kesha

Showing 39 posts tagged kesha

…With apologies to Jonathan Bogart, professional scholar and stan, who was recently published in Da Capo’s Best Music Writing 2011 for his groundbreaking work on the phenomenon of Ke$ha, beloved pop princess and catalyst of endless revulsion. What timing I have! You should buy the book and then read everything else he wrote in that link above. Of course, if it weren’t for Jonathan’s wonderful writing and perpetual advocacy of her music, I, and many others I assume, never would’ve jumped across that miles-long gap from K$ hater to lover. Jonathan’s writing will be a common reference point here, because it has to be.
And I plan to discuss that jump I took, because I have to. It’s a journey I doubt is uncommon to several of us (though foreign to most others). She’s a figure who was born of and into a divisiveness that I personally haven’t seen since the teenpop heyday at the turn of the millennium, and I was in middle school for that controversy. The truth is, Ke$ha doesn’t exist without that context, or any of her contexts, really: she can’t be seen without looking at the pop climate or the social climate or the political climate, without the modern dynamics of sex and the sexes, race, personal and public taste, Millennials, pop and rock criticism, glitter, rockism, class, unicorns and survivorship. It’s imperative to discuss the ideas of good and bad taste, as one’s perception of both is often so directly linked to one’s perception of Ke$ha, and especially to the perception of her fans. Obviously, it’s all more than a little divisive.
So this will be a defense, as well, because it has to be. Essentially all writing about Ke$ha that isn’t squarely against her becomes a defense, even if it’s as simple as weak wait, hear me out. And with that, I’m probably going to make a lot of stretches and reach for socio-political interpretations that aren’t really there, because I have to. (I was an English major; this is normal.)
Lastly, as I’m writing about a pop star who’s only been a pop star for two years and three months, and has only released an album and a half of official material, I’m going to be doing some deep digging. I’m relishing the opportunity to analyze such a small slice of a time, and there’s real value to be found in only looking at the single steps of a career arc. And I have a god-awful memory, so it’s fortunate that I get to write like the universe was created two years ago. I’ll be splitting time almost equally between Animal and Cannibal, and I’ll spend perhaps a day looking at odds and ends, including leaks from her upcoming record and selections from the several hundred demos floating around.
I think that’s all I have to warn you about. I’m Zach, by the way. I’m excited to do this and I hope that you either enjoy it or hate it passionately.

…With apologies to Jonathan Bogart, professional scholar and stan, who was recently published in Da Capo’s Best Music Writing 2011 for his groundbreaking work on the phenomenon of Ke$ha, beloved pop princess and catalyst of endless revulsion. What timing I have! You should buy the book and then read everything else he wrote in that link above. Of course, if it weren’t for Jonathan’s wonderful writing and perpetual advocacy of her music, I, and many others I assume, never would’ve jumped across that miles-long gap from K$ hater to lover. Jonathan’s writing will be a common reference point here, because it has to be.

And I plan to discuss that jump I took, because I have to. It’s a journey I doubt is uncommon to several of us (though foreign to most others). She’s a figure who was born of and into a divisiveness that I personally haven’t seen since the teenpop heyday at the turn of the millennium, and I was in middle school for that controversy. The truth is, Ke$ha doesn’t exist without that context, or any of her contexts, really: she can’t be seen without looking at the pop climate or the social climate or the political climate, without the modern dynamics of sex and the sexes, race, personal and public taste, Millennials, pop and rock criticism, glitter, rockism, class, unicorns and survivorship. It’s imperative to discuss the ideas of good and bad taste, as one’s perception of both is often so directly linked to one’s perception of Ke$ha, and especially to the perception of her fans. Obviously, it’s all more than a little divisive.

So this will be a defense, as well, because it has to be. Essentially all writing about Ke$ha that isn’t squarely against her becomes a defense, even if it’s as simple as weak wait, hear me out. And with that, I’m probably going to make a lot of stretches and reach for socio-political interpretations that aren’t really there, because I have to. (I was an English major; this is normal.)

Lastly, as I’m writing about a pop star who’s only been a pop star for two years and three months, and has only released an album and a half of official material, I’m going to be doing some deep digging. I’m relishing the opportunity to analyze such a small slice of a time, and there’s real value to be found in only looking at the single steps of a career arc. And I have a god-awful memory, so it’s fortunate that I get to write like the universe was created two years ago. I’ll be splitting time almost equally between Animal and Cannibal, and I’ll spend perhaps a day looking at odds and ends, including leaks from her upcoming record and selections from the several hundred demos floating around.

