Katy Perry – Smile (Album Review)

Over the past decade and change, Katy Perry has become a household name. Whether you know her as the beautiful Pop vixen with a vibrantly-colored aesthetic, a judge on ABC’s American Idol, or simply the world’s most glowing mommy-to-be, you know a little something about this 13-time Grammy Award nominee. Her sophomore disc, 2008’s One of the Boys, brought the songstress to global attention thanks to hits such as “I Kissed a Girl,” “Hot n Cold,” “Waking Up in Vegas,” and more. What followed, career wise, was a rocket blast up the charts as she went on to release 2010’s Teenage Dream, 2013’s Prism, and 2017’s Witness.

These days, Miss Perry is glowing with joy for a plethora of personal and professional reasons, but it’s all apropos for her new album, Smile, which arrives on Friday, August 28, 2020, thanks to Capitol Records. As is often the case on a top Pop LP, the 12-track collection was produced by a cavalcade of top names, including Grammy-winning The Monsters & Strangerz (Maroon 5, Camila Cabello), Zedd (Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande), FRND (5 Seconds of Summer, blackbear), Dreamlab (Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez), OZGO (Taylor Swift, Troye Sivan), and more.

Recently, Perry has let it be known in the press that the failure of her last release, Witness, to live up to her previous commercial success marked a tough time in her life. Smile, therefore, marks a renewal for the vocalist who openly explores the darkness along with the light, offering self-empowerment and hope amid her EDM-dusted Pop bops. Such is the case with the album’s opener, “Never Really Over,” which offers up a solid display of her vocal abilities. And though the song itself is lyrically a rather banal Pop offering, Perry works the opening in her favor to lure her listeners deeper into the belly of her latest.

As her grin begins to widen, a steady beat introduces “Cry About It Later.” The perfect dance floor anthem for the newly single, one with notes of melancholia that belie its carefree message, it’s a relatable track for all of those that have shed a tear in the name of love. As she continues to dance, the EDM backbone of “Teary Eyes” backs Perry while she dances away all the emotional pain. A flawless successor to “Cry About It Later,” this portion of the story amps the spinning of the disco ball and offers an even more enjoyable take on the concept. Though there’s something simple about the arrangement, it works beautifully for Perry who shines bright in moments such as this.

But she also glows from within when she digs deep. On “Daisies,” the vocalist delivers a heartfelt self-empowerment anthem aimed at those who are reaching for a dream but fighting the naysayers and those who are being told to change who they are to appease others. This stick to your guns moment beautifully displays her passion, along with some wonderfully artistic visual metaphors. It’s moment such as this that we see the title, Smile, is not meant to convey giddiness and elation, but rather a reminder that, even when the chips are down, there is hope.

Next, electronic strings back Perry as she promises to rise above, cover herself in flower power and be “Resilient.” While the anthem aims to be as equally powerful as its predecessor, it lacks the oomph of “Daisies.” And yet the track offers an impressive vocal performance from the songstress who will make you emphatically believe that we can all rise back up and conquer the world’s problems. And speaking of that world, the cinematic “Not The End of the World” pairs thick layers with ominous feels to create yet another anthem for hope.

A personal confession packaged as a bold Disco Pop bop, title track “Smile” sees Perry promising that every tear she has shed has been a lesson and she is stronger (and happier) now. While this is not the best thing you will ever hear from this artist, it’s hard to deny the infectious happiness related throughout each note. For her next offering, she opts to amalgamate a zillion styles into one rich package, “Champagne Problems.” With influences ranging from the 1920s and The Great Gatsby to R&B, put simply, this track wouldn’t be an utter shock if it popped up on a Panic! At The Disco LP. It’s different and, if you don’t overthink it, it works.

Unfortunately, Smile is not all self-empowerment and good times in Flapper dresses. There are moments that feel vapid and reek of filler, such as the poorly-titled “Tucked” and sultry but silly “Harleys in Hawaii.” And while the delicate sways of “Only Love” inject some tenderness into 2020, leaving behind the hate, the track never manages to attain the same level as some of its forebears amid the collection. Which is not to suggest that it’s not an addition with a beautiful message, much like the LP’s grand finale, “What Makes a Woman.” A Country-dusted ballad penned in honor of the vocalist’s daughter, the track offers a heartwarming moment with Perry and an acoustic guitar before electronic atmospherics shift the vibe and devalue the intimacy.

The crux of Smile is that it’s a mixed bag. As Perry sets aside the bubblegum and California sunshine to offer up a more serious side to her personality as an artist, she touches on topics that propel her music to new heights. And when she shines, she absolutely lights a room. Unfortunately, there some just plain dumb moments that detract from her sparkle and only serve to pad the track count. Largely a collection of Pop dusted in EDM notes, Smile definitely has moments of self-empowerment and heartfelt sincerity, reminders of the fierce woman that we first met 12 years ago. But is the sincere songstress who is unafraid to set her own trends with her ferocity becoming a Pop icon who follows the herd on her Harley? We can’t say, but Smile feels both hot and cold, yes and no. And for this, Cryptic Rock gives Katy Perry’s latest 3.5 of 5 stars.

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