The landscape of popular music is littered with one-and-done artists who aren't able to parlay the success of a debut into a second effort. Consider the likes of Ashanti or James Blunt, both of whom had chart-topping hits and then struggled to keep it going the second time around. Neither Jessica Simpson nor Mandy Moore managed to come anywhere close to the heights of their first releases, and there are too many boy bands in this predicament to count.
But Perry is part of a new wave of pop stars who have managed to overcome the sophomore slump and do it with aplomb. Perry joins Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift among the many other names who have taken their second releases to even greater heights than their chart-busting debuts. What are they doing that other people aren't?
Expectations tend to torpedo second albums before they get a chance to prove themselves, and it's possible that the latest batch of pop stars have managed to sidestep those. "Gaga was an unknown who steadily built her way up through the dance charts, Perry had already been dropped from several labels when she released her debut, and Bieber was just a cute little underage nugget with a bunch of YouTube page views," Entertainment Weekly's Leah Greenblatt explained. "I think in all three cases, their first albums were made without huge expectations." She suggests that there is no one clear way to avoid the sophomore slump, though the artists above do certainly have something in common. "All three have a pretty massive presence online," she said. "Their respective Twitters are these very vital, personalized hubs for their fans to stay connected throughout the recording and touring process and even their downtime. I think it really invests fans in a way that wasn't really possible even a year or two ago."
Social networking certainly keeps you connected to your audience, though according to Melissa Maerz (who writes for Rolling Stone, Spin and Wired), all that is pretty useless unless the artist actually has a personality to show off. Luckily, that's not a problem, especially for Perry and Gaga. "The second record is always tough for artists, because they're more well-known than they were on their debut, but that also means there's more pressure for them to succeed by taking new risks musically," she said. "But Lady Gaga and Katy Perry have already found a formula that works, and it's not so much about the music as it is about the big personality. Katy Perry could probably continue to break every one of her songs down to syllables ("Cal-i-for-nia Girls!" "Teen-age Dream!") and no one would care, as long as she's out there shooting whipped cream out her bra."
In fact, it may just be a sign of the times. "I think that has more to do with the time we live in, rather than the stars themselves," MTV News Rock Editor James Montgomery said. "Singles and ringtones drive the industry now, so it's a lot easier to avoid putting out a confounding second album. All you have to do is release a few singles, and you're on your way. It's easier to convince someone to pay 99 cents for a track rather than $14.99 for an album. So, really, the deck is stacked in the pop star's favor these days."
All three of our experts hit on a key bottom line: If the songs are good, people will be interested. The secret is that simple, and yet so many artists get caught up making the "confounding second album." "The old saying goes, 'You have your entire life to make your first album,' so you get to tinker away at it, in obscurity, for as long as you want. It is very much your project," Montgomery noted. "Thanks to the success of the first album, you've got an ego now. So you believe in your own brilliance, you stop listening to good advice, you shoot for the stars. And all of those things are bad, especially when it comes to pop music, because they lead you to make terrible decisions. Your second album may be your favorite one, but more than likely, it's not anyone else's."
Who are some of your favorite artists who have fallen victim to the sophomore slump? Let us know in the comments!