I think that’s all I have to warn you about. I’m Zach, by the way. I’m excited to do this and I hope that you either enjoy it or hate it passionately.

It goes like: our heroine, Kesha Rose Sebert, was born 24 years ago to the type of mother who would name a child “Kesha.” Pebe Sebert was a country singer-songwriter best known for co-writing the lyrics to “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle To You,” which would be a success for Joe Sun in 1978 and then Dolly Parton in 1980. She raised Kesha and her brothers, single, in Nashville. (No one in the family knows who the father is; in an interview with Rolling Stone, Kesha revealed that a man had called claiming to be her father, but she decided it to be untrue upon learning that he has a video game chair. Fair.) Pebe was poor and a hippie, and that’s how the family was raised. She taught Kesha to sing and write. In 2005, the family appeared in an episode of The Simple Life, but that was months before Kesha threw up in Paris Hilton’s closet. Around this time, a demo of hers ended up in the hands of mega-producer Max Martin and his protégé Dr. Luke, who both fell hard for the goofy freestyle rap she stuck at the end of a trip-hop track after she ran out of lyrics. She moved to Los Angeles and worked for several years as a songwriter and backup singer, writing songs for The Veronicas, Miley Cyrus, and Flo Rida, contributing backup vox to Britney and Paris records and appearing in the video of “I Kissed a Girl” for some reason. In late 2008, she was unexpectedly pulled into the studio where Flo Rida’s “Right Round” was being recorded and was asked to sing a hook. She went uncredited, thinking she would simply be replaced by another singer, but the song went to #1 with her voice in the chorus. She didn’t see a dollar out of it and remained broke, so she added an ironic dollar sign to her name. It stands for this. Ke$ha was created.

Let’s Talk Context (In Case You Forgot)

Pop music is not rock music. Rock music is not pop. Hip-hop is neither of them. Klezmer is somewhere else entirely. This is as basic a concept as it is an important one; it isn’t really possible to examine a pop star with a mind set on the perception of rock and roll superiority, even if our heroine does exclusively list rock stars as her main influences. Maybe it’s a side effect of just being on the goddamn Internet, but to me, the vast majority of “serious” pop music journalism is so strange and almost inhuman, in this world of blog-journalism still run by a very rockist ideology (with plenty of notable, beautiful exceptions, of course).

I’ll speak more about this later, but I feel that in most of the contexts I’m used to, both on the Internet and real life, I have to make the point that pop music has its own context. It exists in its own world with its own culture and society and governing bodies. It’s a world that chooses to concern itself, most of the time but not always, with the depths and intricacies of emotion and the senses (sometimes all of the senses, depending on the club or the bedroom) and with the power of bold newness. And any time the pop world loses sight of its newness, its emotion, its sensuality, any time the music gives us the choice to engage with it rather than making engagement a mortal imperative, we can probably say it’s in a slump.

The pop world in mid-to-late 2009 and 2010 was not in a healthy place. The entire male sex was undeserving of its chart presence – Iyaz, Jason DeRulo, Taio Cruz, Flo Rida, and probably about eight other faceless clones I don’t remember all had pop smashes during this span, and they did it by removing any suggestion of their personalities. I’m no market analyst, but my market analysis shows that this had to be a strategy; with these dudes, record labels and producers just stopped trying to target individuals who may or may not have become rabid, lifelong fans and instead decided to start churning out the least offensive, least noticeable sticks of unsalted butter that would appeal to the lowest common denominator within us – that part of We The Masses that loves nothing passionately but tolerates anything we’re given. This isn’t always the trend, but when it is, we all suffer for it. The production aesthetic followed: there was little sonic variety in pop music outside of the booming aural-indulgence-orgies of “Dynamite”, the generic ballad preset-showcases that weren’t supported by any affecting emotion or personality, or the most reliable standby, the same single Euro-tinged dance-pop toy, taken apart and rebuilt over and over again by David Guetta.

