What Katy Perry’s What Makes A Woman is really about

Katy Perry’s new album, Smile, is finally out, and its themes of a journey from darkness back towards light couldn’t have come at a better time. According to Perry herself, after the release of her album Witness, she became unable to lift herself out of depression and needed the support of medication for the first time in her life, which left her feeling “so ashamed” (via Independent). This new album represents the work she’s done over the past two years to overcome those negative thoughts and get her smile back, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the final song on the album, “What Makes a Woman.”

Rolling Stone calls the song “a celebration of womanhood,” but if you listen to the lyrics, Perry’s “What Makes a Woman” is a lot more than that. It starts with the singer asking a list of questions about what defines womanhood: “Is it the way I talk sweet? The way my skin is soft” Or how I can be a b****?” 

The chorus then cuts down these stereotypes: “Could spend your whole life, but you couldn’t/Describe what makes a woman/She’s always a perfect mystery… and that’s what makes a woman to me.” Essentially, Perry is rejecting any and all generalizations or assumptions about what makes a woman, implying that beyond societal expectations and those of men, it is a woman who truly defines herself. This becomes even more impactful when you learn who the song is dedicated to.

Who Katy Perry's 'What Makes a Woman' is dedicated to

If the themes of this song seem maternal in nature, that’s because they are. According to the pop star herself, the song is dedicated to her newborn daughter: “That is a hope I have for my future child, is that she doesn’t have any limits on any of her dreams, or what she wants to be, or who she thinks she is. And, you know, she can change whenever she wants. She… can try everything on if she wants; figure out what fits. And so I think that song is important to me and important for her” (via Billboard).

This idea is reflected again in the lines: “Is it the way I cut my hair/And put no makeup on? I feel most beautiful/Doing what the f*** I want.” Here, Perry encourages herself, her daughter, and the listener to pay more attention to their own definitions of womanhood and self than those imposed by others (via Genius). The song, and the album, end with a final, spoken line: “There it is, Katheryn.” Katheryn Hudson is Perry’s real name, and with that acknowledgment, we know that her “smile” is finally back.

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