Katy Perry Revisits Her Pure Pop Roots in Upcoming Album ‘Smile’


(Courtesy Christine Hahn)

By Cade Anderson, Arts Writer


Those of us college students who were in our formative, early adolescent years when “Teenage Dream” was released ten years ago are likely to feel some nostalgia — or some strong memories resurfacing from that era — when finding out that Katy Perry is releasing her fifth album, titled “Smile,” on Aug. 28, 2020.

Like other iconic female pop artists of the past decade, Perry’s been known to move through different eras in both her music and her presentation to the world — each associated with unique colors, imagery and themes. In a recent press conference for “Smile,” she noted that while she’s experimented with many new styles recently — and is interested in making house-dance and acoustic records in the future — “Smile” is a return to her early, most famous pop work. Perry said that her latest record “is a lot like the tones of ‘Prism’ and ‘Teenage Dream.’ It’s pure pop. And I love that. I like leaning into that aspect of my life.” She said, “The record is synonymous with themes like hopefulness and joy. There’s a little escapism.”

Her single released from the album on July 10, also titled “Smile,” clearly exudes the same bright, bubbly energy that skyrocketed her to fame in 2008. But this era of hers is also noticeably new — Perry explained that lyrics like “Had a piece of humble pie / That ego check saved my life” express the courage it’s taken her in recent years to honestly acknowledge her failures and to treat them as the growing pains of becoming an adult. Perry said, “Maybe these themes are a little bit more mature. I’ve grown up with my audience. Some of you remember me with black or blue hair and all the candy.” She continued, “And there are still obviously thirteen-year-old girls that love the music and I love that. I do like to write my songs in a way that has an appeal to a younger audience, but it’s layered. You can dive into it if you want.”

Perry described the whimsical and over-saturated attitude of “Smile,” as well as her clown attire in its music video and album art, as an attempt to “use humor to bring levity to the seriousness of life.” However, the dizzying, glittery tunes of this album may land a little tone-deaf to some — in the midst of a global pandemic and a nationwide struggle against race and class oppression. Unfortunately, Perry’s name has been trending recently in headlines and on Twitter not only in anticipation for her upcoming album, but also in disdain for her continued defense of Ellen DeGeneres, as workers’ claims mount of verbal abuse by DeGeneres herself and sexual harassment by executive producers of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” 

That said, talking with Perry about her upcoming album was an interesting opportunity for me to not only get a glimpse of the singer-songwriter’s creative process but to also step back to ten years ago and evaluate how I’ve changed — and not changed at all — since the days of dancing to “Hot N Cold” with my middle school best friends on “Just Dance” for the Wii. I think Perry knows her album will serve as a time machine for many young adult listeners — and I think her intention for us with “Smile” is that we will feel gratitude for our teenage selves while also looking to the future of tumultuous adulthood with optimism.


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