Letting go of being No. 1, Katy Perry finds her ‘Smile’
NEW YORK (AP) — A decade ago, Katy Perry could sing the alphabet and top the music charts.
But as the saying goes, when you’re on top, the only way to go is down.
That was part of Perry’s experience roughly three years ago when she released “Witness,” which had some success but didn’t dominate the charts like she’s used to doing. Though first single “Chained to the Rhythm” became a Top 5 hit, the other singles fizzled, and the star’s popularity dwindled as newcomers, mainly budding rap stars, took over the music scene.
“For me in 2017, 2018, I went through a reckoning of self and really re-prioritized what was important and my association with validation, or my relationship with validation. There was just a shift that happened in my life and my career. I wasn’t getting as high on my own supply as I used to anymore,” Perry said. “It’s like I had been to the top of the mountain. I’d seen the view. I had gotten too used to it. So, of course, the universe decided to come and say, ‘All right sweetie, let’s figure this one out.’
“I definitely had to go on a real emotional, psychological and spiritual journey during those years to find my smile, ‘cause I lost it,” Perry continued. “That’s why the record is called ‘Smile.’”
“Smile,” her fifth major-label album, will be released Friday and at a time that the 35-year-old — who is engaged to actor Orlando Bloom and close to giving birth to a baby girl — is thinking about life differently.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Perry talks about finding her smile again, wedding planning during the coronavirus pandemic and celebrating the 10th anniversary of her epic “Teenage Dream” album, which propelled her to international pop star status.
AP: What will fans hear on “Smile”?
Perry: It’s a record full of hopefulness and resilience and a little bit of joy and some fun. ...I think that it’s always a good time to have a little hope injected, especially these days. This record is really talking about my own experience in walking through hell and finding the light and coming out of that. So if anyone else is having that same journey and can be inspired by the positivity and the hope inside of it, then I’m happy for it.
AP: On the title track you sing: “Had a piece of humble pie/That ego check saved my life.” What made you write that lyric?
Perry: I mean, like, I am not invincible. I am not perfect. I have fallen flat on my face so many different times and learned from that growth and have been living in the public, in the spotlight for over 12 years, and have had moments that were really intense. For me, I don’t necessarily like to avoid or ignore, I just like to come to terms. I’m like, “Look, I needed that. That was a humbling experience.” Obviously when you’re in it, you hate it. But I do believe that you have the choice when you can zoom out just a little bit from the situation and say, “OK, what am I getting from this? Where is the lesson? Where is the growth?” Not just like, “F-it all to hell, Joyce Ann, just burn! Everything should just burn!” But where is the gratitude for this obstacle?
AP: You namedrop your parents on the song “Only Love.” What was their reaction to that?
Perry: I played it for my mom, she was very touched. This song really talks about if life were to hand you a curveball, and the weird thing is that I was putting the finishing touches on it, vocally, in my bedroom during that week of March 13 when everyone went into lockdown and everybody was, like, scrubbing their lemons and buying thousands of toilet paper rolls. Nobody knew what the hell was going on and there’s so much intense feeling and emotion.
And I was almost finished with my record. This was the last song that I put on the record and it’s funny ’cause it kind of paralleled the feeling at the time. “Holy crap, life is handing me a curveball, and what is precious to me anymore? What’s really important?” You start to go, “Whoa, this is what’s important. Forget about all the B.S. and even the career stuff. I gotta take care of my mom and my dad. I gotta take care of them.” And I think that everybody kind of shifted gears a little bit.
But this song is really about, like, at the end of it all ... what are we gonna say? “Oh, I wished I worked one more day.” Or are you just going to say, “I wish I had a little bit more love. I wish I connected with my brother or my sister or my mom or my dad just a little bit more, or my partner or my children or whomever.” You know? I just want a little bit more love.
AP: It’s the 10-year anniversary of “Teenage Dream,” which matched the record Michael Jackson’s “Bad” set for most No. 1 singles from an album. How does it feel when you think about that album and period of your life?
Perry: I hope you can’t see the 10 years on my face. It’s amazing. In your twenties you hear about people that are more mature than you saying time flies. It’s starting to fly. You are such a different person in your twenties than you are in your thirties. And I love that record and it means a lot. Every record has a special meaning for me. And I try and always approach writing music from a super vulnerable, authentic open-book place, so that whoever wants to relate to it can. I think “Teenage Dream,” it really encapsulated this fantastical view of love. It was nostalgic in some ways.
It was a special moment and I can’t believe 10 years has passed. I’m kind of happy that “Smile” is coming out around the same time. It’s like, “All right, let’s dip into that energy.”
AP: Mariah Carey mentioned that being pregnant made her voice stronger. Has being pregnant done anything to your voice?
Perry: It’s interesting having 45 extra pounds just kind of like sitting on you; 30 of that is just right here on my lung capacity. It’s not been too challenging, but I’ve definitely had to change a couple of keys. But I think that’s just because of the physical intensity of it. I’ve been so active. I’ve been doing the most. I go to the opening of every Zoom link. I am a mom on the move. I am promoting. Do not say that I did not work hard! I worked hard for this moment! I worked hard! Created a life; I worked hard! I do my part!
AP: How is wedding planning going during the pandemic?
Perry: We have ideas but anyone that makes plans in 2020 is just a little LOL. There’s bigger things going on in the world. I don’t want to say, “Oh, how sad is it that I had to postpone or cancel or whatever.” It’s so many other horrible things going on. What we’re hoping for is just a safe, healthy baby. That’s the next thing on the calendar that we can look forward to.