Music Reviews

Katy Perry Smile

(Capitol Records) Rating - 5/10

For a decent period of time, it seemed like Katy Perry was destined to join the 2010s pop pantheon. Somewhere alongside Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and Lady Gaga sat the singer who released One of the Boys, Teenage Dream, and Prism. After 2017’s Witness, those days were over. While the album’s lead single, Chained to the Rhythm, was a top 5 hit, every song that followed didn’t reach the top 40. It didn’t help that the album felt like an act of desperation, with a Migos feature and a EDM-trap song with a chorus that went “Swish swish, bitch.” Three years later, Perry is back with Smile, an album that backtracks so much from that 2017 release that she seems convinced it never happened. While Witness was garish and try-hard, it had character. For better and for worse, her latest doesn’t seem to figure out what its' personality is.


Smile is probably best summarized by Resilient, a vaguely inspiring song with MIDI-violins and an aggressively big chorus. It’s the sort of taut, motivational-poster pop that Perry could sing in her sleep. It doesn’t have the stupidity of Firework’s infamous plastic bag lyrics or the obvious tedium of Roar, just lines about flowers growing through cracks and how there’s gotta be rain before rainbows. The album falls around a narrative of self-growth and perseverance, particularly after the failure of Witness, but going back to Prism’s concoction of flavorless production and lyrical cliches doesn’t help anyone.  

The standout moments—both good and bad—come when Perry moves out of this Fight Song-esque boredom and tries on a different style. The opener, Never Really Over, uses Zedd’s sharp and infectious EDM production smartly, providing a backdrop for Perry to flaunt her ability to adapt to newer sounds. The flipside of that is Harleys in Hawaii, a neo-reggae slosh of mediocrity. The chorus is the worst type of earworm, while the verses are nearly lifeless. A similar feeling comes from the anemic club-pop of Cry About It Later, which is more forgettable than annoying. While Perry finds the occasional moment of quality here (Smile and Tucked both feel like the best possible music we could get from Katy Perry in 2020), Smile is an album searching for an identity—and when it fails, it falls back on lazy writing.