Brief pop music round-up

1. In a personal stand to keep the “D” away from my “O” and “C”, I am on a personal campaign to adjust the volume settings on the tv, my mp3 player and my laptop in increments other than solely those divisible by two or five. Thirteen is a perfectly acceptable volume number. So’s eleven. Nothing wrong with eleven.

It is right and meet that the volume should go to eleven.

Right?

2. When the bass drops in, finally, in Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites by Skrillex, I always think to myself “Earth. Shattering. Kaboom.” Therefore, I want a vid to this song of planets exploding and explosions in space and enormous spaceships crashing and exploding.

3. Speaking of music, All We Are We Are, by P!nk, seems to me to be a song about … Occupy Wall Street, the 99%, and the upcoming election?

Even if she didn’t intend it that way, that’s how my brain is parsing it.

4. I like the new Ke$ha single, Die Young. I just like Ke$ha. As this interview in the Guardian from 2009 points out, the woman is terrifically smart, knows her principles, has a steady and loving family, and is going to take the pop world for all it can give her.

This seems like a perfectly sane approach to pop stardom.

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Ke$ha, Team Rocket, and homeschooling

J and I were talking yesterday about cultural literacy. At playgroup on Tuesday, one of the kids asked what this gully in the woods was, and J replied it was where the old trolley line used to run, and the kid asked, “what’s a trolley?” Now, the child in question is, I think, six years old, and “trolley” is not an everyday word or concept. But it started J, and then myself when we talked about it, to thinking.

There is no worthless information.

I just seconds ago, saw on Twitter that someone purchased some of Justin Bieber’s hair for $40,000. You may think this is worthless information. But in my life, in teaching my children about the world, this information is a source of wisdom. It shows that people make poor financial decisions when their emotions are involved. It shows the power of celebrity. It shows, with a bit of explanation from me, that there’s a sucker born every minute and that there always has been. It shows, with a different bit of explanation, how celebrity is changing in the age of the internet. A change, I might note, that is no change at all to my kids. This is their world; they don’t recall the age of mass-broadcast television or radio.

The Bieber hair example is a bit extreme, and I did not actually stop and explain it to the kids or make a teaching point out of it. But while going over the BBC website before breakfast I did have the kids watch a clip, in addition to the news from Libya, about the New York 1970s SoHo art scene. There is no worthless information.

This attitude I have towards knowledge, this is not a value universally held among people I know. It’s not even universally held among homeschoolers. I suspect it is valued more among academics and geeks. I look at the kids I know, the ones who are my kids’ ages, who can’t read yet and I am vaguely horrified. It’s not that they are behind in any sense. I mean, in a typical school curriculum in the U.S. first and second grades are spent learning to read. This is normal, acceptable, and on-track. It’s that they are wasting valuable reading years. Think of all the books going UNREAD.

It’s not just books, though, that hold information. There’s music — classical, pop, musicals, whatever. There’s movies and television — documentaries, sure, but also Disney and Gnomeo and Juliet or Spy Kids. All of these things, if they provide no other information whatsoever, can be an example of what NOT to do or say.

For example, last night on the way back from circus class we were listening to the kids’ most recent pop music playlist. I make these playlists on my Zune and we listen to them when I drive them around. This particular mix had Ke$ha’s “We R Who We R.” After listening to it three times at K’s request, M said, “the people in this club are kind of like Team Rocket, aren’t they?”

I nearly did a fist-pump of joy.

Team Rocket, for those not immersed in the world of Pokemon, are a Pokemon crime syndicate. They are self-absorbed, stylish, ruthless, arrogant, and goal-oriented. They are also an attractive sort of bad guy, with good clothes and hair — they are more mature, or they try to be.

The gist of the Ke$ha song is that the people in the bar or club are going to drink and dance as much as they like, uncaring of anyone else’s opinions or judgment, and refuse to apologize for who and what they are.

“Yes,” I told M. “The people in this song are kind of like Team Rocket.”

There is no worthless information. Recognizing selfish, self-absorbed people, even when they sound interesting and are having a lot of ostensible fun, this is a valuable life skill. My GOODNESS, I wish I had picked it up sooner.

I’m not saying that my kids won’t make poor relationship mistakes in the future, ahahahhahahahha, no, I am not claiming that. But this, this is a start, a step in navigating the extremely complex world of social networks and interactions. Those things are hard, the skills are learned from practice, usually on real people. And if my kids can get an assist from Pokemon and Ke$ha, good for them.

Year in Music 2010, part two

[This is part two of my post on this year's music. Part one can be found here.]

Here we go, with more songs and videos:

Continue reading

Ke$ha

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.

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