It feels like post-“Dark Horse,” Katy Perry has been struggling to find her footing in a changing pop landscape that 1) isn’t kind to aging women and 2) was becoming increasingly hip-hop centric. Her 2017 album, Witness, had some bright spots, but was marred by songs that felt half-baked and lacked the finesse of her previous smash hits (“Swish Swish”; “Bon Appetit”). Earlier this year, Katy released the sublime “Never Really Over” (review here) and things seemed to be getting back on track for her. The bombastic chorus was right in line with “Hot N Cold” and “Teenage Dream,” but the subject matter marked some maturation. Katy’s songwriting prowess in on full display in “Small Talk,” but sonically, the new track marks a departure from what makes the pop icon so lovable.
On “Small Talk” Katy croons about the awkward nature of hook-ups and failed relationships; “We went from strangers to lovers to strangers in a lifetime,” is a pretty great refrain. While “Never Really Over” had a more impressive overall vocal performance and big belting moments, “Small Talk,” by nature, requires a softer and more animated vocal performance. Charlie Puth, a credited writer and producer on “Small Talk,” is all over this track. Between the plucking bass and the downward melody on “now there’s nothing left but small talk,” this song is heavily influenced by the sounds of Charlie’s Voicenotes LP. “Small Talk,” fits more in the lane of Ingrid Michaelson than Ariana Grande, but it’s a refreshing sound for Katy. Admittedly, it’s a bit jarring because the sound is offbrand for Katy Perry. Nevertheless, the song is still good. However, “Small Talk” feels slightly unfinished and lacks the completeness of “Never Really Over.” The mixing of this track makes Katy’s voice sound particularly tinny, so “Small Talk” feels more like a strong demo than a solid single.