faster paced Katy song. Singing of different past loves that never are really over, specifically as life experiences that you cannot simply delete from your life. Katy does a half sing/rap during the chorus that is surprisingly pleasant to the ear and one that will catch you out of breath at karaoke. NRO is definitely one of Katy’s strongest pop songs in recent years for its blunt yet straightforward lyricism and pleasant vocal delivery.

Cry About It Later goes into a mellow change in melody, where this new-wave pop track is overpowered by a thumping drum reminiscent of 80s pop (an arena Katy is excellent in). There are sprinkles of an electric guitar in the chorus, wherein the end of the track, we get this great solo that adds to the somber feeling of the lyrics. Katy’s vocals stay in her throat, meaning that she does not go low or high; she maintains the sense that she is talking the lyrics. As the title suggests, Katy tells herself to cry about her problems later, tonight we are having fun and drinking and dancing those problems away. The track takes time to get into, but lyrically it has a place in the album.

Teary Eyes is genuinely a banger that is reminiscent of her PRISM era. With the Nu-Disco sound, it is the track that wants to make you dance. It is reminiscent of Walking on Air from PRISM, where both songs make you get up and dance around, no matter who is in the room. The clean production provided by FRND and OZGO makes this club track a top discography contender.

It’s really about just dancing through your tears, and I’m like, “Wow, that really resonates – that slaps! That hits hard for me right now.”


– Katy Perry via Radio KC101 with Adam Rivers (June 2020)

Continuing the theme of SMILE (“after the rain comes the sunlight”) , Teary Eyes focuses on moving on through the tragedies and downfalls of your life. Out of all the club styled tracks in this album, this one is the one that will gut punch you with emotion, especially if you cannot get over someone or something right now. Katy’s vocal delivery is (once again) one of the cleanest in terms of melody and pronunciation.

It would be a literal tragedy if Teary Eyes was not made into a single.

Daisies, Daisies, DAISIES!!!  Technically the first single of the album, Daisies, has the typical pop song structure (with no real bridge). Still, it feels like a climax that never reaches to the point… instrumentally. The acoustic guitar and thumping bass makes Daisies feel modern and glimmer but not as warm as it tries to appeal as.  Nevertheless, Katy’s vocally frying by shouting Daisies is a… choice. It took me a while to get used to the shouting that occurs in the chorus, but once it sets in, it just makes sense. Now that the song clicks to me, its as if she is releasing the negative energy and hate out of her body and mind.  The song is a self-empowerment anthem to do what you feel is right, no matter what others think. It may not be Katy’s magnum opus, but it certainly is catchy and hypnotic. It is an anthem for those who have crazy goals and dreams that will actually be achievable—one of my lowkey favorites.

With track #5, Resilient showcases more of Katy’s vulnerability, speaking of coming over her darkest times and gaining personal strength in the meantime. Musically it is mellow and not much occurs. Strong violin or quarte styled strings act as the melody mover, and the groove is driven by a strong bass in the chorus. With “‘Cause I am resilient // A full flower moment // Won’t let the concrete hold me back, oh no,” Katy uses a lot of flower imagery, alluding to growth (or “bloom”) and the time it takes to be a healthy person, once again. This may not be a memorable track for the first few listens, but like Cry About It Later, lyricism and storytelling are undoubtedly the main focus of SMILE.

Not the End of the World has the most dramatic instrumentation of the album. Coming back to the club influences and mixing trap and electro-pop, the song does fall a bit flat (we get another climax that does not arrive). Nevertheless, we get more of the “don’t give up” anthem, this time fast-paced. During the verses, Katy half-raps couplets, and we get introduced to some of the circus themes that the album aesthetics provides for the era with lines such as:

You can take a frown, turn it all the way around

All the way around, all the, all the way around

A fortune teller told me, “The power’s in your mind”

As some other publications and fans have mentioned, the sampling of Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” fits awkward in the context of this “mature” album. A bit awkward to hear at first, but you get over it quickly.

