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Katy Perry Dives Into Smile, The Magic of Womanhood, and Femininity

As a college student, Zoom group calls have taken over my life.  Classes, group hangouts, study dates, virtual parties, movie nights, you name it… it’s on Zoom.  So naturally, what better thing to add to my Zoom expertise than a call with Katy Perry.

Pregnancy does not stop Katy, let me tell you.  Dressed in a beautiful pink floral kimono, with a head wrap to match, we immediately dove into a conversation about her recently released record, Smile. 

Q: Are there any songs on Smile that have taken on a whole new meaning, due to the current state of the world?

Katy: Yes ma’am actually there’s a few… I wrote this record during one of the darkest times in my life where I didn’t really plan for the next day, or I didn’t necessarily want to.  I was very flatlined.  And I was kind of clinically depressed, which is something I had never dealt with… So this record really speaks about my own experience walking through that and kind of coming out alive… You know I’m excited to bring life into the world.  There’s songs like It’s Not The End of the World or Teary Eyes or Only Love and these songs talk about how sometimes it’s difficult to change your perspective or your mindset or how you view things.  Even in Smile – “Everyday, Groundhog’s Day, Going through motions, felt so fake.” – It’s like I was just in this negative loop and I had to snap out of it.  Obviously it wasn’t as easy as snapping my fingers.  But, once I figured out there was another way to look at life, I was seeing it with a different view…  There’s a lot of weird parallels now.  Like it does feel like the end of the world sometimes.  Everyday is different, especially when you’re reading the news.  You don’t know what the hell you’re going to wake up to with those notifications which are of the devil…  There’s a lot of hopefulness and resilience as themes in the record, so if someone can adopt that while listening to it, then great.

Q: I saw that you made an alternative cover of the album a piece of fanart.  How important is it for you to make fans feel heard and like they have input in your creative decisions, especially now in quarantine?

Katy: Oh my god the people have the power…  The people have always had the power.  And the people remind you when you think that you think you have the power.  It’s amazing because obviously it’s up to the listener to have the reaction to click the link to listen.  It’s a symbiotic relationship… My fans or the group of people that enjoy my music, they seem to be very creative, either with graphic design or just in some version of the arts, they’re making commercials, they’re doing Tiktoks, they’re doing different plays on the makeup, and the theme of the record is a big theme, its clownery, of sorts… I continue to use humor as a way to kind of bring a little levity to the seriousness of life… We use humor as a way to survive sometimes, and I’ve definitely done that.  So it’s amazing to see the fans lean into the theme, which I hope to really bring to life next year in a more in person, 3D way…  I wasn’t allowed to participate in Halloween so I’m making up for it now.

Q: What has been the defining moment in the past three years that has made you change paths from a more club type beat on Witness to returning to your more carefree and fun pop tracks on Small Talk and Daisies?

I have always experimented with different sonic landscapes.  I have done all across the board from E.T. which is a different song, so it’s a lot more rhythmic.  And I have always had fun with just thinking outside of the boc, I have never been one to be inside of a box musically.  But I’ve always wanted to do a dance record.  I feel like I did some of that sonic experimentation on Witness.  Maybe I’ll do more house dance stuff in the future.  Maybe I’ll do an acoustic record in the future, but, I do think that this record musically is a lot like some of the tones of Prism and Teenage Dream.  It’s really pure pop and I love that.  I like leaning into the pure pop aspect of my life.

Q: In comparison to your most recent album, which centered around feminist messages and self empowerment, how do the themes of Smile build upon those ideas, or gravitate away from them?

Well, I think the record is synonymous with themes like hopefulness, resilience, joy; there’s a little escapism, you know, there’s a song called Cry About It Later, which is really about drinking too much champagne on ice and getting under someone to get over someone.  And sometimes you just need that.  I understand why people are like, “When the bar’s open I will be there, and I will be there all night,” because I no longer want to listen to what my thoughts say, especially during this time.  It’s too fucking intense, so I’m going to have a couple of dirty martinis once I give birth to this child… 

Q: What lyrics took the most courage to write on this album?

