Last week, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga released the first singles of their respective upcoming albums, Prism and (my fingers groan a little bit louder with old age every time I type this) ARTPOP. The ensuing battle to the top of the charts was like a taste test between a Saltine and a Saltine piled with sprinkles, truffle oil, caviar, gold flakes, Madonna's post-True Blue eyebrow pluckings, and lead paint chips from the walls of Andy Warhol's Factory. Both songs are meta-noise — Perry's reggae-lite "Roar" is about working up the nerve to cause a ruckus ("I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me ROAR"), while Gaga's aggressively ugly "Applause" is about having the nerve to declare how life-affirming ruckus directed at you can be ("I live for the applause, applause, applause"). If you play "Roar" and "Applause" simultaneously on stereos facing each other, the songs solve each other while opening up a black hole of infinite vacuousness.
Anyway, first-week numbers are in and "Roar" sold a massive 557,000 digital downloads (that's the third-highest digital first week ever, behind Flo Rida's "Right Round" and Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"), according to Billboard. Meanwhile, Gaga sold 218,000 downloads. Both notched strong airplay. "Roar" will hit No. 2 on the next Billboard Hot 100 chart (which combines sales, airplay, and Internet streams), while "Applause" will bow at No. 6.
And so, aggressive inoffensiveness in the form of self-affirming platitudes ("Now I’m floating like a butterfly / Stinging like a bee I earned my stripes / I went from zero, to my own hero," are actual words that Katy Perry sings!) wins over Gaga's somewhat convoluted affirmation of how famous people rely on public adoration and whatever the hell else is going on in "Applause." It's not exactly a huge shock, but this does suggest that now behind us are the days when anything Gaga released was a guaranteed smash. Perry's prime (her last album — and its reissue — spawned six Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s) seems as yet uninterrupted.
In an interesting side note, last night Gaga got dragged by Billboard's charts editor Bill Werde for tweeting a link to a playlist that would loop the "Applause" video for hours at a time to help pump its chart data.
An artist tweeting out and facebooking a link that enables a fan to hit play and leave their computer is not in the spirit of what we chart.— Bill Werde (@bwerde) August 21, 2013
But there's a line between that & an artist tweeting a link that plays same vid for 9 hours. Gaga said she made a mistake & I believe her.— Bill Werde (@bwerde) August 21, 2013
Gaga's move was desperate, yes, but the desire for such attention quantification is totally in line with the message of "Applause." She lives (or at least tweets) as she sings: utterly without shame. I almost admire the consistency.
[Images via Getty]