I feel like I’ve experienced nearly every emotion watching Katy Perry work her way through the Smile era over the past few months: surprise, sadness, confusion, secondhand embarrassment, pride.
The Teenage Dream pop diva, who has been pregnant for what feels like at least 47 months, is nothing if not a trooper, powering through a pandemic, a pregnancy and an album promo cycle with what can only be described as superhuman endurance. She’s doing everything backwards and in heels – with a baby in her belly. It’s incredibly impressive to observe Katy’s sheer determination in fulfilling all the usual pop star duties in these unprecedented times, if a little bit painful.
She’s performed in empty studios and danced around to “Daisies” virtually on American Idol (a very underrated early quarantine performance, at that), sat down for tens of thousands of Zoom interviews and Q&As (every day, there is another Katy Perry interview online), and pressed on with all the usual accoutrements of a big, glossy mega-pop campaign we’ve come to expect from the likes of Katy, including her latest clip for title track “Smile,” released on Friday (August 14).
The music, however, is nowhere near hitting the same chart highs as those halcyon Teenage days.
It’s no secret that public interest started waning years ago with Witness. The world wasn’t ready to appreciate “Bon Appetit,” and “Roulette” deserved to be a single – but that’s fine. Privately, Katy was grappling with clinical depression, which she’s been incredibly candid about in recent months. She also reunited with Orlando Bloom, got engaged, and now there’s a baby girl on the way any day now. (Kicky Perry.) She announced a new album, and then came a global health crisis. Lots of highs, a lot of lows…a confusing time for all of us.
“Smile” is far from my favorite Katy Perry song, but the message – and the artwork, and the previous singles, and everything else about this era – embodies where she’s at: an over-the-top, cartoonish entertainer (get it, sad clown?) having a big ol’ slice of humble pie (presumably topped off with some whipped cream from her “California Gurls” boob cannons), laughing it off and getting back her smile.
To illustrate the point further, Katy sits down for a Smile-themed video game – because what else are we doing in quarantine? – in the accompanying visual, slowly finding her way through using her instinctive silliness, leading all the way up to the most classic gag of them all: a pie to the face. It’s a clever way of disguising what is actually a mostly animated video, given the global circumstances.
Granted, a lot of this feels like a trailer for a Trolls movie. It’s literally clownery, luv. But then, Katy’s the Weird Al of Pop. This is her brand, which I can only imagine would come at the cost of one’s sanity eventually.
While I selfishly would have loved an album of “Circle the Drain”-esque angst from her, which I just know she has inside of her one day, given the state of things, it makes sense that Katy is striving to stay in the light, smile, and embrace her inner child. (Literally.)
Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection is out now as a limited 10 year anniversary 2XLP.