Oh, great question.. To face your failures and be like “Yeah I fell flat on my face but I got back up again.”  It’s not always fun to acknowledge, especially publicly, when I say something, it’s like having billions of in-laws saying “Yeah yeah yeah I told you so…” is intense, and obviously you have to shut that out at some point, it bleeds in every once in a while.  Even in Smile, when I talk about “That ego check saved my life, had a piece of humble pie,” it’s like yeah, the universe served me and in the moment I wasn’t excited for it, I like happy about it, but once I got the ability to zoom out a little bit, I understood that I was gonna have a greater foundation, and a greater character, and a greater depth because of going through those peaks and valleys… Life gets more expansive, if you can survive it.  So anything where I’m acknowledging my complete failure, I feel like that is a courageous thing, because everyone likes to portray perfectionism, especially in the entertainment industry and social media…

Q: You mentioned that What Makes a Woman is about how women are incredible and versatile.  What was your inspiration for writing that song, and how did it come about?

I mean, as I carry this bean inside of me and see how my body it’s just like, wow this is weird this works!  And so many millions of women before me have done it before me, or whatever.  It’s a song that I came into the studio and I had this title and was like, I want to write a song called, “What Makes a Woman” and it’s almost a trick question, because if you could actually answer what makes a woman, and have it not just continue on forever and ever and ever, spinning out into the universe.  If you have some definite statement, you may not be a woman because it’s so expensive, it’s so beautifully complex and undefinable… and it’s hard to measure because women are so many different things, and I have fought against being one thing for a long time…  A lot of people publicly would like to put me into this box from 2008-2016.  I was like “Actually honey, there’s a lot of layers here and I’m gonna start showing off more of them.  I do believe… God made men and God made women, and we are both supposed to learn from each other.  We both exist for a purpose and a reason and I think there is so much equality there that needs to happen, but I also believe that we did get the role to magically create other humans…

Q: The current college age audience has grown up hearing your music on the radio and has witnessed its evolutions as they’ve grown older.  What do you think they can take away from Smile at this stage in their lives?

I think in some ways some of you remember me with the black hair or the blue hair and all the candy and all that stuff which is amazing… You had your friends and listened to California Gurls or whatever, and now you’re becoming adults and you’re dealing with a lot of different things.  You’re having to have your own jobs, your own lives, you’re dealing with college, you’re dealing with all the variables of this year and the disappointments and the anticlimacticness sometimes of being this age and having to click a zoom link and paying the same fees which is wild…  I think that I am growing as an adult human and as a woman, and as a soon to be mother… The themes are a little more mature but I think everybody has grown up.  I’ve grown up with my audience a little bit.  We’re growing together and it’s nice.  It’s like we’re raising each other.  There are still obviously thirteen year olds who love the music and I love that, but I do like to write my songs in kind of the way where it has both the appeal to a younger audience, but also, when I write Peacock it’s not just about a bird.  It’s layered, there’s a link there…

Q: You’ve done a lot of work with empowering women in the LGBTQ+ community.  How do you see yourself speaking to these audiences with this album?

You know, I’m just grateful for the journey and the growth.  I think everyday you gotta push yourself to evolve mentally and when you look back at yourself in ten years and you go, “Oh I was kind of an idiot,” or “I did this,” or “I said that”… you can also be grateful that you’ve grown from that.  You can also be empowered that that’s not your mindset anymore.  And for me, growing up with how I grew up, which was very one frame of mind, it was very Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, and kind of sheltered and restricted, I really broke out of that mold, but had to do some, you know, reeducation, and I’ve done a lot of that reeducation in the spotlight, and I was born innately with this sense of justice.  I want justice for everyone.  I’m a people person.  I’m in the business of people.  I love when people connect.  I love when people fulfill their purpose.  I love when people feel love, joy, and are just on the right track.  So for me, whenever I see inequality, in any way, shape, or form, it stirs me, it makes me furious, it makes me have this okay it’s time to fight for equality, for justice, continually.  So, I do it in my own way.  I think a lot of that is representation; a lot of that is local.  I think you have to start within your family and the rewiring of that… so I focus on what’s in front of me… and my themes are empowerment and equality and joy and hope, and I’m always happy to lean into that.  I’m not like an ignorant, blissful optimist.  I’m like a pragmatic optimist.  And I think this is a year of reckoning… but rebirth was never meant to be neat and tidy.

—End of Interview—

After a brief goodbye, with the click of the “leave meeting” button, Katy was gone. If you could go back in time and tell nine year old me – who had to secretly listen to Peacock on her friend’s mp3 player – that she would be on a video chat with her idol, she would freak out.  Since the call, Katy has had her baby and Smile was released!  Be sure to check out my personal favorite tracks, Harley’s in Hawaii, and What Makes A Woman.

Article By: Emily Teubner

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