Katy Perry was busy hiding away in the Sexpot Mannequin corner she carved out for herself; Rihanna continued her freakishly productive job of always having a song in the top 10 always forever but lacked the “Umbrella”- or “We Found Love”-like highlights of the surrounding years; Beyonce had “Single Ladies” and “Halo” in the first half of 2009 but disappeared completely for two years afterward. And of course, there’s Lady Gaga, who over the span of 2009 seemed to evolve constantly and almost at random, one week at a time, until somehow ending up as the nu-Madonna spokesperson for a community that doesn’t always appreciate the gesture. She certainly kept our interest, and provided a bona fide crossover 18th-or-Maybe-23rd-Best-Song-of-The-Year-On-Every-Indie-Blog hit in “Bad Romance”; a response that I think may have been exaggerated, playing to the lowered standards we’d built for ourselves these past few years.

Which brings us to Ke$ha. When I hated her, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why every music writer I respected didn’t. She’s in a rare league of artists that are loved by mainstream youth at large, loathed by a tremendous amount of people within that youth circle, especially those who “care about music” +/- “on a deeper level”, and then within that circle, loved by a minuscule population of music critics. When Katherine St. Asaph opened her Singles Jukebox blurb for “Take It Off” with the line “Oh my God, Ke$ha saved top 40,” I had to close the window right away and catch my breath. When Chuck Eddy posted multiple emails he received from Metal Mike Saunders – the guy who, among other things, coined the term heavy metal – all in praise of K$, I might have entered an existential crisis. What the fuck was I missing, etc etc. (The Jukebox comments section for “Blah Blah Blah”, by the way, is filled with just about every criticism that was leveled against her at the time, all in one handy guide).

But the thing about Ke$ha is, within the context of the pop world, she was and remains a punk. She’s as much a classic punk as she can be while still living in the pop world — because nothing was more important at the start of her career than the fact that she would be hated and that her music itself would turn off everyone who didn’t (and I hate myself for using this term) “get” it. Really, just put on your 3D glasses and see that:

  1. Kesha Sebert – who loves the novels of Tom Robbins, sang “Karma Police” at a middle school talent show, scored an almost perfect SAT, and was at one point snobby enough to write a song condemning hippies who were less authentic than her – created a character named Ke$ha based loosely on small parts of her life, as well as a universe for that character to play in.
  2. That character exists to troll the majority of everyone. And it’s been successful. Wildly.

At this point, this isn’t really news to a lot of people. The question becomes, “Why do I have to appreciate someone who is trying to piss me off? A(sshole) is A(sshole), right?” Well, you don’t have to appreciate it; the whole project would sort of lose a chunk of its meaning if everyone did. But she’s also my favorite pop star (and she’s responsible for my favorite pop music) of the past half-decade. And in general, loving things makes me a lot more happy than hating things, so I’m relieved I joined the cult. Maybe she’ll win you over, eventually, maybe she won’t, maybe she already has; I’m gonna keep writing my pamphlet. 

Flo Rida ft. Ke$ha - Right Round [2009]

More important than the fact that Ke$ha created her character is the fact that she has character, seeing as it’s the only thing that shines in this sad blowjob-themed shoebox diorama from Flo Rida (a performer so anonymous he could only come from Florida). This song might actually be the epitome of 2009’s generic boringness – on top of the sorry lyrics and presentation, the production is filled with Guetta-esque generic dance pop with there’s a line of timid static running underneath it all, too scared to make a point of itself. It’s bizarre to watch the video and witness any trace of Ke$ha replaced by several sexier women who occasionally mouth parts of her hook. I can’t know for sure what percentage of the dissonance comes from the fact that she wasn’t yet a pop fixture, though I do remember thinking at the time, “Whoever is singing this hook has to have a name.”

Also, hey, it’s Dead or Alive. I loved that song when I was 8.

Track

Tik Tok

Artist

Ke$ha

Album

Animal

Ke$ha - TiK ToK [Animal]

