Smile is the fifth addition to Katy Perry’s discography of pop juggernauts – and although the LP mostly lacks in ear-catching lyricism, Perry’s vocal delivery and radiant attitude layered on infectious instrumentation make Smile one of 2020’s most pleasing pop releases yet.
Returning to your favorite streaming service after 2017’s Witness, global superstar Katy Perry hits the digital airwaves once more with her latest studio record, entitled Smile.
On it, the 35-year-old singer explores the central theme of joy and gratitude – convincing audiences to turn their attention to the positive side of existence, regardless of whatever inconvenience might try and stop them from doing so.
The tracks on this record can largely be categorized into two – songs of pure emotional bliss and euphoria, of trauma converted into self-empowerment, with the occasional somewhat thematically detached, yet still enjoyable tracks about love and sex.
Within the first category, Smile presents most of the record’s highlights – but also one of its biggest problems.
Opening it with a Zedd-infused synth-pop production, Never Really Over is nothing less than stadium-sized soul food.
Reminiscent of Perry’s usual bubblegum-type naivité of songwriting, the track explores the possibilities of rekindling a past romance.
Adding a captivating running synth, groovy production, and with the aforementioned innocence of lyrical optimism (later becoming a leitmotif of the record in its entirety), Never Really Over is a surefire album standout.
Daisies marks one of the first moments on the album where a track feels like a much-needed hug from our singer-songwriter.
With a self-empowerment anthem reminiscent of Katy Perry circa Prism, the production sports a less familiar, stripped-down production.
While containing slight trap-esque elements, the track is marked by the encouraging chords of an acoustic guitar and atmospheric, yet down-to-earth background instrumentation.
Combined with the striking visual metaphor leading its track – staying true to one’s self in grotesque environments such as daisies next to a grave – Daisies blossoms into a wonderful musical pick-me-up.
With yet another song promoting self-confidence, Resilient presents Witness-like vocal acrobatics from Perry layered on minimal production.
The song presents itself as a slight dud due to its instrumentation and lyricism, the former oftentimes seeming empty and overpowered by Perry’s vocal performance.
The lyrical work is at times excessively flowery and on-the-nose, which usually works on a Katy Perry track. This time, however, it falls flat and leads to overly-artificial lyricism.
The singer sports top-notch belting on the track’s post-bridge section, a saving grace to the Sims-like Buy Mode music arrangement of the instrumental.
The title track of the record, Smile sees its first frown-worthy moment.
Perry’s singing technique and the instrumentation behind it clash too often than not, with a grating vocal delivery layered on a production that would ultimately prosper without it, sans an empty bridge that leads to the usual grating chorus.
The song, however positive a message it bears, is nothing but a loud and distracting filler moment on an otherwise pleasurable listening experience.
Only Love and What Makes a Woman close the record on its highest lyrical and sentimental moments, with the former being a track on which Perry imagines her last day on Earth and promotes her personal manifesto.
Here, she aims her focus towards life’s constant positives that help lift her up, such as family, her relationship with God, and love. It’s a sweet, gleeful reminder of life at its best – one that 2020 desperately needed.
The latter track, painted with the sonic worldbuilding of a folk ballad, is a soft hymn to women, femininity, and their ultimate power.
With Perry contemplating on what really defines a woman, she realizes how it is multidimensionality that best describes the sex.
The song presents clever and empowering lyricism from the singer, making it one of Smile’s ultimate creative and conceptual peaks.
For the trauma-turned-power roster of the album, Smile sees its first likewise moment with Cry About It Later, a feet-tapping, kickdrum-based track.
The track presents Perry deciding to prioritize the present rather than to dwell on a failed romance.
With the ’80s inspired drum machines, robotic background vocals present on the bridge, and a punching guitar solo, Cry About It Later becomes a definite album standout.
Similarly to the aforementioned track, Teary Eyes is about pushing through life’s hardest moments to maintain one’s spirits.
While thematically near identical to the previous song on the tracklist, its production boasts a more contemporary, atmospheric instrumentation.
Mixed with 2000’s euro-dance beats and the infamous millennial whoop, it makes for a solid piece of modern dance-pop.
Perhaps the most unique track on the record, Not the End of the World sees Katy Perry explore a landscape different from the previously discussed dance-mixed-with-atmosphere.
The song boasts a pumping and pulsating trap production, with a constantly building instrumental leading to a stadium-sized chorus.
It also uses a cheeky sample of the ’69 hit Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye, with Katy ordering listeners to do the exact opposite.
All of the aforementioned make the track a self-empowerment anthem of biblical proportions, with an energy reminiscent of all your favorite movie battle scenes.
Out of the three songs most exclusively exploring the idea of love and physical intimacy, Champagne Problems is a track that ultimately fails to deliver.
Its instrumentation includes a gorgeous, vintage string arrangement, albeit later overpowered by the loudness of an unhinged, grating distorted vocal sample plastered throughout the track.
And although the song speaks about the benefits of sticking with one’s partner through the downs, it offers little motivation for listeners to even finish listening to the song itself.
Tucked requires little explanation for how well-tailored it is to the world of pop music.
With 1970’s-esque electric guitar, pulsating disco beats, and the alluring vocables of Perry on the post-chorus, it makes for a simple, yet catchy and polished track about the ability of a certain person to offer the singer a temporary fix.
Sultriness is in full force on Harleys in Hawaii, a seductive tropical-pop track on which Perry sings about an exotic and romantic encounter.
It is an effortlessly unique track on the record through its sonic worldbuilding, with the sounds of a motor engine plastered throughout the Charlie Puth-produced track.
This compositional choice also works in the sense that it directly aids the track’s seductive nature; actively building tension, and leading up to an orgasmic resolution, helped by Perry’s use of her lower register on the refrain, her alluring, siren-like vocables on the post-chorus and note-shattering background vocals near the end of the track.
While it mostly feels like its placement on the record was rather random, Harleys in Hawaii is perhaps one of the biggest highs Smile ever sees.
All in all, Katy Perry’s fifth studio LP is a simple and safe pop record – with familiar themes, sounds, and songwriting for the most part.
And even though it has its lows and occasional duds, Smile excels through its infectious productions, the powerful vocal delivery of its singer, and a central message that is needed now more than ever.
SCORE: STRONG 7 - LIGHT 8