In 2017, Katy Perry went through a dark period. Her yearlong relationship with Orlando Bloom came to a screeching halt, her average-at-best album Witness received the worst reviews of her career and she had a bout with clinical depression. But three years later, the pop star is back on her A-game, engaged to the Pirates of the Caribbean star and expecting their first child together any day now.
A baby girl is not the only thing Perry, 35, has on the way though; her sixth studio album, Smile, is set to be released on Friday, August 28 — and while it’s no Teenage Dream, it’s light-years ahead of Witness (and maybe even Prism). It’s evident that the Grammy nominee poured her heart and soul into the autobiographical project as she has a writing credit on all 12 songs, which chronicle her journey to finding the light at the end of the tunnel.
Perry writes in the liner notes that she started working on Smile in 2018. Although she did not have “a formal record in mind” at the time, she wanted to “express and create anything [her] soul needed to say.” Doing so paid off in the end, leading to a finished product worth celebrating.
The album opens with “Never Really Over,” the American Idol judge’s best song since 2013’s “Dark Horse.” Originally released as a single in May 2019, the Zedd-coproduced electropop track — and its tongue twister of a chorus — jumps right into her on-off relationship with Bloom, 43, as she breaks her vow not to “fall down the rabbit hole” by giving their romance another try.
Perry delves deeper into heartbreak on “Cry About It Later,” a repetitive yet mesmerizing anthem about reveling in a “shameless summer” and worrying about the potential consequences later. With that in mind, she picks herself back up on the resilient power ballad “Daisies,” which touches upon her mental health (“They tell me that I’m crazy, but I’ll never let ‘em change me”).
The album really kicks into high gear at the midway point. The title track is a glittery groove à la 2013’s “Birthday” and 2010’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” and the party only continues from there with back-to-back standouts. The synthy “Champagne Problems” is an undeniable jam detailing the “makeups to the breakups,” while the irresistible earworm “Tucked” is fun, classic Katy with a summery, jazzy vibe.
At times, the lyrics on Smile leave much to be desired (on the Charlie Puth-coproduced “Harleys in Hawaii,” she attempts to rhyme “hula” with “jeweler”). Fortunately, the misfires are few and far between. The penultimate track, “Only Love,” is a stunning, finger-snapping midtempo about moving on from mistakes. Perry imagines herself only having “one day left to live,” and she uses her time wisely by calling her mom and writing her dad. “Let me leave this world with the hate behind me / And take the love instead,” she sings.
But the most poignant moment on the record comes toward the end of the acoustic closer, “What Makes a Woman,” as Perry proclaims, “I feel most beautiful doing what the f–k I want.” She signs off with a voice memo, saying, “There it is, Katheryn,” a clear indication that she finally found her smile — and herself — again.
3 stars (out of 4)
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