Katy Perry Talks About All Things “Smile,” Adulting and Empowerment

We all remember the carefree days of “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls”— you know, with our daisy dukes and bikinis on top, of course. Stunned by Katy Perry’s cupcake bras and blue hair, her confidence ran wild, inspiring young people everywhere.

As Perry transitioned into her adult life, her music transformed to focus on a new kind of empowerment with a refined focus on the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community.

Her new album “Smile” touches on turning points in not only her music career, but her life. Following a period of relationship troubles and depression, when Perry did not care for the next day to come, she is now experiencing a time of light and joy as she brings new life into this world. The songs in this album capture how to overcome challenges, reassuring listeners that after tough times, there will always be a reason to smile again.

The Fit Magazine was invited to a Universal Music Group press conference with the one and only Katy Perry to hear everything she had to say about her new album. We got the inside scoop on all things Perry, including which song took her the most courage to write, as well as the power she hopes to exude to her fans.

Q: Are there any songs on “Smile” that have taken on a completely new meaning to you due to the current state of the world [the coronavirus pandemic]?

KP: Yes, actually there are 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 didn’t necessarily want to. I was very flatlined. And I was kind of clinically depressed, which is something I had never dealt with. I had only dealt with depression in kind of short, small bouts, but I felt like I could solve it and this time I couldn’t solve it. I definitely could not get out of bed. You know the saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” I’d like to edit that and say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but sometimes you have to walk through hell to get that strength or you get a little laid out in your bed for a few weeks and have to come to terms.”

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but sometimes you have to walk through hell to get that strength

This record really speaks about my own experience of walking through that and kind of coming out alive and I am very, very heavily pregnant. From the waist down I am 45 pounds more, and I’m excited to bring life into the world and choose to live and make plans. There are 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,” “Every day, Groundhog Day, going through motions felt so fake,” it’s like I was in this negative loop and I just had to snap out of it. Obviously it wasn’t as easy as snapping my fingers, but once I figured out that there was another way to look at life I started seeing it with a different view. There are a lot of weird parallels now. It does feel like the end of the world sometimes. Every day is different, especially when you’re reading the news, you never know what 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.

Courtesy of: Universal Music Group

Q: How important is it for you to make fans feel heard and like they have input in your creative decisions, especially now during quarantine?

KP: Oh my god, the people have the power, have the power, have the power. The people have always had power and the people remind you that when you think that you have the power, there will be a leveling.

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. I can put music out, but nobody will hear it. But when people hear it, if they like it and it’s good feedback, then they can do something with it. My fans are 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 Tik Toks, they’re doing different plays on the makeup and the theme on the record is a big theme. It’s clownery of sorts because I’ve always felt a little bit like the court jester, and I’ve always had a little bit of humor injected into everything I do and self-deprecation. I wasn’t taking myself seriously when I was spewing whipped cream out of my boobs. I knew that. Hello, I’m in on the joke, but I continue to use humor as a way to bring a little levity to the seriousness of life.

I wasn’t taking myself seriously when I was spewing whipped cream out of my boobs.

A lot of comedians, they might be the most fun to go watch, but probably are the darkest, most depressed people to live with at home. It’s like we use humor as a way to survive sometimes, and I have definitely done that. It’s amazing to see the fans lean into this theme, which I hope to really bring to life next year in a more in-person, 3D way. It feels right.

Courtesy of: Universal Music Group

Q: What has been the defining moment in the last three years that has made you change paths from a more club type beat on “Witness” to returning to a more carefree and fun pop route like we’ve heard on tracks like “Small Talk” and “Daisy?”

KP: I have always experimented with different sonic landscapes. I’ve done all across the board… I have always had fun with just thinking outside of the box. I’ve 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 in “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 is centered around feminist messages and self-empowerment, how do the themes in “Smile” build upon those ideas or gravitate away from them?

KP: I think the record is synonymous with themes like hopefulness, resilience and joy. There’s a little escapism, like there’s a song “Cry About It Later,” which is really about drinking too much champagne all night and getting under someone to get over someone— and sometimes you just need that. I understand why people are like, “When the bar is 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.

