EXCLUSIVE: Katy Perry returns to pop music in ‘Smile,’ reflects on decade

Katy Perry's fifth studio album, "Smile" comes out this Friday, Aug. 28. The album marks the artist's return to the familiar genre of pop music. Photo courtesy of Christine Hahn

Iman Mekonen, Spectrum Editor

Through her colorful wigs, vibrant music videos and catchy pop anthems, Katy Perry emerged at the beginning of the 2010s as a prominent pop vocalist. The average college student has grown up with her radio-friendly music and witnessed her role in defining pop music, but as listeners grow and develop, so do musicians and their sounds. 

“In some ways, some of you remember me with the black hair or the blue hair. And, you know, all the candy and all that stuff,” Perry said in a Zoom press conference, “and now you are becoming adults, and you’re dealing with a lot of different things. You’re having to have your own jobs, your own lives, you’re dealing with college, you’re dealing with all the variables of this year.”

After experimenting with electronic dance music in 2017’s “Witness,” Perry returns to her pop roots in the release of her fifth studio album, “Smile,” which contains themes of hopefulness, resilience, joy and escapism.

Perry sat down with reporters from several publications, including The Commonwealth Times, to talk about “Smile” and the journey to this point in her career. 

As Perry’s career has progressed, the artist shared that she has grown up with her audience. Photo courtesy of Christine Hahn

“I do think that this record musically is a lot like some of the tones of ‘Prism’ and ‘Teenage Dream,’” Perry said. “It’s really pure pop, and I love that. I like leaning into the pure pop aspect of my life.”

“Teenage Dream” celebrated its 10th anniversary on Monday, prompting Perry to think about the past decade and how she has grown as both a musician and a person.

As an adult and soon-to-be mother, Perry said she’s constantly sharing her journey, and “Smile” represents a piece of her growth and maturity. 

“Yes, maybe these themes are a little bit more mature but I think everybody’s kind of grown up,” Perry said. “I’ve grown up with my audience a little bit, and we’re growing together … and it’s nice. It’s like we’re raising each other.”

Perry said her experience with clinical depression allowed her to come to terms with her emotions and find the strength to find alternative ways to look at life. 

“I wrote this record during one of the darkest times of my life, where I didn’t really plan for the next day or didn’t necessarily want to,” Perry said. “I was very flatlined.”

Out of the 12 tracks on the album, Perry said “It’s Not the End of the World” has taken a completely new meaning since the start of the pandemic. The album’s original release date was altered due to production delays. She said that while creating the album, her mental health mixed with the general state of the world made it difficult to change perspectives. 

“It’s like I was just in this negative loop… once I figured out there was another way to look at life, I started seeing it with a different view,” Perry said. “There’s a lot of weird parallels, now, like, it does feel like the end of the world. Sometimes, every day is different.”

Perry said songs that acknowledge past failures took the most courage to write because of the entertainment industry’s value of perfectionism. 

Finding alternative ways to look at life helped Perry to overcome challenges presented by her clinical depression. Photo courtesy of Christine Hahn

“Life gets real the longer that you live it, but it does get more expansive if you can survive it,” the musician said.

Going through a mixture of high and low emotions has humbled Perry’s understanding of life, she said.

“A part of me is like, I just want to have an Instagram, where I just only post pictures of when I’m crying,” Perry said. “Like do you ever take a picture of yourself when you’re crying? No, but I’m going to start doing it so I can remind myself that those moments exist.”

A constant theme throughout Perry’s discography is humor, which she said she has often used as a coping mechanism and a way to survive. Perry referenced the video for “California Gurls” as an example of this. 

“I wasn’t taking myself seriously when I was, you know, spewing whipped cream out of my boobs, I knew that — Hello! I’m in on the joke!” Perry said. “But I continue to use humor as a way to kind of bring a little levity to the seriousness of life.”

On the album’s final song, “What Makes a Woman,” Perry explores the complexities of womanhood through introspective lyrics complimented with a soft guitar melody. 

“It’s almost a trick question, because if you can actually answer what makes a woman — and have it, not just continue on forever and ever and ever and ever, spinning out into the universe,” Perry said, “if you have some definite statement, you may not be a woman, because it’s so expansive, it’s so beautifully complex and undefinable.”

Looking back on her career, Perry said she has grown and learned to be grateful rather than embarrassed about past mistakes. She described herself as being a “pragmatic optimist,” rather than an ignorant blissful one. 

“I think this year is like really a reckoning, a year of reckoning and coming to terms,” Perry said. “I think it’s so absolutely necessary and uncomfortable and painful, but rebirth was never meant to be neat and tidy.”

Perry believes that fans have the most power in the musician and fan relationship. Because of this, she “feels like the court jester.” Photo courtesy of Christine Hahn

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