Forget the summer of 2013; we already know the score: Robin Thicke 1, World 0 . The year’s real showdown is looming on the horizon … when two of the biggest stars on the planet go head-to-head in a battle for pop supremacy.
They’ll both release albums within three weeks of each other — Katy’s Prism is due on October 22, Gaga’s ARTPOP on November 11 — and though you could just chalk those dates up to the traditional fourth-quarter rush (when labels stack their biggest releases to capitalize on the holiday season sales bump), there are some who see them as something more.
Forget about mere coincidence or corporate strategy … this could be personal.
“The timing is probably intentional,” Nicole Sia, SPIN’s managing editor said. “I just watched Katy Perry’s ‘Part of Me,’ and there’s a scene at an awards show where Katy’s presented an award, and she’s backstage and Gaga walks by and is like ‘Congrats,’ but is throwing shade in a way. So I think it’s going to be a showdown.”
Of course, personal vendettas aside, there has to be a winner. And just who will come out on top is a matter of much debate. The stats certainly seem to favor Gaga — she’s sold more albums and singles — but one also needs to consider recent history, which seems to favor Katy. After all, she’s coming off the historic success of her Teenage Dream album, while Gaga’s Born This Way opened hue but failed to match the sales of her breakout The Fame album.
And then there’s the matter of how each star spent the past year: Aside from her headline-grabbing relationship with John Mayer , Perry spent most of the past 12 months readying her new album, while Gaga was forced to scrap the Born This Way Ball and disappear from the spotlight to recover from hip surgery.
“To me, Gaga has become more of a performance artist than a pop star, and she’s working outside the frame of conventional wisdom with what you do as a pop star. Katy is still a great, traditional pop star, not as innovative or forward thinking, but her music is more likely to connect with the masses,” Idolator associate editor Sam Lansky said. “Especially given the shapes of their respective absences. To the broader, mainstream public, Gaga’s absence has been pretty weird — she’s been rolling around in a gold wheelchair — whereas Katy has basically just been going out to dinner with John Mayer.”
“Katy’s a pure pop star, with incredibly big hooks and an armada of pop crafters with her … She’s that kind of pop spectacular artist,” Keith Caulfield, Billboard’s associate director of charts and retail, added. “It is interesting to compare the way [Perry and Gaga] chose to announce their albums and singles: Katy drives a gold semi through Los Angeles , meanwhile Gaga is on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily with this interesting cover art and all of this voluminous explanation of her artistry … so much goes into Gaga that I think it’s hard for people to hear the music; whereas with Katy, it’s just the music.”
Of course, public opinion is a fickle thing — “Right now, Katy Perry is a pop star for the people, and Gaga has her freaks and misfits, but that could change,” Sia said — and each star’s fanbases will undoubtedly support their icons no matter what. Which means that this battle will ultimately be decided on the great grasslands of the mainstream, with first singles being the deciding factor. And, once again, that could mean advantage: Perry.
“Gaga’s fans are unparalleled when it comes to intensity. No other pop star inspires that level of fervor. With her, it’s less of a situation where people are going to hear the single on the radio and then go out and buy the album,” Lansky said. “Katy is almost the opposite; she makes great pop songs, she’s not operating on the same extent. Gaga’s album is, literally ARTPOP. Katy takes a more understated approach; she’s an artist, she’s making music, that’s what she does.”
“When it comes to her first single, Gaga’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t,” Caulfied said.” If she does a catchy ‘Just Dance’ song, it could be seen backtracking, and if she does something left field, it’s going to possibly hurt her in terms of getting a larger fanbase. Needless to say, Katy doesn’t have those problems.”
Or, to put it in simpler terms:
“If it’s an old Gaga single, she’ll put Katy Perry in the ground,” Sia added. “But if Katy Perry comes back with ‘Firework, Part II,’ it’s over.”
If history is any indicator, Gaga is thinking long-term. To her, an album has always been the jumping-off point towards something larger: a series of epic videos, a massive tour. She’s already booked a high-profile comeback performance at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards , and we know Gaga isn’t looking to blend in .
On the other hand, we know Katy’s driving her big gold truck around the American West … and no one really knows what’s inside, or where it’s headed next.
— Adam Lambert (@adamlambert) July 29, 2013
On top of that there are plenty of other uncertainties: We’ve yet to hear either artist’s first single, and it’s entirely possible that, at this stage in her career, Gaga isn’t concerned with connecting with the mainstream. Shoot, there could be even more high-profile fourth-quarter releases we aren’t even aware of just yet (Beyonce , Eminem , we’re looking at you), but right now, the stage is set for this showdown, and someone will survive the A-POP-calypse. We just might have to look beyond first-week numbers to determine a winner.
“I think it is much likelier Gaga will have stronger first-week sales; but I think Katy’s lead single will perform better and her subsequent singles will continue to perform better over time,” Lansky said. “Especially since Gaga’s recent track record of a huge first week then falling off … Ultimately, I think Katy’s album will resonate with the mainstream, where Gaga will have a greater degree of resonance with a more niche audience.”
“Katy Perry is cheerleader pop, it’s fun, it’s upbeat and colorful, and that’s what people want now,” Sia added. “Gaga tries to turn it into something else. She wants to make art, [and], I think that’s where she runs into trouble. She’s trying to balance trying to be commercial while trying to be transgressive, and that will hurt her in the long run.”
Still, some are waiting to reserve judgment. After all, we’re still months away from the A-POP-calypse … and anything can happen.
“If only I had a crystal ball!” Caulfield laughed. “I don’t know who this will play out! There are so many circumstances, that it’s hard to say … Maybe it’s not a competition; I don’t think it’s ‘who’s better than the other.’ “