Whether you follow the pop music scene or not, you know the name Katy Perry. Her music defined the early 2010s, with now-ubiquitous songs like “I Kissed a Girl,” “Hot n Cold,” “Firework,” “E.T.,” “California Gurls,” “Teenage Dream,” “T.G.I.F.,” “Roar,” and “Dark Horse” consistently topping the charts. In 2016, she made her foray into a more electropop sound with hits “Chained to the Rhythm” and “Swish Swish.” Now, after a two-year hiatus and the birth of her daughter Daisy Dove, Perry returns with her sixth studio album SMILE.
One of the most daunting challenges we face as musicians is the pressure to constantly create. If your audience hears something they like from you, they immediately expect not just more, but better. Often it feels as if there’s no time to simply rest...no writing, performing, or creating, just being. This is just one example of how talent and fame take their toll on the mental health of creators.
Pop icon and activist Katy Perry is no stranger to the struggles of maintaining mental health as an artist. She wrote her sixth studio album SMILE, which drops on August 28, during “one of the darkest times in [her] life.” In a press conference hosted by Universal Music Group’s °1824, Perry shared: “I’d only dealt with depression in short, small bouts that I felt like I could fix—but this I couldn’t fix. SMILE speaks about my own experience of walking through [depression] and coming out alive.” The record also pays homage to the way Perry’s audience has grown up with her, sonically returning to the pure-pop roots of Teenage Dream and Prism while covering themes that are more mature and relatable to her young-adult audience. In a time when the landscape of society is changing rapidly and many of us are isolated from our loved ones, SMILE’s messages of hopefulness, resilience, and the power of changing your mindset are nothing short of timely.
Through the course of the album, Perry truly shares her journey with her listeners. The groovy title track “Smile” takes us through her battle with depression and facing failure, as a catchy background saxophone figure punctuates lyrics that speak to her growth and resilience. “Only Love” is a gospel-flavored anthem reflecting on the brevity of life, the power of love, and putting things in perspective. “What Makes a Woman,” written while Perry was pregnant with her first child, is a trick-question of a song that celebrates the beautiful complexity of women, the harmony flowing effortlessly from a hazy fingerpicked guitar line into a driving yet subtle beat. The record also features collaborations with other well-known figures in the music industry: “Never Really Over,” a boppy lament for a failed long-term relationship, was produced by the talented DJ Zedd. The ethereal guitar riff that runs through “Daisies” is the mark of singer-songwriter Jon Bellion, who co-wrote this ode to Perry’s unlikely journey from small-town girl to pop superstar. And Charlie Puth’s influence is clear in the active bass line and cool synth pads of the escapist track “Harleys in Hawaii,” his co-write about the security of a lazy vacation afternoon with the person you love.
After a break from the scene, SMILE is a refreshingly honest, realistic, yet optimistic return to music for Katy Perry—one that resonates even stronger with her audience in the COVID-19 era. With this record, she establishes herself once again as a vocalist and songwriter to be reckoned with; let’s hope that we’ll get to see her masterful stage presence in action once it’s safe to hold concerts again!