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Katy Perry vs. Gaga: Letting Us Down One Pop Song At a Time

After a summer absent of any obvious (and strictly pop) hits, pop music staples Lady Gaga and Katy Perry have entered the summer radio foray this week, debuting their lead album singles “Roar” and “Applause.” Pop superstars in their own right, both boasting legions of dedicated fans worldwide, both songs naturally shot to the top of many international and online charts, spending many days trading off between the #1 and #2 spots.

While both songs leaked online prematurely, Perry’s “Roar” was the first to be released to iTunes last Sunday night, after an online leak made the song available to anyone with a working Internet connection.

Brushing questions of the leak’s authenticity–some say it had been orchestrated by the label to create buzz before it’s official release–aside, the single itself is catchy. The song starts off with some bouncy keys assisted by a steady drum beat. As the song progresses, Perry’s lyrics are accentuated at the ends of lines, making use of the empty and quiet space to help lead to the all-out choruses. Because as the chorus hits, voice-layering and guitar riffs produce a wall of sound which produce a grand if not contrived effect when paired with the strong lyrics: “I’ve got the eye of the tiger/ A fighter/ Dancing through the fire/ ‘Cause I am a champion/ And you’re gonna hear me roar.”

All in all, the piece is a strong continuation of Perry’s previous self-empowerment anthems, if not a bit of a redundancy; One would be forgiven for thinking the single isn’t that far in conceptualization or evolution from any of Perry’s singles from 2010’s “Teenage Dream.”

But Gaga also underwhelmed: After a summer full of hits which harkened to the days of ‘60’s and ‘70’s soul and funk music—Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” and Bruno Mars’ “Treasure,” to name a few–Gaga’s single managed to sound outdated in a completely different and unappealing way. The instrumentation (courtesy of DJ White Shadow, a “Born This Way” collaborator) fails to reach the innovativeness of “The Fame” or “The Fame Monster,” or punch-your-gut strength of “Born This Way.” Instead, the synth picks up the cheap faux 64-bit effect that Gaga’s last single “Marry The Night” dropped on its decline from the charts shortly before Christmas 2011.

The only exception to the song’s back-to-back disappointments is in the build up to the (would be balls-to-the-wall, save for the previously mentioned 64-bit instrumental) chorus: While Gaga sings “I live for the applause, applause, applause/ I live for the applause-pplause/ Live for the applause-applause,” the instrumental’s high end drops off and crescendo-ing clap-clap’s reveal the addictive disco-esque bassline that’s been buried under the over-production of the song. The moment recalls some of the better moment’s from Madonna’s “Confession On A Dancefloor”–a compliment, regardless of the nasty comparisons between the two stars.

Despite the disappointing singles, fans of the artists who disagree with the songs can rest assured that there are bound to be better cuts from both albums—judging from past single releases and album release trajectories, the teams behind Perry and Gaga (or perhaps the artists themselves) aren’t the best at choosing the best songs from the albums for lead statement singles. So here’s to Perry’s “PRISM” (Oct. 22) and Gaga’s “ARTPOP” (Nov. 11) having better b-sides.

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