Our Take: 3/5 Stars
Katy Perry’s new album, “Smile,” is named very aptly – the catchy lyrics and positive message can bring a smile to anyone’s face. She released it on Friday, Aug. 28, just days after the 10th anniversary of one of her greatest hits, “Teenage Dream.”
Over the last few years, Perry has strayed from the epicenter of American pop music. While her older songs, such as “Teenage Dream” and “Birthday,” gained massive popularity over the years, her newer singles have all but disappeared into irrelevance.
Part of the obscurity of Perry’s new music can be attributed to the “Old Town Road” and “WAP” era. The epicenter of music has shifted from upbeat pop music to unpredictable TikTok-boosted songs. There is no longer a recipe to create a hit pop song as there was in the ‘00s.
The cover of the “Smile” features Perry frowning at the camera, wearing a cartoonish red clown nose — very telling of the silly, upbeat nature of the album. But in times like these, Katy Perry was quickly accused of being removed from the reality of the times when the cover first came out. How does one smile with everything going on in the world?
In the song, Perry plays a colorful video game, an unusual concept for pop songs, which are more typically about relationships and love. The video game features Perry’s caricature, introducing a fun, lightweight feel to the music video. The repetitive lyrics — “Scratch that, baby, I’m grateful” — and upbeat rhythms are very reminiscent of her older music. In times like these, when everyone is returning to older pop music to lift their spirits, “Smile” may be just what listeners need.
What sets “Smile” apart from Perry’s 2000s music, though, is purpose. Dubbed “purposeful pop” by a New York Times review, Perry’s intention with this album is simple — to make people “marginally happier than [they felt] three and half minutes prior.” And for the most part, the songs in “Smile” accomplish this goal. Perry’s newest venture into “purposeful pop” leaves people nodding along to the beat, no doubt with a smile on their faces.
“Smile” also sits comfortably in the middle of Perry’s older music — silly, fun and upbeat — and possibly, her music in the future: pop songs that have meaning and purpose beyond their concept. What really stands out in “Smile,” however, is not its resemblance to Perry’s hits, but to her first more sincere venture into music — that is, it brings back memories of her first ecstatic Christian-rock record.
Though this album may be very different from Perry’s earlier alt-rock and her faith may have shifted, the idea is the same — to trust that things will, in fact, be okay.