I have no idea what to make of the pop artist currently going by the name Ke$ha.
I frequently have this problem with pop artists — I have no real way of assessing how much agency they have. I know they are managed, I know they are produced — not only their music, but their look, their publicity, their public image. I haven’t read much about Ke$ha — maybe the answers are in interviews with her. But going off of her music and videos alone, I am just not sure what I think.
For starters, there’s her voice. It is absolutely unclear to me whether or not she can sing. Her work is so very, very auto-tuned as to be almost entirely inhuman. She’s very nearly a Sharon Apple, whose vocals are computer generated based on a human template. Yet Ke$ha was signed by Dr. Luke — my favorite pop producer today, by the way — based on a demo tape. She’s got to be able to sing. So why, why the dehmanization?
Next, there’s her drunken image. As far as I can tell, Ke$ha is wicked smart. Tested incredibly high in school before dropping out and then getting a GED. As far as anyone can tell, she does not in fact party around L.A., but instead works reasonably hard. She is listed as a co-writer on every song on her album — a right she fought for. This is a young woman with goals, an agenda, who chooses to appear as a good-times party girl. For what purpose?
And let’s talk about her look. Ke$ha has stated in interviews that she cultivated her look to deliberately highlight the fact that her family was poor, lived on food stamps, and that her clothes were almost entirely second-hand, free, or someone else’s garbage. She dollar sign in her name is, she says, ironic, since she had (when starting out) no money whatsoever. How ironic is it at this point?
I honestly don’t have answers to these questions. This is a girl who says that Keith Richards is her fashion role model. Who apparently unironically thinks Mick Jagger is hot. Who appears in music videos fending off the sexual advances of much, much older men, who the-character-of-Ke$ha is using in order to party more and get drunk.
On the other hand, her video for “Take It Off” is disturbing in an entirely different way.
In this we see limbs dissolving into glitter, people dancing until they vanish in clouds of colored chalk. The scene is fascinatingly animalistic, with 80s-fashion-throwbacks of huge hair, big scarves, multiple large bracelets, and big stompy ankle boots. I love the look of it, I truly do. And I think I appreciate the point — that the subtextual goal of most pop-party music these days is “dance until destruction.” Hence we have Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance,” Flo Rida’s Club Can’t Even Handle Me, 3oh!3′s Double Vision, and Far East Movement’s Like a G6. Yet I am not certain I understand why Ke$ha wants this to be the point she chooses to make.
My best guess is that she is riding this as far and fast as it will go. If she is intelligent, motivated, and ambitious, as she seems to be — if her goal is to get what she can while she can so as to avoid returning to life on welfare and in occasional homeless shelters from which she apparently came — than I think this makes sense. Use the current fashion and trends, whatever they may be, to get some albums and some money and some connections. Use Dr. Luke as much as he uses the girls he produces, use him to get something before this window of opportunity closes.
I hope that’s what she’s doing. I hope that Ke$ha does not believe that this stage of her career is sustainable past the age of twenty-five. I want to see what she does, where she goes after this. Kelly Clarkson’s My December is an amazing album — it’s the one she made in response to fame and fortune. Britney Spears’ Blackout is regarded as one of her best albums, and features the song “Piece of Me” — her direct response to the media’s portrayals of her. Ke$ha doesn’t have to either crash out, or fade away. She can take what’s happening to her and use it. I hope she does. I hope she can take this and make self-aware, critical art that answers the conversation in which she is currently an object.
And, in the meantime, I’m going to watch the video for “Take It Off” again. Because I really like those clothes.
Filed under: Music | Tagged: britney spears, ke$ha, pop music | 1 Comment »