Smile, the title track, is a cheerful dance-pop track that more-so summarizes Katy’s bounce back into being a strong person again. Musically it is an upbeat track filled with woos, saxophones, and trumpets. The original version included a verse by rapper Diddy who unfortunately does not show in the final version (for undisclosed reasons). Ironically the track is a sample of Jamboree by Naughty By Nature (Ft. Zhané). On this 1999 hip-hop sample, Katy and her team surprisingly made it more instrumentally filled while not messing up with the original structure of the track.

Overall, Smile is a feel-good track. Some call it too sweet or too “back to school commercial track” (which it literally is Target’s B-T-S track). A lot of religious imagery is used, with being grateful, and “Rejection can be God’s protection.

Even if you feel that you will be stuck in a rut for a while (like I have been lately), this track helps you to forget those feelings, even if it just for 3 minutes.

A groovy bass powers Champagne Problems ‘till the end. The disco-pop track arrives at a time where 80s nostalgia has overtaken the music industry in 2020. As I stated before, Katy has been the empress of 80s pop throwback, so for her, this is just another ribbon in her trophy case. With violins and groovy bass, Katy ponders back when she had relationship trouble with her now-husband Orlando Bloom, and she knows they will have highs and lows. Another unforgettable danceable track, to say the least .

Tucked still continues with disco-pop, but the sound is not as grandiose. In this track Katy switches the lyric content to fantasy; she fantasizes about being with someone that she wishes to be with, but cannot as it could be a grave mistake. Thus, this person will always be “tucked away inside my head.” The disco synths in this track are airier and softer, while an electric guitar keeps the track in full. I am sure this track is best enjoyed when fully drunk (and if you’re underage, ignore that part).

SMILE may not be mind-blowing, but it is Katy at her best again.

Harleys In Hawaii is another contender for Katy’s best songs in her discography. Although we see (or technically hear) Katy is in a calmer and sultry mood, this song pays homage to Hawaii and her husband. Harleys will still keep you moving your hips with this tropical track and its hypnotizing guitar. A true escapism song, Harleys is one of the most imagery songs on the album, describing the pink and purple skies and driving through the main island in the backseat of a Harley Davidson. Although this was a promo single from 2019, we certainly needed this track again in a crazy 2020. Katy’s howling in the background only hypnotizes you into loving this song even more.

Only Love has Katy pondering the hard-hitting question: what would you do if you had one day left to live? For her, choosing to focus on God, family, her husband, and daughter is her answer. Forget about the time wasted and regrets of the past; she wants to take all the love she can. A calm piano synth with choir harmonies, the gospel-like track is the falling action of the story that is SMILE. Not a memorable song, in my opinion, but definitely relatable to many out there. Especially those listeners who are religious and want to feel that they lived fulfilling lives.

What Makes A Woman is the finish line to Katy’s shortest album to date. Another calmer song, this folk-ballad, focuses on the issue of what makes a woman. With Katy receiving a lot of backlash over her physical appearance, such as her short hair during the Witness era, not only does she directly allude over that event but tells us that we could spend ages describing what makes a woman, a woman. But no one ever fully can, because all women are different in their own personal way. For Katy, being yourself is what makes a woman a woman.

With that, Katy tells herself on the last line of the album:

“(There it is, Katheryn)”

This signals us that Katy has found her groove and sense of identity that she has lost during the last 4 years. She can finally smile.

SMILE is an interesting mix of songs. It is not Katy’s strongest album, but it is her most robust collection. Katy will always be her quirky self with corny songs and lyrics here and there. But with SMILE, she knows that her life is at a new peak, and she now has mature life experiences to talk about and share with her listeners. With tracks such as Resilient and Daisies (which is the name of her daughter, by the way), we see a more personal Katy closely to that of the second half of the album PRISM. I honestly wished this album went a bit further in the details of Katy’s experiences. Still, I sense that she likes her music to be relatable to all who hear it. You should listen to this album if you’re craving self healing anthems, whether from a ex you cant move on from, or a battle you have overcome. Overall, with tracks such as Teary Eyes, Champagne Problems, and Harleys In Hawaii, we see that Katy definitely got her groove back.

Do you agree with my assessment? Do you disagree? Let me know in the comments.

Click below to find SMILE on all available streaming services and stores!

http://katy.to/smileID

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