Here’s the thing about Ke$ha, the 22-year-old pop confectionery/ cautionary tale who very well might have the #1 album in the country by the time you read this: She is probably a genius, even if she doesn’t know it just yet.
Some of this has to do with her music, a rattling mélange of high (and very low) art, heavily indebted to vocal effects and guys in “tight-ass leather pants,” and her image, part Topanga Canyon bohemian, part Upper West Side socialite, all pulled off in an effortless manner that, really, truly requires a lot of effort. But, really, all those things are merely the work of Dr. Luke and a really overzealous team of stylists. What truly makes Ke$ha a genius is her very existence. She represents everything we’ve been clamoring for — or everything we’ve been afraid of — in pop music: an unrepentant party monster, an effortless assimilator of the past four decades of music and, perhaps most of all, a completely, utterly immediate star.
No pop act has ever represented the zeitgeist quite like she has. She is completely of this moment. She makes no bones about any of this. Everything about her career has been carefully crafted for the now.
Her hit single “Tik Tok” — which, truth be told, is pretty terrific — is an unapologetic ode to getting totally wasted, one that manages to bridge the gaps between white-girl rapping, rock-star posturing and Euro-trash electro and throw in a line about wanting to make it with Mick Jagger too. Most pop stars would realize the inherent silliness of the whole thing, or try to play it off as some bit of biting social commentary. But not Ke$ha. In the brief conversation I had with her about the song — which took place on a red carpet, so she might have been a bit tired of answering the same four questions over and over again — she played it up as a big, biographical thing: a snapshot of a typical day in her very atypical life. She really did wake up most mornings feeling like P. Diddy, and if I opened her medicine cabinet, I most certainly would find a bottle of Jack in there. And in every performance or interview I’ve seen since, she’s kept it up — high art be damned, let’s get hammered.
At first, it sort of made me mad. I wished she’d just get down to the business of making really brainy, deeply personal pop. But then I heard the rest of her debut album, Animal, and it began to make sense. Ke$ha isn’t trying to be Kelly Clarkson or Lily Allen (or even Britney Spears). I’m going out on a limb and saying that “a lengthy career” might not be at the top of her agenda. She just wants it all, and she wants it now. And really, what’s wrong with that?
Listening to Animal is sort of like being trapped inside an endless Hollywood Hills house party, if the DJ were only playing ringtones and the kegs were filled with Auto-Tune. There are songs called “Take It Off” and “Party at a Rich Dude’s House” and “Hung Over.” The whole thing is coated in a buzzing, electronic lacquer, courtesy of Dr. Luke. Ke$ha’s untreated voice is heard maybe three times through the entire album. I mean all that in the best possible way, of course. This is very much a 2010 pop album, one that you could put in a time capsule and unearth in 100 years, to show your great-grandchildren how Mimi and Pop-Pop used to get down back in the early ’aughts. They probably wouldn’t believe you otherwise.
Some have singled out “Boots & Boys” as a sort of feminist anthem, mostly because Ke$ha flips the sexual standards of popular music and objectifies men, bragging about collecting “cowboy boots and cowboy boys.” I have no problem with that (mostly because it’s probably correct), and really, perhaps Ke$ha is the most empowering artist on the planet. But I’d wager she’d disagree with that entire assessment. It flies in the face of everything she stands for, because it’s a message and she’s got no time for any of that. There’s a beautiful simplicity to her. She’s said it all, she puts it all out there. Not because she fears judgment, but because she doesn’t care.
What can she do for a second act? Really, what more can she say? How else can she shock? And why would she want to? She’s got a #1 single and a (probable) #1 album, which means she’s had her cake and ate it too. Ke$ha wins, without really trying, and without really aspiring to much of anything. It’s sort of genius, if you think about it. Like the old saying goes, “F— art, let’s dance.”
Questions? Concerns? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.