Katy Perry Just Needs A Fucking Drink

Through the dark tunnel of 2020, Katy Perry is finding the light.

Katy Perry has been a fixture of pop music, pop culture and our lives for over a decade now. Her transition from rebellious siren to pioneer of the bubblegum pop renaissance and beyond has been well revered and well documented. She’s a certified pop icon, but she still has something to prove. Fans have witnessed Perry traverse through tumultuous relationships, and even more tumultuous album rollouts. They’ve seen her make mistakes time and time again – a very human quality the world tends to not attribute to those within the untouchable realm of celebrity – and they’ve seen her prosper regardless.

Yet, as Perry continues to learn about herself and the world, 2020 presents her with a unique trinity of challenges: a global pandemic, a pregnancy and an album that looks to be a return to form for one of the world’s biggest pop stars.

So, one can hardly blame her for her response to me asking her how she was when we spoke over Zoom last week: “that’s kind of a loaded question.”

“It's been a challenging year for sure,” she continues. “And I think at the beginning of the year, everyone was like ‘wow, 2020, I'm gonna have 2020 vision this year’.”

“But I think we are getting a lot of clarity and seeing a lot of things that we have to face and take care of. And that can be difficult, that clarity can be difficult.”

However, Perry remains optimistic, which seems fitting as her new album, Smile, is set to drop late next month. She’s also very, very pregnant.

“I'm not writing off 2020 because I've got some good things coming.”

Smile, Perry’s fifth studio album, is going to be the first body of work fans get from Perry since 2017’s Witness. Witness was the first time we’ve seen Perry stumble – she wasn’t charting like she usually does and she wasn’t getting the overwhelming accolades she’s been blessed with her whole career. She was coming off the back of a widely-memed Super Bowl half-time performance – the stage that makes stars legends. It would go on to be the most watched half-time performance of all time. She was riding the highest of artist highs, and, in her words, may have gotten too high on her own supply once it came time to create Witness.

“I do feel like my whole career is super playful and it stays on the side of self deprecation, sarcasm and satire. I may have gotten a little too high on my own supply last album. And got too serious.”

The album received a rollout that was part chaotic and part bizarre. It was an album that was anchored in liberation, but it unfortunately just brought Perry back down to earth. 

This stumble is referenced by the artwork surrounding Smile, both the song and the album. The album cover sees her, donned in full clown makeup, looking glumly to the sky. Perry is an artist who has consistently been giving the world fun-filled bops – how was she supposed to cope with the temporary reality that people weren’t as interested once she decided to get serious?

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“The children don't want to play anymore. The kids don't want to play anymore. And, you know, the clown feels a little bit like it has lost its purpose or its sense,” she said.

But Perry tells me that Smile is her welcoming back the fun, the comedy and the playfulness that made the world fall in love with her in the first place, with intervention from her ‘higher self’.

“I err on the empowerment side more than I do anything really too dark. But that's only because I'm like, when I'm writing those empowerment songs, I’m already so fucking dark. This is basically my higher self taking over and going, ‘I’m taking the wheel bitch!’ and coming in and helping me be inspired again.”

Even in the singles Perry has unleashed from Smile thus far, you can hear elements of the old Katy shine through. Both "Daisies" and "Smile" are booming declarations of optimism and freedom, while "Harleys In Hawaii" is smooth and playful. But the clear standout is 2019’s "Never Really Over" which is a magnificent return to form, akin to the stadium-ready pop belters of 2010 Katy Perry.

Speaking of 2010, that was an important year for Katy and her fans as it saw the release of her seminal, near-perfect album, Teenage Dream. It’s a technicolour wonderland, taking you on a candy-coated journey through sweet escapism with just the right amount of sour depths.

With the 10-year anniversary of the album fast approaching, Perry still likes looking back at her first baby.

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"I love it because there's a part of me that's very Walt Disney-esque. It's very just fantasy and idyllic. It was about creating an escape and that was totally it," she says.

"That was just me creating my Willy Wonka moment, and it was fun. And there's depth on that record. With everything I do, sometimes I put out the sugar and then if you want some more depth, you just have to go a little bit deeper because it's always there for you to dive into. But I'm just glad it holds up and people are happy to celebrate. It's nothing I'm ashamed of, it's something I'm super proud of and I'm just happy it's my baby."

Since 2010, though, we've seen many iterations of Katy Perry. There's the literal bubblegum princess of Teenage Dream, and the fierce empress of its re-release with "Part Of Me" and "Wide Awake". There's the wide-eyed survivor of Prism, and the third-eyed iconoclast of Witness. And now we have the melancholy clown of Smile.

But Perry says that the need to change things up comes entirely from within herself.

"It's just mostly out of my own love of experimentation and lust for life, just being so heavily influenced by pop culture and art and people and decades," she says.

Pop culture reference points for Smile? She says, with bright eyes, that there's sprinkles of Goldfrapp and Britney Spears found within the album, but that she also took major influence from the concept of the original jester. Dressed in full makeup and a silly outfit, the jester is the one that's called on by the monarch to dance and play at will regardless of what the jester is feeling – not totally unlike what it means to be a modern female pop star.

Jesters were required to put on a happy face despite how they actually might have been feeling, but Smile is Katy learning that she can do both, with particular attention to the title track.

"It's a touchstone and it's a reminder that anytime I think I'm going backwards I can be like 'hmmm' or that I can't get through something I can be like, 'well, you kinda did'," she says.

"The reality is that I'm not ignorant to think that I won't struggle again. But, I guess this work reminds me, these songs really remind me that I can get through."

As she lists off some of the titles of songs on the album, that message shines through pretty clearly. "Not The End Of The World", "Resilient", "Teary Eyes" – all songs that were written during what Perry describes as the darkest period of her life, but are being released at a time where she feels very much alive, very much in love, and very much ready to bring new life into the world.

But, the awareness that she will struggle again also makes up a large part of what the album is about. She brings up another album track, "Cry About It Later", which unpacks that very concept.

Katy quotes the song's lyrics – "I'll cry about it later, tonight I'm having fun / Champagne on ice only makes you stronger" – signifying a very huge reprieve she must be yearning for right now. 

"I can do the smiles, I can do the daisies, I can do the fireworks. But sometimes you just need a fucking drink," she says, grinning.

"Therapy is great, now take me to the bar."

The release and reprieve Katy Perry is waiting for is three-pronged: she's ready for the pandemic to be over; she's ready to give birth; and she's ready to have Smile out into the world. As everyone tries to conceptualise what life post-COVID will look like, if such a thing exists at all, it feels like we all could use a shot of happiness in whatever form that takes. Katy knows what her mission is: she's known it for more than a decade. It's time for us all to sit back and take a breather, because the next round is on her. 

Katy Perry's fifth studio album, Smile, is set to be released on August 28.

Written by Jackson Langford, music contributor at MTV Australia. Hot takes at @jacksonlangford and hotter pics at @jacksonlangford.

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