I remember, around the beginning of 2010 (let me dust off the photo album…), during “TiK ToK”’s slightly historical run at the top of the charts, I was taking a class on “urban health”. The class was broken up into groups of four, who would travel together to Baltimore to do some creepy undergraduate investigative work into the healthiness of the city. The class fulfilled a gen. ed. requirement for me, but the rest of my group were kinesiology majors, and, not too surprisingly, fans of living Greek. The drive from the outskirts of D.C. to Baltimore (don’t ask me why we didn’t just go to D.C.) took about an hour with I-95 traffic; reverting back to the boy I was in middle school, I said nothing the entire trip, both ways, all three times. The sorority sister and the frat boy in front spent the entire duration talking about Greek life. Do you know how much lingo was created for that world? I didn’t! He had recently transferred and was thinking twice about joining a new frat because he didn’t want to go through hazing again; she belonged to what was often considered “the ugly sorority,” which she said with a mixture of bitterness and a sort of forced resignation. She resented her sisters. There was always drama, and she wanted to leave. And this is all I remember about her, except for the moment “TiK ToK” came on the radio for the first time and she quickly announced to the car that she is obsessed with this song, that she’s going through a phase with this song, that this song is her life right now. So we listened to it, in silence, and we listened to it every time it came on, which was often, in silence, until the frat boy would change the station a couple minutes in. You could hear in her voice that she felt an emotional connection to it, which is the sort of thing that, unfortunately, made it an awkward thing to blurt out to three acquaintances in a small car.

Because I was a tremendous asshole, I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, of course she likes it. Every time I heard the song I’d replay the same rant in my head: This is Ugg music. This is North Face Music. This is music explicitly created for sorority girls, a demographic that does not need a spokesperson or any additional pandering because they already have Taio Cruz and Katy Perry and Adam Levine and every other vague, expressionless pop singer who doesn’t actually work concrete details or proper nouns into their songs. This “Ke$ha” character is taking things too far!

Of course, I ignored how much of a passionately misogynistic sentiment that was. I ignored the fact that I was getting trolled by a pop singer, which is a worse look for me than it is for her. And I ignored the fact that I was completely wrong about her anyway (K$ is, of course, a high school dropout who would probably never be found wearing Ugg boots). I was intransigent, I was unwilling. But I can’t really blame myself, not too hard; this was Ke$ha’s goal and it was all a part of the promotion cycle. And in this sense, “TiK ToK” was the most ingenious – and only – choice for a lead single. It’s been two years (about two millennia in the pop charts) and the image she and Dr. Luke created and promoted with this song is the one that’s lasted; both the love and the hatred it inspired has, in large part, stuck around. It was magical and disgusting. It appealed to a wide enough audience to become the #1 single of 2010, and it was reviled by a wide enough audience to become the seemingly most-hated song of ever. And that happened because we motherfuckers were fooled; no one on either side of the table really understood what she was doing, what she was about, why she was doing it or where it all came from. “TiK ToK” was paradoxically written with such no-stakes looseness that Ke$ha wanted to rewrite the lyrics completely…

I thought it was just another song,” Ke$ha says. “I thought it was just like all the other ones I’d written. I didn’t even know if it was very good. I wanted to rewrite the verses, I didn’t think it was funny or clever. I thought it kind of sucked. But everyone else liked it.”

…and with such meticulous engineering that every line is designed to bubble (champagne or vomit, pick yr poison) up a reaction in the listener. You get the sense that this is simply her modus operandi with a lot of the early demos: taking the spirit of an adolescent boy sounding his offense-farts into the Internet, but adding a sense of pop mastery, inner logic and damaged grace. Meaning, even. And it’s not hard to see, in retrospect, how the song was so popular: it’s a success on the dance floor, it fills a pop audience’s ears with new sounds without abandoning the world-ending massiveness and 8-bit obsession that was beginning to dominate the Top 40 in 2010, and it made people laugh. Ke$ha clearly understands the power of reference with her namedrops – Diddy, Jack and Jagger (the song is as strictly gendered as most Romance languages) – and she knows to keep her lyrics sexualized. We could also talk about the sexual empowerment angle, but I don’t think even her hardcore admirers in the masses were confident in jumping to that conclusion at the time – female pop stars sadly have to put in extra work to convince the world that they, not the industry, own their sexuality.

But enough of that positivity – it’s the revulsion that “TiK ToK” inspired that interests me. Seriously, homegirl broke ground in the trolling game here. I think I remember hearing about the mysterious case of fans of The National spontaneously combusting upon first hearing it. (Only their sweatervests remained.) Let’s take this line by line and examine the genius:

Wake up in the morning feelin’ like P. Diddy

No buildup, no setup, nothing. This is where we start. The autotune makes it sound like she’s underwater or she has vomit gurgling in the back of her throat. When I first heard it, my only thought was “What. That doesn’t even make sense. What does Diddy feel like in the morning? I imagine he feels groggy.” Of course, this line was what started it all – supposedly, she woke up one day in her Californian hippie commune surrounded by “ten of the most beautiful women you’ve ever seen” and decided that her morning had to have been most similar to that of Sean Combs. She writes the song, Dr. Luke invites Diddy over, and four hours later she has the musical blessing of a rap legend. A star is born.

