Cannibal was released November 19th of 2010, eleven months after Animal. Following Lady Gaga’s example with The Fame Monster exactly a year and a day earlier, it’s technically an EP, but actually more like an LP that wasn’t finished. It’s sort of a brilliant move for when a label starts to worry about an artist losing their momentum – “just send out what you have right now and work we’ll see what we can do with it.” As far as I can tell, Gaga and Ke$ha are the only two major examples of this happening; Rihanna just releases a new LP every year, Katy releases half her album as singles and throws in retconned rap verses to make sure they hit #1 (and then releases an old demo as the seventh single when it becomes contextually profitable to do so), and Beyonce and Britney just allow themselves a couple years off the charts at a time. For Ke$ha and Gaga though, the long EP method worked wonders – both releases kept the stars relevant in the year following their intro, and they introduced new depth to their individual projects.
Guess I’ll sidebar about Gaga here: everything about Ke$ha’s career has been a mirror of Gaga’s except the music. Which is as wildly different from Gaga’s as can be. It’s very curious to me now, that for the first few months of her career, the only comparison anyone could come up with was Gaga, even though at that point, Gaga had gone full-blown art house. I don’t know why, but it was the first thought I had too: oh, I guess this is this year’s Gaga. Listening to them now, it seems like such a strange comparison. I’m not sure anyone actually would still make the comparison, but on a technical level, they have indeed followed similar paths – white blondes with big, noticeable hits from the outset, polarization, saturation, millions of critical words spilled at roughly equal points, EPs. “Just Dance” was in the season 2 premiere of Parks and Recreation and “TiK ToK” was in the season 3 premiere. Uncanny! But here’s a thing that was instrumental in my loving Ke$ha: when Gaga first hit in 2009, she had few defenders outside of the mainstream pop world. Even though “LoveGame” and “Poker Face” weren’t really all that out-of-the-ordinary for pop hits, they included love muffins and disco sticks, which was enough to make her controversial. Along with her fashion, of course; she was hated as a personality much more than she was as a musician. At the time, the controversy struck me as one big Slow News Day. But somewhere on the internet, I read an impassioned defense from a respected internet dude who hardly listens to music: he argued, simply, that Gaga was willingly overturning the institution of pop music by taking it to an extreme and making a parody out of herself, turning herself into one giant comment on the state of pop culture and our society. “And she does it all while making some really catchy tunes.” I believed this at the time, though I’m not sure I still do. The fact is, after “Bad Romance”, Gaga started to gain real respect from just about everywhere. And then she took that respect and released Born This Way, recreating herself as the new Madonna by sounding like Madonna. As a record, it was only subversive if you were a republican. I’m always less hot on her because I’ve always gotten the sense that she’s improvising and simply making her next move based on what worked about her last one; if “Bad Romance” wasn’t such a game-changer, she’d be a completely different star, and if she hadn’t gotten some love from the gay community, she wouldn’t pushed herself as being the spokesperson of the gay community. Since I heard that point of view about Gaga (not an uncommon one, but it was a new perspective to me at the time), I came to realize that I love Ke$ha for roughly the same reason: she introduces the subversive back into the pop charts, BUT understands that true mayhem isn’t possible if there isn’t a large amount of people who hate the shit out of you for identifying however you identify.
And if you hate Ke$ha, it will be very, very easy to hate “Cannibal.” As a statement of purpose that opens the album, it doesn’t backtrack on Animal at all, but it goes bigger, almost into full-blast self-parody – now that I’m famous you’re up my anus is all that really needs to be said – and it blows her personality up even bigger than it was before. It starts right off mentioning her fame and that she’s treated differently, but she immediately reintroduces the misandrist boy-whipper mode she’s so comfortable with. It’s sort of awesome. The production is clearly at a different level from the start – not necessarily better, but mixed differently, with a new clarity. This song is made by the percussion – the muted bass drum and a little shuffle in the bridge that sounds like someone’s playing drums with a pile of human bones. Dave Moore notes in his excellent blurb for “Cannibal” at the Singles Jukebox (this was our most controversial song ever) that he reads Ke$ha’s I! AM! CANNIBAL! as a reference to Ozzy’s “Iron Man” – seeing as she would soon start drinking animal blood out of a fake human heart when performing it live, I think we can probably assume he was right. (Relevant: in trying to find an article about the blood practice, I ran across the sentence, “In a recent performance, Lady Gaga – sorry, I meant Ke$ha.” In March 2011! That says more about the writer than it does either of them.)
I like “Cannibal” because it keeps going up. It’s one of her danciest songs, except it’s about eating people, and it has a genuine climax built from a line that belongs in an old rock song. And I love it as a response to Nice Guys™ everywhere; here’s a girl who is actually just fucking coming out and saying that if you suck up to her, if you’re too sweet, she will kill you and eat your flesh. There is, of course, the sexual subtext (in interviews she’s essentially referenced this song as her actual attitude towards sex, i.e. chew-them-up-spit-them-out, but who knows what’s in-character and what isn’t); if “Blah Blah Blah” is genderfucking the pre-sex courting process, “Cannibal” is genderfucking post-coitus. It’s all very nasty and hurtful to every Nice Guy™ out there, but if you’re cool and you believe misandry is a perfectly acceptable response to misogyny, you might give it a chance. When my girlfriend finally came around to Ke$ha, we were listening to “Kiss N Tell” in the car when I asked her why she enjoyed it. She responds, “Because this is how men should be talked to in music,” and that’s how I knew it was love. <3 <3 xoxo