In the same week that Katy Perry released her new album, Smile, the pop superstar welcome her first child, a daughter named Daisy, into the world. That timing was coincidental — give Perry props for a monumental few days, of course — but also underlines the change that she embraces on the follow-up to 2017’s uneven Witness. The frequent Hot 100 chart-topper still uses a positive pop foundation and understands how to deliver a gargantuan hook, but she’s more focused on family, long-lasting love and sustaining personal growth, learning to grin through a difficult period and remain an authoritative mainstream voice.
Although Smile has just arrived, we already have our personal favorites, the Katy Perry songs that add up to a compelling new whole but that we expect to return to most frequently. Here is our preliminary opinion on the best songs on Katy Perry’s Smile.
12. “Not the End of the World”
Although “Not the End of the World” contains some of the most memorable lyrics on Smile — “You might see a cliff, but I see a way to fly / Flipping off the flop, now I just enjoy the ride” is one grade-A couplet — its trap-influenced production and interpolation of Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” clashes with the rest of the album around it.
Back-to-back with “Champagne Problems” on the Smile track list, “Tucked” continues the disco vibes with a romantic twist, offering a “sweet escape” to a partner she doesn’t make sense with on paper. The song offers its own sort of island-zen escape during a pandemic, as Perry sings of star-crossed getaways we can only dream about.
10. “Only Love”
What would you do if you knew you had one day left on Earth? It’s the question Perry asks herself on the gospel-tinged, family-focused “Only Love,” which leans into its sentimentality (check those choir harmonies!) and could connect at adult contemporary radio.
9. “Teary Eyes”
Consider “Teary Eyes” Perry’s house music sequel to “Firework” — instead of uplifting the downtrodden with an inspirational anthem, she reaches out to the lost and left behind and commands them to keep dancing instead of running away. The chorus here arrives in abrupt fashion, but Perry’s vocal take helps it go down smoothly.
Think of it as gratitude-pop: the Smile title track finds Perry back on her feet, extolling her inner strength and reaping its rewards as the glittery production recalls her Prism era. “Smile” may refer to Perry’s personal bounce-back following her Witness misstep, but it’s universal enough to soundtrack any rise-from-the-ashes narrative shift.
7. “What Makes a Woman”
The standard edition of Smile ends with “What Makes a Woman,” a stripped-down piece of acoustic pop that blends a folksy hook with some electronic production flourishes. Perry sounds exceedingly confident and never overreaches, offering what may be a quiet turning point for the superstar’s sound.
In the process of gathering personal strength, Perry turns to the natural world and eludes to the fact that superstars make easy targets: “I know the higher I climb, the harder the wind blows,” she sings on “Resilient.” With its pared-down production, the song places the emphasis on Perry’s words, and she turns in one of the most effective co-writes on the album.
5. “Harleys in Hawaii”
Released last year as a trop-pop change-up, “Harleys in Hawaii” has aged well, its woozy romance unfurling as a mid-tempo pleasure late in the Smile track list. If not exactly adventurous, the song hinted at the adult-contemporary transition that Perry would further explore on the album.
The first official single from Smile contains the type of canyon-sized chorus that Perry has frequently utilized for chart-topping smashes, and although this more contemplative power ballad hasn’t caught on at pop radio, the major-key strength is still present, Perry’s voice sinking into the chugging guitars and provoking inspiration.
3. “Cry About It Later”
An avoidance banger with a hypnotic thump, “Cry About It Later” gives Perry the opportunity to shrug off her issues in favor of drinking and flirting. “I know tomorrow, I’ll be love hungover / But I’m ready for a shameless summer,” she declares, conveying a sentiment all too relatable during a taxing year for one’s mental health.
2. “Champagne Problems”
Perry has found success before with disco-pop, but the celebratory “Champagne Problems” arrives at a moment in which the style has retaken the mainstream, and could end up crossing over given a single campaign. The hook here is one of Smile’s most straightforward, and the simplicity works.
1. “Never Really Over”
In 2019, Perry scored an unexpected top 20 hit with “Never Really Over,” a deliciously maximalist electro-pop opus co-produced by Zedd and featuring one of her most belt-worthy choruses to date. In its new context as the first track on Smile, the track harkens back to Perry’s Teenage Dream days while offering a more grounded worldview: this album will have plenty of hooks, but they’ll be given from a wiser perspective. It’s been over a year, but come on: “Never Really Over” never really stopped ruling.