Number One

09.06.13

Katy Perry Is Pop Music's Biggest Star

Beyoncé is a goddess. Lady Gaga is an artist. But after logging her eighth number-one single, Katy Perry might be the biggest pop star of her time.

Beyoncé is an artist capable of whipping the world into an obsessive frenzy with just the slightest twitch of her hand—literally, she turned that very gesture into a global pop phenomenon—in turn bringing music listeners to their knees, bowing to her Tina-Turner-by-way-of-the-Tasmanian-Devil on-stage ferocity and star power. Lady Gaga is the kind of singing supernova who is shrewdly cognizant of the fact that pop music is, by nature, weird, and its stars themselves should be talked about as much as their songs. Justin Timberlake may be the closest heir to Michael Jackson’s throne we’ve seen yet, while Justin Bieber and One Direction dutifully fill their roles as the tween-set sensations.

Take a poll of who people think is music’s biggest pop star, and it’s likely that one of those names will be the knee-jerk response. But none of them are.

It’s Katy Perry.

She’s not the singer with the most buzz. She doesn't have fan armies that launch countdown clocks to the release of her next song, she isn't the first choice to cover an issue of Vogue, and her music and antics don't dominate water-cooler conversation. She's popular, but not hip. She makes music that everyone sings along to, but not many people—certainly not critics—really love. She dresses in bright costumes and adopts an over-the-top persona, but still reads as dim and normal.

While she certainly gets mentioned on the roster of reigning Queens of Pop, she’s not a deity, at least not the way Beyoncé or Lady Gaga often are often worshipped as. Yet on Thursday, Perry received her eighth number one single, a measure of astounding success that doesn’t just rival those god-like contemporaries, but actually exceeds them.

It’s fitting that Perry’s latest smash is titled “Roar.” Though she’s been around for over six years, the song is almost a second coming out. She’s been quiet—and very—successful this past decade, but now she’s roaring.

She’s music’s biggest pop star.

Perry’s surge is also the more remarkable considering the dim prospects projected for her when she first came onto the scene.

In 2007, Katy Perry debuted her first single, “I Kissed a Girl,” a PG-13 bubblegum pop track more Big Red spicy than Double Bubble sweet but nonetheless written off as a novelty song from a singer destined to be a one-hit wonder. The song was branded a “lipgloss lesbian” anthem by critics. Others dismissed it as faux provocation masking as pop.

“Some people have taken "I Kissed a Girl" the wrong way, but others seem to get the joke,” Perry told The Daily Mail in a 2007 article titled, “I’m No One-Hit Wonder.” The joke, it soon became clear, was on those skeptics.

“I Kissed a Girl” spent seven weeks at number one. Quickly silencing the one-hit wonder theorists, her follow-up, “Hot n Cold,” had a long residency in the Top 10, peaking at number three. In 2010, she released her sophomore album, Teenage Dream. Five consecutive singles from the album went to number one—“California Gurls,” “Teenage Dream,” “Firework,” “E.T.,” and “Last Friday Night.” A sixth, “The One That Got Away,” settled for number three, while two bonus singles off of a deluxe edition of the album—“Part of Me” and “Wide Awake”—charted at one and two, respectively.

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Now “Roar,” in addition to topping the charts, has accomplished an even more impressive feat: knocking Song of the Summer “Blurred Lines” from its 12-week perch at number one. Only five other women have more number one songs than her. Their names? Mariah Carey, Madonna, Rihanna, Whitney Houston, and Janet Jackson.

You’ll notice the names glaringly missing from that list. Beyoncé, the deserving recipient of the title, the Greatest Performer of Her Time, only has five number one singles, and hasn’t had one since 2008’s “Single Ladies.” In fact, not one song off her last album, 4, charted higher than 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the same amount of time that Katy Perry has racked up eight number ones, Lady Gaga has only managed three.

Both Gaga and Perry released their new singles, “Applause” and “Roar” on the same day. “Applause” peaked at number four and has already fallen two spots to number six. “Roar” logged an increase in digital sales over the past week.

Hear her roar.