Courtesy of: Universal Music Group

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

KP: “Courage”— to face your failures and to 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 “Oh yeah, I told you so” or “I did this” or having a perspective or commentary on your life. It’s intense and obviously you have to shut that out at some point, but it comes and it bleeds in every once in a while.

Even in the song “Smile,” when I talk about that “Had a piece of humble pie, ego check saved my life,” it’s like yeah, the universe served me. It served me and in the moment I wasn’t excited for it and wasn’t happy about it, but once I got the ability to zoom out a little bit, I understood that I was going to have a greater foundation and a greater character and a greater depth because of going through those peaks and those valleys. Because for me in my twenties, it was just like “Oh my god, this is wild. This is crazy. It’s always going to be like this,” and when it shifts slightly, you’re like “Oh my god, I can’t handle my thirties or real life— real life is happening. Responsibility?! This is weird” or “My body’s not moving like it used to” or “Not all of my dreams are working in my favor.” Life gets real the longer that you live it, but it does get more expansive if you can survive it.

I would say 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 in social media. And a part of me is like I just want to have an Instagram where I only post pictures of when I’m crying. Like do you ever take a picture of yourself when you’re crying? No, but I’m going to start doing it so I can remind myself that those moments exist.

Courtesy of: Universal Music Group

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

KP: As I carry this bean inside of me and see how my body is just like “Wow, this is weird how this works,” and so many millions of women before me have done it. It’s a song that I came into the studio and I just had this title. I said I want to write a song called “What Makes a Woman,” and it’s almost a trick question, because if you can 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 expansive. It’s so beautifully complex and undefinable and it’s hard to measure because women are so many different things.

I have fought kind of against being one thing for a long time because a lot of people publicly would like to put me into this box, especially from 2008 to 2016, it was this one thing, right? And I was like actually, honey, there are a lot of layers here and I’m going to start showing off more of them. I am such a strong believer that God made men, God made women and we’re 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 of being able to magically create other humans, so you can read into it as much as you want. We can bleed every month and not die, bitch.

Q: The current college-aged 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?

KP: I think in some ways some of you remember me with the black hair or the blue hair and with all the candy and all that stuff, which is like amazing. It’s going to be 10 years since “Teenage Dream” on Aug. 24. But some of you were 10 years old or 12 years old and you listened to “California Gurls” and now you’re becoming adults and you’re dealing with a lot of different things. You 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 anticlimactic-ness sometimes of being this age…. But I think that I am growing as an adult human, as a woman, as a soon-to-be mother, and I’m always constantly sharing my journey. I’m definitely not in a 13-year-old state of mind anymore. So yes, maybe these themes are a little bit more mature, but I think everybody is kind of grown up. I’ve grown up with my audience a little bit and we’re growing together and it’s nice. It’s like we’re raising each other. There are still obviously 13-year-old girls who love the music, and I love that, but I do like to write my songs in the way where it has both the appeal to a younger audience, and when I write “Peacock” it’s not just about a bird, it’s layered. There’s a wink there, you can dive into it if you want to.

Courtesy of: Universal Music Group

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

KP: I’m just thankful for the journey and the growth. I think every day you’ve got to put yourself [out there] to evolve mentally and when you look back at yourself in 10 years and go “Oh, I was kind of an idiot” or “I did this” or “I said that,” you can also be grateful that you have grown from that. You can also be empowered that that is not your mindset anymore. And for me, growing up 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, re-education, and I’ve done a lot of that re-education in the spotlight. 

For me, I guess 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, when I see inequality in any 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” [mentality]. So I do it in my own way. I think a lot of that is representation and a lot of that is local. I think you have to start within your family and the rewiring of that and your friends. It’s amazing to go out there and want to change the world, but if your shit at home is wack, you gotta deal with that first. So I focus on what’s in front of me, and then my team, the people I take on tour, my audience, and I guess my themes are empowerment and equality and joy and hope and I’m happy to always lean into that. I’m not always an ignorant, blissful optimist, I’m like a pragmatic optimist. I think this year is really a wreckoning and coming to terms, and I think it’s so absolutely necessary and uncomfortable and painful, but rebirth was never meant to be neat and tidy.

Courtesy of: Universal Music Group

Katy Perry’s album Smile will be released on Aug. 28 with Capitol Records. This press conference was held in coordination with the °1824 team of Universal Music Group.

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