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Monday, August 12, 2013

Downfall of Divas: Lady Gaga & Katy Perry New Singles Reviews

(Editor's note: this is not this week's "Song of the Week" feature; expect that in a day or two)

Today saw the release of singles from arguably two of the three biggest pop stars in the world; Katy Perry and Lady Gaga (Beyonce being the third). What's this, you say? Why post about these two artists on a blog primarily focused on alt/indie rock? Well, a couple of reasons: first of all, there's no denying these two have huge cultural impact, and that you'll be hearing these tracks non-stop as terrestrial radio will play them relentlessly; secondly, both are at least respectable artists, as neither of them make particularly bad music, at least not compared to other top 40 artists (*cough* LMFAO *cough*); and lastly, because both of the new singles are considerably worse than each of their respective previous releases.

Let's start with Gaga, who, while I'm not a pop fan by any means, has earned my respect as a music fan due to the messages she relays through her music. The ideas of being yourself, being unique and creative, and not caring what others think are all woefully ignored by the vast majority of top 40 "artists," who continuously perform songs with the same, over-abused, blatantly simple stories behind them. Also, I'm pretty sure she at least writes a good portion of what she performs, unlike her chart-topping counterparts. (Which, by some blissful miracle, now includes Queens of the Stone Age, whose new album ...Like Clockwork reached the #1 spot on Billboard's album chart earlier this year). Finally, there's no denying that "Bad Romance" is an pretty darn catchy tune. I've always felt that if all pop music sounded like Gaga's songs, maybe radio music would be half-bearable.

But today, the meat-dress-donning diva debuted her newest single, "Applause." Unfortunately, Gaga seems to have lost her artistic sense, as the track winds up being nothing more than something you could've found on a Cascada album or any other Europop/dance club hit from the past ten years. A big part of what made Lady Gaga somewhat decent is (or was) her originality, and this track lacks any uniqueness to it. Generic lyrics such as "now put your hands up" are littered across the song, and repeated several times. If some no-name singer had recorded this it wouldn't even chart, led alone shoot straight to #1 as you can expect it to this coming week on Billboard and iTunes alike as respectably devoted fans will ignore the song's shortcomings and love it "because it's Gaga." If you've ever read iTunes fan reviews of album pre-orders before they're released, you'll know that most of them say something along the lines of "'X' is the best singer ever and I just know this CD's going to be amazing!!!1!!" Sadly, if "Applause" is any indication, Lady Gaga's new upcoming album ARTPOP will be anything but amazing.

Katy Perry is another somewhat inoffensive pop star: her songs are usually low-key, her videos are fun and creative, and "I Kissed a Girl" had a sort of endearing "I don't care what you think of me" attitude much like Gaga possesses. Yet, also like Gaga, Perry put out her newest single today, titled "Roar," and it is disappointing as well. While the track does have some redeeming qualities, including Perry's above-average vocal performance and apparent lack of vocoder use (another reason I respect the pair). But the song's message not being taken advantage of in a relationship is worn-out, as all of Taylor Swift's last two albums will tell you. Also, there's nothing special about the song's composition; it sounds just like a good chunk of today's pop music. Although not as much of a let down to fans as Gaga's track should prove to be, I was hoping for something a little more interesting.

Just to be clear, it's a rare occasion I talk about artists like these two here, but since they've both got a pretty strong hold over the American public in terms of music culture, and since it's extremely uncommon for two high-profile artists to release singles on the same day, I felt it was appropriate.

Meanwhile, fellow punk groups Superchunk (via NPR) and No Age (also via NPR) each released their latest albums for stream today, and Washed Out's Paracosm comes out tomorrow. It's a great week for music fans, and it'll surely be a close race for Album of the Week on this blog.


  1. This is a needless post, I understand the need to set up a personal canon/brand - this often done by praising music of similar cultural cache (a value inherent in your taste), and the inverse being dismissing music you see as invalid which should be inherent in merely not covering it - but you ad hominem attacks on these two songs went beyond respectable standards. Instead of merely denouncing the tracks as "lacking in uniqueness" "nothing special" you could've applied a form of your own personal critique theory, pulling out of them meaning, anything commendable rather than commenting on the non-commendable and if the non-commendable out-weights the former then it should not be worth talking about because it adds nothing of value to the conversation. You could say that despite the disparity that definitely occurs between the verse and chorus of 'Applause' that the chorus sounds a lot like Phoenix, and carries a lot of energy - energy that, sadly, gets lost in transition between chorus to verse. As for 'Roar' what first came to me when listening to it is the swells of distorted guitar (mixed with the synthesizer) that build with each passage that allude to M83 - though with a more cogent emotional content than Anthony could ever dream of. As for their lyrics Gaga is largely devoid (it's all just bland "cool art" signifiers but the feeling is there, in the chorus) but the Katy Perry song though the conceit might be "worn-out" provides the continuing message of empowering women and reinforcing the power over their lives which is something special, relaying that message to the most common demographic of radio listening - teenage girls, the same girls navigating the hazards of daily subjugation. Your growth as a music writer as you develop your voice and your canon should also include a healthy dose of differing perspectives, not what this music does to service me (you can do that as a selfish blogger but not professionally as that is your ultimate desire) but what value does this provide others, and how can I come to understand that and convey that through what I understand about music and culture.

    I'm saying all this as someone who wants to see you grow and succeed as a writer, just some friendly advice :)

    Forever Young,

    - Sloth

  2. Dear Sloth,
    Rhanks for the comment, and I appreciate your advice. But I think I should clarify; this article is not designed to create any kind of "personal brand" by dismissing other tastes in music; rather, it's meant yo say that I feel two previously respectable pop stars are headed in the wrong direction musically. I even say that I find their older music much better representations of pop. Thanks for the advice, again I just wanted to clarify. Thsnks for reading.

  3. Also sorry about typos, typing on an iPod is not ideal.