Katy Perry, ten years later

By Sabrina Li

Image courtesy of Universal Music Group.

The year is 2011. Katy Perry’s voice looms over department store speakers all over America and her “Last Friday Night” geek-to-chic transformation loops on TeenNick commercial breaks. She’s just landed five #1 singles from the same album (MJ is the only other artist to achieve this, rest in peace) and no matter wherever you go, you just can’t get that pastel-pink-cloud-ink-black-hair-lips-red-as-blood nude album cover out of sight.

Nine years, one Russell Brand divorce, one Taylor Swift feud (and subsequent reconciliation), and 22 charting singles later, Ms. Teenage Dream is ten months pregnant and happily engaged to Orlando Bloom with an album out at the end of the month to boot.

She’s cut her jet-black curls (which have taken all forms and colors over the years) into a straight bleached-blonde bob and sits before her webcam in a pink-and-white button-up covered with daisies and a matching head wrap. “I think that I am growing,” Perry’s trademark big eyes light up as she finds the right words, “I think everybody is kind of grown up. I’ve grown up with my audience.”

The past few years since Prism (think “Roar” and “Dark Horse”) have not been easy for Perry. Her fifth studio album and adjoining four-day YouTube live stream promotion dropped to negative critical reception following her chart-topping and record-breaking streak of One of the Boys (2008), Teenage Dream (2010), and Prism (2013), causing a clinical depression. “I was very flatlined,” admits Perry.

Perry explains how Smile, coming out August 28th, speaks to her own experience of finding her way out through themes of resilience, hope, and a light-heartedness that was lost in her Witness era. “The theme of the record is… clownery! Of sorts,” Perry starts, “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.” She makes an allusion to her “California Gurls” whipped cream scene and laughs.

The publicity does not come without a hint of self-awareness. “I think in some ways, some of you remember me with the black hair, or the blue hair, and all the candy,” Perry says bashfully—a reminder that our 2010s icon is a real person’s 2020 history, ten years past.

Today, having recently graced the cover of People baby bump and all, and proudly announced her commitment to Bloom in “Never Worn White,” Katy Perry has never looked less and more like herself at the same time. “I have fought kind of against being one thing for a long time,” Perry comments, going on to describe how many people would probably box her into “this one thing” for the first eight years of her career.

Witness was Perry’s first breakaway from the mold and now with Smile on the way, Perry is giving herself a second chance. Her album release comes in the middle of what she calls “a year of reckoning” and on the tail end of the Witness era’s commercial failure but as Perry puts it herself, “rebirth was never meant to be neat and tidy.”

Pre-order Smile, out August 28th.