Before I leave, brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack

Ke$ha, in no way is this hygienic. Why are you doing this.

Cause when I leave for the night I ain’t coming back

“Oh, eww, she probably has STDs! slutslutslutslut” ~ Men (and women) everywhere, 2010.

(I’m talkin’) pedicures on our toes (toes)

Tryin’ on all our clothes (clothes)

Boys blowin’ up our phones (phones)

This is important, maybe the most important six seconds of the song with regard to how she was initially characterized. With these lines, she uses a faux-Valley Girl accent that will never reappear in any of her songs (to the best of my knowledge). It’s obvious parody, but only sixteen seconds into the first solo track anyone’s ever heard from her, and I think it affected who we thought she really was. After all, no one really knew she was playing a character in a mega-amplified universe, let alone that her character was playing a character within it. I hated it. The sweatervests hated it. You may have hated it.

Drop-toppin’, playin’ our favorite CDs

Pullin’ up to the parties

Tryna get a little bit tipsy…

Oh, and perfect. She ends the verse with a line that gets garbled up by autotune. Despite the fact that the line clearly ends up in the top right corner of Tom Ewing’s autotune matrix, if you didn’t hate Ke$ha by the end of this verse you probably never would.

But if you kept going, you were introduced to more verses no different by comparison. There’s mention of “crunk,” “swagger” and “po-po,” three words that, along with the dollar sign in her name, seemed only to exist so she can give us the played-out white-girl-acting-black meme that was common in every sorority house that I imagined in my brain because I’d never been in one. “Po-po” specifically filled me with lava. She rhymes “swagger” with “Jagger”, a combination that would become nigh-unavoidable  for years afterwards. And as K. St. Asaph points out in that article, it elicited the “But Mick Jagger is a pile of bones with raggedy skin hanging off” thought-to-be-snarky response from everyone who has ever heard someone else joke about how old he is (including myself at the time). Of course, this was some time before we learned that Mick is the main deity of the Ke$ha religion and no iteration of him will ever be unbangable.

At the time, I ignored the chorus as generic pap. The beat upgrades into that massive production sound that would dominate 2010, and which I eventually came to associate with the apocalypse narratives that also dominated the year; maximalist music sounds like the end of the world, as though we’ve reached the end of art and the only path left is to pile all the sounds on top of each other and listen as the meteors/nukes/rising sea levels consume us. Taio and Usher and Enrique all temporarily ruled the charts with that sound. But “TiK ToK” doesn’t quite enter that level of ridiculousness, because it still has levels; her voice still rules over the sound and the sound itself actually sounds like things – like television static, like the turning of an old radio dial. The difference is small but significant.

Also significant is the fact that I never once listened to the sweet, emotional middle eight until I came around to the rest of her music. I just never made it that far. How many of the haters did? The frat boy always switched the station by the time we’d get there, though who knows if it would’ve changed anything. But when I did find it, I was so surprised to find this loving ode to a DJ plopped in the middle of everything. Its inclusion was smart: a sign of things to come, perhaps, a sign that our heroine has some depth worth looking into, and a sign that the musical tastes of sorority girls deserve respect, asshole.

Take It Off [Animal]

I remember some time ago on my Tumblr dashboard, in a discussion about Ke$ha, one of her stans posted a great quote that I can’t locate for the life of me. It said something like: a pop star must, at the very least, share with the world a new way of existing. It isn’t a hard and fast rule, but a lovely statement that has simply proven to be true over the last few decades with nearly every star that’s remained in the public conscious. I was delighted to see Mick Jagger used as the example. At the very least, Ke$ha does pass this test, and she does it without simply branding herself as the female Mick – it’s the Oscar the Grouch chic, her specific variety of aggressive genderfucking, her willingness to make sacrifices (her voice, for one) so she can properly mine gold from the untouched caverns of hideousness, and the mythos she was able to create through small details. “Take It Off” introduced us to a lot of the tropes that make up that mythology: glitter (or: a mark of holiness that’s possibly applied to the forehead on Glitter Wednesday; impossible to scrub off, ever, and thus a brand as well), the club (or: a sweat-filled, dirty cathedral of hedonism and relief that Ke$ha both worships in and commands — you’ll hear both in the chorus), the animal (or: the inner, pure, orgiastic essence that dwells within everyone, waiting for cosmic release), and the Gold Trans Am (or: the most pimping of rides).

