Listen at the audio link to Ann Powers' conversation with NPR's Rachel Martin about the pair of singles that jump-started the fall 2013 pop season.
How do you know autumn is on its way? Turning leaves? Previews of Oscar contenders at the movie theater? The announcement of a new J.J. Abrams project? Pop music fans know the season's turning because the music of the stars begins to leak.
That sounds poetic, but it's really just business. Major artists releasing albums in the fall quarter need to jump ahead of the pack. They stake their claims with singles that drop suddenly — whether by alleged accident or design — and get people talking ("Talking," kids, is an old-fashioned term for what we all do on Twitter.) These attention getters not only quickly claim their places on the charts: they help set the tone for what's to come in the months following.
We're hearing the first sounds of this year's blockbuster season right now — in the past week, we've had new singles from two titanic female forces; a stakes-raising track from a rock veteran; a buzzy new act's debut album announcement (and a new song) and a game-changing verse from rap's shiniest light. As each new song dropped on the heels of the last, this midsummer week quite unexpectedly became the beginning of a new hit cycle. What can we learn about pop's near future from these events? Here's a playlist and some quick prognostication on the back-to-school season of 2013.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Two of the biggest stars in pop music released singles last week.
LADY GAGA: (Singing) Give me that thing that I love (turn the lights on). Put your hands up, make 'em touch, (leave the lights on). Give me that thing that I love with the lights on, put your hands, make them touch, (leave the lights on).
MARTIN: That's Lady Gaga's new single, "Applause." And this is Katy Perry's single, "Roar."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROAR")
KATY PERRY: (Singing) I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire, 'cause I am a champion and you're gonna hear me roar louder...
MARTIN: These songs are getting a whole lot of hype, so we have called up NPR music critic Ann Powers to talk about whether or not they deserve it, and if these two power pop queens still have the pop factor. Ann joins us from Alabama Public Radio. Hi there.
ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Hey Rachel, how are you doing?
MARTIN: Doing well, thank you. So how big really are these songs, Ann?
POWERS: Well, both of them hit big out of the gates, both likely sell in the hundreds of thousands. But, really, it's because Katy Perry and Lady Gaga are such well established, even at their young age, veteran pop artists that this is news. They're making a comeback after quite a while out of the spotlight.
MARTIN: So Katy Perry's last album was released in 2010, Lady Gaga's in 2011. The pop industry is so fast moving and are these women setting the pace or are they trying to keep up?
POWERS: Well, it's interesting, Rachel. In a decade that's been dominated by female pop artists, this past half year has really belonged to the guys. Justin Timberlake has had a huge album release this year and is going to have another album in the fall. The Indy rapper, Macklemore, has had several hits out of kind of nowhere, and the crooner, Robin Thicke, with "Blurred Lines," has finally broken through to the Top 40.
And finally, the French electronic due, Daft Punk, has produced my favorite summer dance song, "Get Lucky." So Katy Perry and Lady Gaga coming back. I think it's a kind of return to the status quo and I like the fact that the status quo in pop belongs to women.
MARTIN: OK. So any chance that either of these singles by Lady Gaga and Katy Perry might overtake those songs you just talked about and become the ultimate summer anthem of 2013?
POWERS: We're too late in the season for another summer anthem, Rachel, but autumn is a long season and we're going to be hearing Katy Perry "Roar" throughout it. I don't know if "Applause" is going to be the breakthrough single from Gaga. I think the whole album and her multi-media concept, whatever it is this time, will probably come to dominate. I expect Gaga to really grab the spotlight, but not necessarily with the song.
MARTIN: OK. So do I hear your answer to this next question? In your opinion, if I were to press you, if you had to choose in the battle of the pop divas when it comes to these singles, the win goes to?
POWERS: Well, I always say Beyonce wins every battle in pop, but she doesn't have a single out right now.
MARTIN: Setting Beyonce aside.
POWERS: Katy Perry wins in the first round, but Gaga may come back and provide a TKO.
MARTIN: Never underestimate Gaga. That's what I...
POWERS: I do not.
MARTIN: Ann Powers is NPR's music critic. She joined me from Alabama Public Radio. Thanks so much, Ann.
POWERS: Talk to you later, thanks.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE RUN THE WORLD (GIRLS))
BEYONCE: (Singing) Who are we? We run. We run the world. Who run the world? Girls, girls. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.