My Celebrity Life

Katy Perry’s Smile may not be a hit, but she doesn’t deserve to be called a flop

Katy Perry

When you compare Perry to artists in similar positions, there’s a feeling like she maybe deserved better (Picture: James Ross/EPA-EFE/REX)

This time 10 years ago, we were entering what we now know to be Katy Perry’s imperial phase.

She was already an established popstar, of course: breakout smash I Kissed A Girl had been inescapable in the summer of 2008, and follow-up Hot N Cold confirmed she’d be way more than a one-hit wonder.

And then Teenage Dream – her second album – cemented her position as a long-term staple of the pop mainstream. 

Firework! ET! Last Friday Night! Part Of Me! Wide Awake! The One That Got Away! The utterly flawless title track! The album’s success just kept on coming.

For years, we were greeted with bop after bop after bop. But fast forward to 2020, and things have somewhat changed.

Smile, her long-awaited fifth album, was released last week, and is projected by Hits Daily Double to enter the US Billboard 200 at the lower end of the Top 5 – behind the six-week-old latest from Taylor Swift.

It’s a far cry from her earlier days when releases would take her to No. 1. Teenage Dream was certified three-times platinum in the US, four-times platinum in the UK and four-times platinum in Australia, and its accompanying California Dreams Tour spanned 127 concerts and formed the basis for the now-iconic documentary Katy Perry: Part of Me.

The hot streak continued in 2013 when Perry’s third album, the slightly more introspective Prism, returned her to No. 1 in the US and the UK. Lead single Roar was huge, and Dark Horse made her the first female to reach 1billion views for a music video on YouTube.

Now, Smile’s forecast 60,000 combined sales will put it a long way behind Perry’s last effort – 2017’s Witness – which launched with 180,000 units.

One easy explanation is simply that her recent singles have been weak – and yes, I’d definitely agree that neither Smile (the song) nor its predecessor Daisies are particularly exciting, even if they do resonate strongly with Perry’s personal journey over the last few years. 

But if Perry’s skill for picking the right singles has been off the boil lately (honestly, Cry About It Later was right there!), it’s a relatively new development.

Last year she released the Zedd-produced, Dagny-sampling belter Never Really Over, which was – and this is a bold claim but I’m sticking with it – her best song since Teenage Dream’s title track. Though it didn’t flop, it certainly didn’t hit the heights it deserved; tapping out at No. 12 in the UK and No. 15 in the US.

In this complicated chart era, there’s absolutely no shame in narrowly avoiding the Top 10 – especially when you’ve already been at it for more than a decade.

But when you compare Perry to artists in similar positions, there’s a feeling like she maybe deserved better: for example, Swift’s far inferior releases You Need To Calm Down and Me were out at a similar time and easily rushed into the Top 5.

So where did things go wrong?

One word: Witness.

That notorious, much-maligned 2017 album didn’t do badly: in the US, it was a chart-topper and spawned a Top 5 hit in the Skip Marley-assisted Chained To The Rhythm. It’s thought to have sold around 700,000 copies globally.

But its poor critical reception and messy rollout, combined with Perry’s now infamous claim that it marked a shift towards ‘purposeful pop’, marked it out as a flop – one that sent Perry herself into a mental health freefall and, I reckon, seriously affected the narrative around her as an artist.

She was widely (and often cruelly) mocked in memes, the whole era was completely dismissed as being trash (it wasn’t: Roulette says hi!), and even her record label boss publicly commented on how it failed to connect.

That whole episode seemed to downgrade Perry’s pulling power. In some corners of stan culture she’s been branded with the same mean-spirited ‘flop’ tag that’s long-plagued Christina Aguilera.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not doubting that Witness was, all things considered, a sloppy misstep; but why has Perry not been afforded the same rebound opportunity that, say, Lady Gaga has had? 

Gaga had phenomenal breakout success at a similar time to Teenage Dream, and the trajectory of her 2016 Joanne album wasn’t (broadly speaking, at least) that different to Perry’s Witness. But with 2020’s Chromatica, she’s once again one of the biggest stars in the world.

Granted, Chromatica has delivered the exact kind of turbo-charged power-pop that 2020 needs, and Stupid Love and Rain On Me are far, far better singles than Daisies and Smile. But Never Really Over was a 10/10 masterpiece – where was the widespread love and admiration for that?

Is it just that Gaga’s got her mojo back and Perry… hasn’t? There might be an element of that, but I don’t think it’s that straightforward.

As an album, Smile is far from perfect – but while, as critics have argued, many of its lyrics are overly earnest and cliché-ridden, that’s kind of been Perry’s brand from day one (I refer you to the plastic bag drifting through the wind on Firework); and there’s plenty to love on there, from Cry About It Later to the surprisingly moving Only Love.

And although it hasn’t particularly resonated with critics, that’s nothing new either. None of Perry’s albums were well-reviewed darlings; according to review aggregator Metacritic, Smile has an overall score of 58/100, which is actually her second-highest ever, behind only Prism, which received 61.

It’s just sad to think that, 10 years on from Teenage Dream – an album that helped set the pace for pop music throughout the 2010s, and one that soundtracked key moments in millions of people’s lives – Perry really isn’t getting the respect and attention she deserves.

Yes, she could certainly have picked better singles to give Smile a better chance of getting off the ground, and perhaps there is a case to be made that – Never Really Over aside – she hasn’t evolved her brand of pop music into 2020 as much as she could have (though I’d reason that Harleys In Hawaii and the now-discarded Small Talk showed she was giving it a good go).

Whatever’s gone wrong, I hope Smile finds some long-tail success and wins a bigger audience as time goes on.

It’s been wonderful to see artists like Gaga and Swift deservedly raking in numerous accolades and mammoth sales figures after more than a decade in the industry – now I think Katy Perry deserves a slice of the same. 

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MORE: Katy Perry fed up with fans pitting female singers against each other: ‘We don’t see Niall Horan and Shawn Mendes fighting’

Credit: Original article published here.

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