By Jeremy Silverman
Having just celebrated the ten year anniversary of her record-breaking album, Teenage Dream, Katy Perry is gearing up for her newest project: Smile.
It’s no secret that Katy’s career has not been at a consistent high since 2010, when California Girls and Teenage Dream dominated the charts, radio, and our headphones. On a Zoom call with Katy, who used her real name (Katheryn Hudson) on the chat, the singer spoke honestly about the ups and downs in her career.
“The people have the power, have the power, have the power,” Katy emphasized. “I can make a record that I love, but it’s up to the world to listen to it…nobody has to listen to my music.”
And, although Katy’s 2017 album Witness was not a disappointment by the measurement of any other artist, the album was not received as well as Katy had hoped. It was too experimental and controversial for an artist like Katy Perry. The sounds were more mechanical. She was explicitly in a darker place than normal. The album was not cohesive sonically.
In that time, Katy found herself without a smile. When you reach your peak so early in your career, it’s easy to feel underwhelmed by a monumental success that doesn’t reach the same peak. As one of the defining pop stars of the 21st Century, Katy has different standards.
Witness was jarring. In the three days before the album release, Katy live-streamed herself doing everything. Hosting a dinner for powerful women. Spilling her guts to James Corden. And even going live for a therapy session. The Witness era was vulnerable. And not well-received. In turn, Katy felt like she was “over.” Her time in the spotlight was done.
However, as the Witness era dissolved (and her relationship with Taylor Swift was mended after a very public feud), Katy learned to balance her life outside of music. She learned to separate Katheryn Hudson from the alter ego Katy Perry.
Personally, Katy is living her own life and doing her career how she wants. “I’m pregnant right now, so I have a new outlook on what’s important,” Katy sighed. “This year is awakening. Rebirth is never meant to be neat and tidy.”
Katy is embodying the mindset of messiness this year, and letting it roll off her shoulders. And it’s palpable in her new album. Titled Smile, Katy is enjoying her smile. “[My smile] might come and go, but now I know how to put in the work to get it back,” she said. “I know I can get it back.”
Sonically, this album is pure pop. It’s fun. It’s dance. But it’s also more acoustic. It’s slower. “Genre is an old narrative. Eff that!” Katy said. She pointed out how her music is changing and evolving while staying the same. She feels more freedom. But also more responsibility.
“My audience has grown with me.” She’s not wrong. On the Zoom call were about hundred college students who were barely in middle school when Teenage Dream came out. “You guys used to be so carefree. Now you’re independent. Dealing with real problems.”
Katy has reached a point in her career (and life) where maturity feels natural, not forced. Witness was Katy trying to assert her “liberation” and power. But, on Smile, she doesn’t have to let you know she’s happy and in control because it comes across in her raw emotion.
She knows her place. She knows her values. And that’s how Katy got her “smile” back.