1. How She Did It
It could be argued that Katy Perry became the Queen of Top 40 by default. Or is it by design? Consider the pop-diva competition: All of them are more sharply defined personalities than Perry, musically and otherwise. Britney Spears is a cheerleader turned cyborg. Lady Gaga is a metadiva—a plus-size pop star and a theorist of the Warholian art of pop stardom. Ke$ha is a madcap party girl. (Miley Cyrus is a Ke$ha manqué.) Beyoncé transcends personality; she is a whole planet, a solar system, of talent and charisma. Rihanna began her career as a blank but swerved into darker, smuttier territory.
And Perry? Well, she started out as a slightly obnoxious screwball (remember “Ur So Gay”?) but in recent years has made a beeline for the middle ground and the middlebrow. She’s nice-looking, she sings okay, she seems like a pleasant person. And she’s omnipresent.
On Perry’s new album, Prism, there are a few bustling dance songs and one goofy party tune in the vein of “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.).” But her bread and butter is the inspirational anthem, songs like “Firework” (2010) and the walloping jock jam “Roar.” Come to think of it, power ballads are pop’s bread and butter: the most reliable radio bait year after year, decade upon decade. Katy Perry has become the singer that the world’s finest pop songwriters turn to for solid, straightforward renditions of their most surefire material. “I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar,” the song says. Perry doesn’t quite roar, truth be told. But she’s got a firm grip on that title belt. —Jody Rosen