Melodically, “Take It Off” predicts both “Dinosaur” (cheerleader chant) and “Blow” (nursery rhyme) in that it appropriates a standard Western trope and forces it through that mythos. In this case, it’s the already-appropriated (and ever-problematic) “Streets of Cairo”, whose tune makes up the track’s main hook. It’s all drenched in so much over-processed autotune that she can hardly be said have sung the thing – and just like the first verse of “TiK ToK”, that was another perfect method to attract endless loathing.

It is, on the surface, an ugly song, guided expertly by Dr. Luke’s mile deep sludge-pit beat. It’s the only production on the album credited to Lukasz alone, and you might be able to hear the fun he had creating it; and if you listen to a clear enough copy of the song (it never sounded full on the radio) on big enough speakers, you’ll hear an unmistakable parallel with the American dubstep or brostep (or whatever pejorative you’d like to use) micro-genre that would arise almost two years after this was recorded. I mean, this Dr. Luke is so annoying he stole one of the most hated trends of 2011 and set a precedent with it in 2009. And it’s beautiful. Apparently what Skrillex is missing, if you think he’s missing anything, is a singer with a giant personality ruling over his tracks; the beat and performance in “Take It Off” are perfectly matched. Whenever I have it on in my car, the volume inexplicably rises to maximum by the first thirty seconds and its uber-spindly wub wub turns the Subaru into a massive vibrator.

I need to talk a bit more about her voice, though: in the summer of 2010, when every pop station was playing “Take It Off” once every hour, I still hated her. But I knew I would eventually have to give her a real fighting chance if I ever wanted to sleep soundly at night. So, one fateful drive home from class, I found it playing on Hot 99.5 and listened through it with much temerity, scared of the possibility that I would enjoy it. When it was over, I decided that I did, in fact, hate it – “Streets of Cairo” will always annoy me – but something cracked. I realized, in a moment, that I didn’t mind her voice anymore – autotuned or no. And I knew that, if nothing else, I had the potential to love her vocal friction, the way she sounds sort of Celtic like the lead singer of the Cranberries (not a comparison I ever thought I’d make). I had so vehemently agreed with the standard complaints against her vox (“Al Shipley: I never thought anyone would find a way to force their voice into uglier, more curdled tones via AutoTune than Kanye.”) but I wasn’t surprised that the switch flipped – it’s what happens when our ears get used to something. I thought of two of my favorite bits of advice from John Cage, who was said to have eventually fallen in love with the sound of the car alarm outside his window:

  1. The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why do I think it’s not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.
  2.  If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.

I can also recall the moment the atonality and nonsense of Albert Ayler first sounded beautiful to my earballs. It’s a comforting thing to realize that your senses have expanded their reach of tolerability and that you’re capable of loving more than you had previously thought. The senses take practice and training but the payoff is lovely; it ended up being quite a happy car ride. I asked myself, why was I always so open to the power of Tom Waits’ voice, but not K$’s? And I realized I could no longer tell the difference. 

Kiss N Tell [Animal]

And right after you finish “Take It Off” at max volume, you’ll find yourself welcomed inside a sonic intro that’s just as lovely at the same decibel level (you won’t be able to hear the notes changing, but hell, I… guess I still prefer the Fuck Buttons aesthetic over everything else in the world). The production for “Kiss N Tell” is actually just a series of synths orchestrated into a sort of twee polka, save for some guitar blasts in the pre-chorus. The bubblegum is squeezing out of the speakers and making a mess here; even Ke$ha’s voice alternates between autotune-free clarity (almost innocence) in the verses and high-octave childlike brattiness in the chorus. The repeated bit before the bridge – android Ke$ha malfunctioning kiss N tell kiss N tell ell kiss N tell N N kiss N N tell – actually makes the Kiss N Tell sound sort of like a Fisher Price toy. Not surprisingly, this is one of three tracks on Animal co-produced by Max Martin, who always adds some optimism to the tracks of his old protégé, Dr. Luke. And he brought his current protégé along, Shellback, who he quite literally molded from blank slate to sound like a 15-years-younger Max Martin. Sort of like what Luke has done with Benny Blanco, which raises all sorts of thoughts about the struggles aging producers face when it comes to connecting with a pop audience, but neither here nor there etc.

