Published on August 25th, 2013 | by Craig Silliphant0
The Listening Post: Lady Gaga VS. Katy Perry
I wanted to challenge myself a bit, so I threw it out there on Facebook that people should suggest tracks of music that I wouldn’t normally listen to and I would write about one (Wal-mart country, Autotune Pop, Nu Rock, that sort of thing). Apparently, my friends are real dicks, because they went straight to shit like Toby Keith. But my pal and fellow writer Heath McCoy suggested that rather than choose one song to unpack, I take two songs and let them battle it out. The songs he suggested were timely and apt, so I thought it was a great idea. In fact, these two songs by artists that I normally wouldn’t pay much attention to are in a pitched battle for late summer Top 40 chart supremacy. Katy Perry’s new single ‘Roar,’ and Lady Gaga’s latest, ‘Applause.’
Take note that the point of this wasn’t to trash stuff (though I didn’t want to pull too many punches either — I wanted to be honest). I wanted to be punished a little bit to stretch my ‘writing’ legs, but I also hoped I might be surprised. To take something on its own terms and decide if I thought it had merit, and the idea of pitting two songs against each other also feels like a better exercise, you know, because there’ll be a winner at the end instead of just my cynical ruminations. But without further adieu, here is the first installment of The Feedback Society’s Listening Post.
Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ VS Lady Gaga’s ‘Applause’ (or is that, ‘Applesauce?’)
Katy Perry – ‘Roar’
I’m already thrown off from the first few lines, which isn’t a good sign. Of the first four phrases, three of them are pretty lame clichés. “I bite my tongue, and hold my breath, scared to rock the boat, and make a mess.” In fact, while I like the minimalism of the track at the start, it does feel pretty generic and boring, without any semblance of personality in the lyrics or how Perry sings them. She has a nice voice for this sort of thing, sure enough, but this song doesn’t showcase her spunk.
The chorus ramps it up a bit and gets catchier, though the lyrics leave me befuddled. Is she being silly on purpose? She’s borrowing from Helen Ready’s ‘I Am Woman (Hear Me Roar),’ which is fine, but she’s also nipping bits and pieces from Survivor (‘Eye of the Tiger’) and Queen (‘We are the Champions’), without any of the passion of either of these songs. I don’t feel like she’s doing this ironically either, which makes some of the lyrics unintentionally goofy. I like the way she holds her voice in the hook when she says, “you’re going to hear me roar,” but it’s not enough. The production is punchier here, but still pretty slick and lifeless.
The track itself strikes me as being too tame and glossy to be expressing the idea of a woman ‘roaring’ at the world. Now, I have to admit, that I’m probably missing the whole point. After all, I was raised on Axl Rose. When he wanted to ‘roar’ about something, you damn well knew it. I’m sure this song is crafted for the empowerment of 10-year old girls that feel like wallflowers ‘cause the cute boy didn’t ask them to dance (and there’s nothing wrong with catering to that market, as long as you don’t pretend to be something you’re not, which Perry doesn’t). But even this is problematic for me — it raises the idea that you’re telling little girls it’s okay to roar, as long as you don’t do it too loudly or impolitely. Even Helen Ready had some oomph to her schtick.
I don’t want to tread on Katy Perry here — for a pop songstress, she has some catchy tunes and a likeable demeanor. Also, I’d die happy if I was smothered to death in her boobies. But I don’t think ‘Roar’ does anything for her cache, at least in my eyes.
Lady Gaga – ‘Applause’
I purposely didn’t do any research for this assignment, because I didn’t want to know too much about the backgrounds of the songs, so I could take them at face value. However, I did see the video for ‘Applause,’ and I remember reading that it was a parody of Weird Al parodying her, which seems like a Lady Gaga move. She has a certain awareness about her persona that can be both refreshing for a pop star, but also too calculated. Also, why does she now look like Death from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal?
From the opening of the song, I’m already more interested. She’s doing a weird vocal affectation in the first verse that sticks out well. The music itself is more interesting, and the production, while still overly slick in some ‘meh’ ways, is miles better than the Perry track. When the chorus comes, it hits a lot harder too — the hook itself is way more of an earworm. And while they sound sort of hollow, I can never resist that ‘yo-mama-says-you-ugly’ hand clapping pattern in songs.
Lady Gaga says ‘screw you’ to the critics and the haters and tells us “she lives for the applause.” She may have been the target of bullies growing up — and it’s great that she urges her fans to be themselves, but this still rings of a shallow fakeness. Does she still have that many critics, really? Isn’t she an awesomely rich mega-star that is lauded for her songwriting chops by even the snobbiest of music writers? Anyway, I like that the lyrics are saying something, even if it feels a bit calculated. And while there’s more to life than “the applause” and feeding into the rampant mutant of nonsense that is celebrity culture, I at least respect that there’s always a sense of irony with Lady Gaga. She might just be fucking with me.
I don’t think this is the best Gaga song I’ve heard, but it’s infinitely more interesting than the Katy Perry track, so I’m going to go ahead and call Gaga the winner. While it’s not something I would blast from my car on a summer day, the hook was still in my head a little while later, and it’s got a helluva lot more roar than ‘Roar.’
The Winner: Lady Gaga’s ‘Applause!’