As long as there has been pop music there have been rivalries between bands. Whether these were initiated between the singers themselves or by the public’s perception of them is often unclear, but there was The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones, Oasis vs. Blur, Take That vs. East 17, Britney vs. Christina, Girls Aloud vs. Sugababes, Beyoncé vs. Rihanna… Give the tabloid press something to write about celebrities and they’ll flog that horse to death, so when two of the biggest singers in the world premiered their new songs on the same day back in August, a new rivalry was born: Lady Gaga vs. Katy Perry.
The comparisons between Lady Gaga and Madonna have been around since Gaga first exploded into the charts in 2008, and it’s easy to see why. Madonna earned her ‘Queen of Pop’ title relatively early on in her career because of the public’s fascination with her; she fed off the attention, providing her fans and critics alike with more and more outrageous behaviour and controversial material that fed the flames of her superstardom. Lady Gaga has done exactly the same and then some. Within the space of a year, during which the world was intrigued by this kooky young New Yorker, she transformed from the girl with the lightning bolt of Just Dance to the full blown fashionista and artistic muse that arrived with the Paparazzi video. Within the space of an album, all attempts at making her palatable and accessible vanished, because the public were so intrigued by this newcomer’s flagrant desire to be different and unusual.
So what made the public wholly embrace Lady Gaga’s peculiarities over other singers, whose attempts to join art and pop music have reached only limited levels of success? Björk is probably the prime example; married to performance artist Matthew Barney, her quirky Icelandic brand of guttural and volcanic dance pop did manage to make a dent in the charts initially, but as soon as she established herself as an artist and carved her niche, the artistic freedom she was now given meant that she pulled herself further and further from the mainstream. This is something Gaga has refused to do. The ideal of Lady Gaga is that she is an entry point into the artistic world for the masses; she is the catalyst that will bridge the gap between music, art, performance and fashion. Gaga can do whatever she wants, as long as she has the music to back this up and keep her riding high in the charts. The actual concept of “Gaga” doesn’t work unless she is worldwide superstar.
Whether or not one of these singers’ music is any better than the other’s is debatable. Rihanna has her highlights (We Found Love, Only Girl In The World) and her lowlights (Take A Bow, Te Amo), just like Gaga (the choice of singles from Born This Way weren’t brilliant). Gaga’s release strategy leaves a lot to be desired (teaser singles from albums hasn’t yet worked for anyone, so why exactly is she doing for a second time right now?), but she does seem to be committed to one thing; Gaga will always maintain Gaga as “Gaga”. There is no pretention of being anything else, no attempt to whitewash that sometimes abrasive personality to make it more appetising. Katy Perry has become so mainstream and so accessible that the edgier I Kissed A Girl/Hot n Cold seem like a distant memory. Let’s not forget that when Perry first started, she was a novelty act. Her primary concern now appears to be the importance of mass appeal; this is pop music with the emphasis on the ‘pop’. That’s no criticism of her, but it’s difficult to see exactly who the real Katy Perry is behind the stomping choruses. Perry is a true popstar however; she smiles, performs, oozes charisma on stage… and we’ll ignore the fact that, like Madonna, she’s not got that great a voice. While Gaga does her best to empower the inner “freak” in all of us, Perry tries to appeal to our self-confidence – they’re two sides of the same coin. They’re both delivering the same message, but in different ways.
Rihanna, Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga have been dominating female pop music for years, each with their own different message, each with their own different niche. Everyone will have one that they prefer over the others, but why do we now feel the need to decide that only one can be good, while the others aren’t. Can they not all be good in their own unique ways? I personally prefer Applause to Roar, but because the two are such different songs, the comparisons everyone has been making, based on chart performance, is somewhat unfounded. Whether it was Perry or Gaga who sold more copies of their singles is immaterial; their popularity endures, their fanbases are still very vocally in existence and they are both icons of our time. Declaring that I’m Team Gaga implies that I’m not Team Perry, but I actually do quite like the majority of the latter’s work. I might be a Little Monster, but I lap up everything Beyoncé or Rihanna produce. And I’m quite sure that most Britney fans secretly quite like Christina’s music too. Live and let live y’all! But in terms of cultural significance, iconic status and place in the canon of pop culture, it’s not difficult to see that it’s Gaga who has probably made the most impact of all.