Talk about a smokin' singles scene: Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, both of whom have been relatively sleepy after ubiquitous — some might say smothering — stretches in 2010 and '11, released brand-new cuts this week.
Perry's Roar, a midtempo shout of rah-rah empowerment, and Gaga's Applause, a somewhat paranoid dance tune aimed at critics and Little Monsters alike, could make for an unprecedented digital sales week, according to Billboard magazine.
Everyone's watching the iTunes charts, as the pop stars vie for No. 1. (Chart-topper Perry was ahead of runner-up Gaga at press time.) But for all the talk of battle, here's another question:
Are the tracks any good?
Here's my quick take:
Katy Perry, Roar (Capitol) GRADE: B Let's get this drama out of the way first: Yes, Perry's new single — written by five different people, including hitmakers Dr. Luke and Max Martin — sounds a bit like Sara Bareilles' Brave, especially those perky keyboard pounds at song's start. And both sets of lyrics are about standing up for yourself. But there are enough differences to make the bubbling controversy go away soon enough. Plus Perry's hook is a unique winner, complete with a reference to Survivor's '80s anthem Eye of the Tiger and vocal trickery on the chorus ("And you're gonna hear me roooaaRRR-oh-oh-oh").
Perry, 28, will probably follow this single from new album Prism (due out Oct. 22) with something PG13-naughty. After all, this is the woman who made whipped-cream bikini launchers a fashion statement. But Roar is a happy-happy G-rated blast aimed at a teen-strong fan base that loves, needs, deserves to be boosted with affirmation. And rote go-get-'ems like "You held me down / But I got up / Get ready 'cause I've had enough" will only make K.P. more beloved.
Lady Gaga, Applause (Interscope) GRADE: C+ Whereas Perry is going for a somewhat naturalistic vibe in her look and music, the provocateur born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta has been going Full Gaga to regain our attention. From her violently smeared rainbow makeup to weirdo naked teaser trailers for Nov. 11 album Artpop, the 27-year-old is hoping to push envelopes. And yet, Applause — all parts Missing Persons rigidity and '80s New Wave chill — is actually a safe-sounding retro-minded synth banger. Produced by DJ White Shadow and Gaga, it's sonically pleasing enough, the artist once again displaying an innate knack for dramatic pauses and crescendoes.
Lyrically, however, Gaga disappoints. Her quest for approval, now tinged with a disingenuous aversion to criticism, comes off as tired, been-there: "I stand here waiting for you to bang the gong / To crash the critic saying 'Is it right or is it wrong?' / If only fame had an IV, baby could I bear / Being away from you, I found the vein, put it in here." But hey, that's Gaga's shtick. Weird on the outside, catchy on the inside. Everyone, outcast and otherwise, is invited to her party — and there's every reason to believe they'll all show up again.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.