By DAN MACINTOSH
Katy Perry’s Smile album has been described as a project that explores self-help and empowerment. That’s not at all an unexpected direction for an artist that famously declared herself to be loud, louder than any lion and a champion we would all hear roar.
It’s a release that arrives concurrent with the singer’s first pregnancy. She is prominently shown with her baby bump in the video for the single “Daisies.” Any first-time mom, like Perry, should rightfully be celebrated. Nothing brings out feelings of love more than bringing a new life into the world. Back in the early days of MTV, Pat Benatar looked simply angelic in her pregnant-in-music-video moment for “We Belong.” But is the world ready for Katy Perry the mom? She, after all, is the artist that first gained fame extolling the pleasures of kissing another girl, and also playfully celebrating sexy California girls along with Snoop Dogg.
There are no big statement songs on Smile, which is one reason why it is largely unmemorable. The closest this album gets to saying anything significant lyrically is the closing “What Makes A Woman.” Next to the Black Lives Matter movement, 2020 has been – in many respects – the year of the woman. Although country music is the genre where women have been making the most noise about largely being ignored by the mainstream, pop music is still relatively male-dominated.
Sonically, much of Smile just doesn’t make much of an impact, either. Whether you agreed or disagreed with the messages in Perry’s past music, she has at least been one of our most fun pop artists. She’s not as overly arty as Lady Gaga and Billie Eilish can sometimes be, nor is she an emotional open book like Taylor Swift. The album’s title track is one of the few places where Perry’s usual free spirit vibe comes through joyously. There are very few tracks that jump out of the speakers and make you take notice. Zedd surrounds Perry with a thumping, stuttering dance grove for “Never Really Over,” and the acoustic guitar backing on “Harleys in Hawaii” is a nice, organic touch. The bass-y groove of “Champagne Problems” makes it an obvious single choice. Highlights, though, are few and far between.
What becomes of an artist (Perry) when she’s no longer the ‘it’ girl? The aforementioned Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift have continued to build upon their initial successes with music that rarely fails to grab our attention. With Smile, though, Katy Perry doesn’t give us anything especially new to experience. Even the familiar tricks just sound dated now, as they’ve been done before, and done better. This is an album, unfortunately, that may only make you half-smile, at best.