It’s a simple song: she went out of town last weekend, he was acting like a pimp to his lame friends, and Ke$ha learned she was cheated on. She says, “now some shit’s about to go down”, and then she spends the entire duration of the song emasculating him into what we can assume is the fetal position. And it’s awesome. There isn’t even a story there, it’s just a completely powerless bro sweating in his seat and then getting emotionally destroyed by Ke$ha. It doesn’t sound like she even liked him in the first place, and her only real disappointment comes from the fact that he had the gall to cheat before she got around to it. The only thing he hurt was her pride: even in the bridge, as she frustratedly tells him to just get up and go because she doesn’t want to know the details, it sounds like the only hints of pain in her voice come from a bruised ego. How could this tool with his fake-ass baller stance make her look bad?

Two words to pay attention to: slut and chick, both words used to describe him (“I never thought that you would be the one acting like a slut when I was gone” and “You’re acting like a chick, why bother?”) and both words given more bile than all the rest put together. She almost breaks her tone just to enunciate them properly and make sure they pierce his skin with a little extra force. Now, this was written a while before Slutwalks popularized the idea of reclaiming the word “slut” for women, but I would argue that her goal is in the same place. As Bogart wrote, “Again she’s a superhero, a larger-than-life fantasy figure dishing out revenge on behalf of the girls branded sluts everywhere.” But this usage raises a simple, relevant question: does “reclamation” only allow an oppressed group to make positive the meaning of a weapon of oppression used against them? Or is it wise for that group to reclaim it and use it as a weapon against their oppressor? Or both? If patriarchy has given “chick” a debased, dehumanized and often subhuman implication, and Ke$ha thinks chicks are fucking awesome with the exception of that one girl Jeanie, can she also use it as a weapon against the man who hurt her? Does reclamation swing both ways?

The argument’s been made (by dudes, mostly) that her method of confronting gender – within the politics of “The Club” – is so narrow that it serves no purpose, or that it isn’t a very fresh idea anyway. But I have to repeat myself: a pop star exists within a micro-universe, and the current iteration of the pop universe has The Club as its home base. And the things that go on in this arbitrary universe have real-world implications. This song was written only a year after Katy Perry went platinum with an album called “One of the Boys,” which was almost exclusively marketed to girls. She’s since become the biggest pop star in America by restating the message, over and over again, that the best thing a girl can be is accepted by a boy. In 2008, Katy sang, “You PMS like a bitch” to a male character (in a song with “N” in the middle, produced by Luke and Max…), and she inflects her bitch just like Ke$ha inflects her slut, except it’s the worst. It doesn’t sound like it could possibly empower anyone who has ever had the term seriously used against them, because Katy Perry, the biggest pop star in America, will always sound like she hates women. I can’t tell you whether or not “Kiss N Tell” successfully fights back or has any real effect at all, but I have faith.

Dinosaur [Animal]

THE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT “DINOSAUR”

  1. D-I N-O S-A U-R A DINOSAUR
  2. Did U Kno? Ke$ha actually has a song whose sole purpose is to exclude the elderly.
  3. Because, pop music.
  4. It was co-written by Max Martin, who is 41.
  5. The lyrics probably won’t make you laugh out loud, but it has the best rhymes on Animal: Citizen/oxygen, ill when/billion/killin’, rhyming anything with “fossilized.”
  6. YOU NEED A CAT SCAN! is used as a hook.
  7. This is the kind of song that we’ll never hear again out of her, the type that only exists on a debut album, written when the artist is still broke. Even a sophomore release requires too much maturity for a song with this amount of liveliness and shamelessness.
  8. “And you can strut around with a ssssexy tank of oxygen.”
  9. It’s about a minute too long, because it’s on a pop album, and pop albums aren’t allowed to have songs shorter than three minutes. (Even though album structure is rarely ever considered important in commercial pop music!) This is what strikes me when Jon talks about her predilection towards traditional rock standards — no matter how much more inspiration she pulls from the Stones and Iggy Pop and Sabbath and Alice Cooper and Diamond Dave, the musical structure itself doesn’t have the option to jump off the deep end into true spontaneity. Not until she collaborates with Jethro Tull. “Dinosaur” would be 90 seconds on the punk album of its dreams (possibly shorter as a rap skit).
  10. I’M ABOUT TO BARF, SERIOUSLY!