How Lady Gaga Lost Her Chart Battle With Katy Perry

The triumph of “Roar” over “Applause” reveals a philosophical rift between the two pop stars. As it turns out, people are more excited to hear themselves in a song than revel in someone else’s fame.

Katy Perry and Lady Gaga’s comeback singles weren’t meant to come out the same week. Perry’s “Roar” leaked two days ahead of schedule, and Gaga’s “Applause,” originally slated for August 18th, was rushed out after a low-quality mp3 of the song leaked. Or so they say – it’s not hard to imagine that Gaga intentionally jumped the gun to force a competition with her main rival on the pop charts. But regardless of how this came to be, this clash of pop divas has a clear and decisive winner: Katy Perry, whose single has far better buzz and has a firm lock on the top of the iTunes singles chart, while Gaga lags behind in second place. We won’t have a clear idea of how much more Perry has sold compared to Gaga until next week, but the difference in views between the official lyrics videos for their songs is rather extreme. Perry’s emoji-filled video for “Roar” was released two days ahead of the clip for “Applause,” but nevertheless has 7.3 million views while Gaga is hovering just above 500K. (However, the “official audio” clip on Gaga’s YouTube channel is over 9 million.)

The most frustrating thing about “Applause” is that it sounds so much like Lady Gaga dialing down her excesses, hedging her bets, and aiming for an easy hit because, frankly, she needs one after a year away from the charts. Though the lyrics lay out a vague manifesto for her ARTPOP album and name check Jeff Koons, the song lacks the musical boldness of her previous record Born This Way, and comes off like a retread of her catchy but less sophisticated material from her debut, The Fame. In the hierarchy of Gaga singles it is strictly c-list, but it’s still pretty good. But a song about how you are a pop visionary needs to be more than just pretty good to prove its point, you know?

“Roar” isn’t a better song than “Applause,” but it is far easier to like. Perry’s single bears a striking resemblance to Sara Bareilles’ song “Brave,” but in fairness, it sounds a little bit like dozens of songs. Hearing it for the first time feels like déjà vu. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – a lot of great pop songs have that effect – but it’s hard to shake off the sense that this is a very cynical piece of music. Whereas Gaga is going out on a limb with an elaborate art project that she must know will alienate millions of people, Perry is embracing a safe sound and a safe message. Is that a better business plan? Oh, hell yes. Most definitely. But it’s much less interesting.