Living through a pandemic has caused individuals from all backgrounds to experience loss, grief, and isolation. These emotions are hard to process, but Katy Perry is showing us it’s possible with the debut of her newest album, Smile. After releasing five critically acclaimed pop albums, Perry is aware of the anticipation that her new record carries. She released Smile on August 28, 2020, in a moment where the world is suffering through a deadly virus, racial injustice, and worsening climate change. The content of the album is much lighter than the reality of our world, a lightness that’s needed during these darker times.
Before Smile, Perry’s discography was consistent, every album fitting perfectly into the pop genre and focusing on the challenges of her highly publicized love life. She not only focused on young romance with songs like “Teenage Dream,” but she also expressed her feelings of heartbreak through songs like “The One that Got Away.” Despite her candidness on love, Perry has dealt with personal demons that she’s kept private from the world—until now. Smile is a result of those demons being dealt with, and for once Perry is allowing her self-love to be the forefront of her music, a love that’s been essential to her mental well-being.
Perry has described her new album as a “journey towards the light, with stories of resilience, hope, and love.” This journey was necessary for her, since she created most of the album after a dark period of depression. Creating new music became a large contributor to her healing, which is clear in the song “Resilient”: “I am resilient/Born to be brilliant/You’ll see me grow right through the cracks, yeah.” This theme is important in today’s climate, where many people feel broken down by the pandemic. On some level, Perry’s tracks can strengthen our confidence and push us through personal hardship.
Coincidentally, Perry released the album the same week she gave birth to her daughter. It seems there wasn’t a better time to release her album about strength and optimism than after becoming a new mother. Her daughter’s name, Daisy, is curiously similar to the title of the fourth track “Daisies.” In the song, Perry speaks about the people who didn’t believe in her, and how she proved them wrong: “They said I’m going nowhere, tried to count me out/Took those sticks and stones, showed ‘em I could build a house.” Perry is acknowledging her ability to persevere against all odds and remain confident in her skills.
In “Not the End of the World,” Perry hints at the current pandemic that’s harming lives across the globe. Instead of singing a ballad to evoke tears in the listener, Perry chooses to be optimistic about the future. She sings: “No, not the end of the world/Throw on your fancy attire, fears in the fire/Don’t lose hope.” Hope is hard to come by these days, and Perry lets us experience it throughout her album.
The title track of the album, “Smile,” is an upbeat pop song about our ability to regain happiness after a period of depression. Perry sings: “Yeah, I’m thankful/Scratch that, baby, I’m grateful/Gotta say it’s really been a while/But now I got back that smile.” This song encompasses the powerful notion embedded throughout the album: that we can persevere through pain and regain our happiness.
It’s difficult to ignore the palpable parallels between Perry’s new album and that of her former nemesis, Taylor Swift. Swift released her quarantine-inspired folklore in July, an album that critics have praised for its lyrical depth and stylistic choices. Swift and Perry were caught in a public feud for many years, which ended in 2019. Ironically, since then, both have switched up their musical styles. Perry went from creating bubble-gum pop romance songs to disco tracks about self-love. Meanwhile, Swift ventured away from her pop break-up anthems to alternative folk tales. It seems as if the ending of their public feud has caused them to parallel each other in their career choices, both choosing to surprise the world with new versions of themselves this year.
Some music reviewers have criticized Perry’s new album, stating that the optimistic lyrics are cringe worthy and cliché. Still, there’s no denying that Smile fills our minds with moments of positivity and resilience, two feelings that the world needs more of in 2020.