Most of us remember singing and dancing along to songs such as “California Gurls," “Teenage Dream,” and “Last Friday Night” during middle school. In the past couple of years, "Roar" has turned into an empowering anthem. It is undeniable that Katy Perry has been a major player in the music scene from our childhoods until today.
In a recent press conference with college outlets, organized by Universal Music Group’s °1824 (the music corporation's college marketing division), Perry talked about her most recent album Smile. She discussed how her sound evolved with her fans, how the record compares to her past discography, and the way the themes behind the album are especially relevant today.
Perry has musically evolved since her first album, Katy Hudson, not only in terms of the sound, but also in regard to the themes she explores. She mentions that this evolution naturally happened as she matured with her fans.
“I've grown up with my audience a little bit, and we're growing together— it's nice. It's like we're raising each other,” Perry says. “There are still obviously like 13–year–old girls that love the music, and I love that... But also, like, when I write ‘Peacock,’ it's not just about a bird. It's layered. There's a wink there, you know? You can dive into it if you want to.”
The artist discusses the process behind the writing of the album, saying that it was written during one of the “darkest times of [her] life” as she was dealing with clinical depression. Even though it takes courage to publicly discuss those parts of her life, she used the album as a way to look at the world with a different perspective.
Although the album was written during a very difficult time, there is a current of comic relief through some of the songs. Perry admits that one of the themes of the record is a “clownery of sorts.”
She says, “I've always felt a little bit like the court jester. And I've always had a little bit of humor injected into everything I do in self–deprecation. And like, 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. But I continue to use humor as a way to kind of bring a little levity to the seriousness of life.”
She compares this to the way a lot of comedians use comic relief as a way to cope with the darkness of their lives, using humor as a “way to survive.”
This theme of clownery is explored in the music video of “Smile,” the track the album is named after. In the video, Perry is seen playing a video game, choosing a character named “Sad Clown.”
However, this song also displays the way her music has matured and is a prime example of the other major themes in the album. Perry mentions that even though the record is very musically similar to Teenage Dream and Prism with its “pure pop” genre, it explores more serious themes through the lyrics.
This can be found as soon as the album's eponymous song, "Smile," begins: “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 (smile).” Later in the song, Perry says, “But every tear has been a lesson / Rejection can be God's protection / Long hard road to get that redemption / But no shortcuts to a blessin'.”
“I think the record [Smile] is synonymous with themes like helpfulness, resilience, joy. There's a little escapism. Like, you know, there's a song called 'Cry About It Later,' which is really about drinking too much champagne on ice and getting under someone to get over someone. And sometimes you just need that,” Perry says.
"Cry About It Later" explores this idea of escapism with a common narrative, going out and drinking in order to forget someone. Perry sings: "I'll cry about it later / Tonight I'm gettin' some / Tonight I'm gettin' somethin' brand new / I know tomorrow I'll be love hungover / But I'm ready for a shameless summer / Champagne on ice only makes you stronger."
The music video is a twist on the typical fairy tale. It shows Perry as the protagonist who, instead of a princess, is a witch who uses her magic broom to look for her "somethin' brand new." Even though the song has a somber undertone, it almost feels freeing and empowering.
The fifth track of the album, "Resilient," is an example of the major themes in the record, as well as the process behind writing it. The song assures the listener that even though there may be tough times in life, they make us the people we are today. She sings: "'Cause I am resilient / A full flower moment / Won't let the concrete hold me back."
The music video, which is also a part of The Smile Video Series, shows a tree growing despite harsh conditions around it. It is a reference to the chorus of the song, "I am resilient / Born to be brilliant / You'll see me grow right through the cracks / Yeah, 'cause you're gonna watch this flower grow / Right through the cracks."
The video has references to Perry's previous songs. One of these hints is a plastic bag floating around, with the text, "Do You Ever Feel Like Me?" alluding to the iconic lyrics of her song "Firework." Even though her past may have led her to many difficult situations, such as her recent battle with depression, she has managed to "[survive] all the weather" as the song suggests.
Even though the album was written about her own experience with depression, Perry recognizes the relevance the album can carry to everyone today. In a country going through a pandemic, a battle against racial injustice, and an unstable political climate, she hopes the themes of helpfulness, resilience, and joy can resonate with many.