Vinyl Vlog 471

Vinyl Vlog 471

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Saturday, 02 January 2021
COLUMN

Katy Perry
Smile

It used to be hard to find a bigger pop star than Katy Perry. Nowadays, it’s a little easier. At the height of her stardom, it was absolutely obvious what Perry’s appeal was: her music was fun at the most visceral level.

It’s truly interesting to watch what has been happening to Katy Perry over the past several years. Sure, she never appealed to everyone, but the woman has solidified herself as a pop music heavy hitter ever since she broke on the scene in 2008. And no, her Kate Hudson Christian rock phase does not count.

For some reason, it seemed like Katy Perry was taking a different approach to pop music. While most artists seem to unabashedly embrace the self-important bravado aspects of the scene, Perry on the other hand seemed painfully self-aware of her ridiculous position and focused on full-on sugary candy pop music. Her stuff was supposed to by flirty, sexy, and fun. And she was damn good at it.

But then Witness happened and people did not like it. Not helping matters is the fact that the singles leading up to its release failed to leave any real marks. Critics were quick to label her a has-been and that ball kept on snowballing. Perry had lost it, fallen from grace, and might never make a comeback. This of course is completely unfair. It just goes to show how little the public understands about pop music, because none of Witness is probably Katy Perry’s fault.

Perry has changed a lot over the years, choosing to settle down and focus more on her personal life. Pop music, on the other hand, has gotten a lot more reductive and formulaic, and it’s within these constraints that Smile was produced.

Of course, there’s Perry’s starpower driving the album, but Smile is maybe her most inconsistent effort. It’s a funner album than Witness for sure, but it tries to recapture the magic of her previous albums, and honestly, comes up short, because these songs seem to have an identity crisis. Smile sounds like Roar, Harleys in Hawaii sounds like California Girls, and Daisies sounds like Fireworks. And the album has more than a dozen producers trying to recapture stuff she’s already done in the past. Because of that, the music fails to find its own footing and lack personality. And there’s nothing wrong with sticking to what you do well (like the Ramones), but if you see what’s been getting attention in the industry (and Perry’s career certainly is designed to function in that industry), it’s missing an edge. Not helping is the terrible aesthetic of circuses and clowns the album is going with, which makes it all the harder to digest. It boggles the mind who that’s for.

I am a fan of Perry’s and will certainly check out what it does next. Maybe some self-reflection in a more stripped down album will help her get at the core of what we liked about her in the first place.

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