By: Amanda Alvarez
Katy Perry, one of the 2010’s pop sweethearts, has reemerged after 3 years with Smile.
A decidedly upbeat album with themes of running on nostalgia while also overcoming every obstacle, Smile captures a sense of sadness and longing that’s disguised in the frills of pop. The album is personified by the danceable “Teary Eyes”; it is an affirmation that the sadness you experiencing will soon be over, and to not let it impede your enjoyment of life. To “just keep on dancin’ with those teary eyes” is the experience that most have — usually our struggles don’t completely stop our lives, just dampen them until the clouds clear.
And how the clouds have cleared for Perry. In a press release (via Capital Records), Perry revealed that she “wrote this record in one of the darkest times of [her] life… [She] had flat-lined.” The album’s progression can be seen as somewhat of a funhouse mirror for her experiences. Being knocked down, recuperating and coming into her own with unparalleled levels of confidence and hope for the future; resilience is the name of the game here, and is captured in the eponymous track. “Daisies” carries that theme, expounding on the idea that you shouldn’t let go of your fantasies just because the status quo says so. She won’t let go of her hopes and dreams, and refuses to go along with the idea that out of 7 billion people in the world, she doesn’t have a chance. She almost yells the line “they tell me that I’m crazy, but I’ll never let ’em change me/’til they cover me in daisies, daisies, daisies”, her voice triumphant and self-assured. Considering the first album Perry put out sold about 200 copies, the pop icon has a point.
The tone shifts at the midway point with the title track, “Smile,” a ridiculously happy track that is picture perfect for commercial use à la Pharrell’s “Happy.” It still follows through with the theme of resilience, as the line “Gotta say it’s really been a while/But now I got back that smile” hints at. It masks its sentiments of feeling like a fraud, like one’s life isn’t really their own, behind the bright, bubblegum tones of electronic horns and sparkly transitions. “Champagne Problems” dials the radio to a different station, with a meaty bass and juicy strings to sink your teeth into. The shift between major and minor key brings home the idea of moving past your struggles, to where they’re “champagne” — as ephemeral as the bubbles in her drink of choice. This also calls back to “Teary Eyes,” where she mentions wine-stained lips; these same lips have now moved towards the celebratory cousin, champagne.
Perry’s unique sound in “Champagne Problems,” along with her incorporation of guitar in the latter half of “Cry About it Later” reinforces her travels “all over the sonic landscape.” “Harleys in Hawaii” also emphasizes this point, opening with a stripped-back beat and acoustic guitar. Her voice is brought in and out of plane, a slight echo giving the track the daydream quality that the lyrics convey. It’s simply a celebration of a relationship going well, and enjoying time with your lover. It starkly contrasts the theme of “Tucked”, where Perry keeps her fantasies about an unattainable lover to herself, where she can project them anywhere in the world. “Only Love” is an incredibly fitting penultimate track. Throughout Smile, Perry has reflected on her growth and has begun coming into herself and her love. “Only Love” exposes her humility and admits to how she feels like life is somewhat fleeting, but she has chosen to spend it focusing on the wrong things. Now, she wants to spread ‘only love’, and let those she loves know how she really feels.
“What Makes a Woman” wraps this album in a way that illuminates so much about its subtly feminine nature. Her definition of what makes a woman is, well, not a definition. There is no way to define what makes a woman besides the inherent divine feminine that resides within each. So much of the album feels like what many women go through: the constant uphill battle against societal and self-imposed expectations, along with the idea that many women are so much more resilient, so much stronger than anyone thinks (including themselves). Women have been my rock throughout my life — my mother, stepmother, my decade-long childhood friendship — with an ability to care, nurture, and listen that is unparalleled. Perry taps into that sense of womanly love and directs it towards herself, allowing us as the listeners to sit in and realize the raw strength and understanding of the women that we know.
Smile deserves all the roses it will undoubtedly receive, and Perry deserves every daisy.
Songs to Save: “Daisies,” “Champagne Problems,” “Resilient,” “Tucked,” “Only Love,” “What Makes a Woman”
Songs to Skip: “Smile,” “Cry About It Later”
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