8.10.2010

ARTICLE: Ke$ha, Pronounced.

Ever since I can remember - since I nabbed a used copy of Michael Jackson's Thriller in my single-digits, perhaps - it has taken something truly special to get me into a pop album. For the most part, the monotonous volume touting itself as "music", its classification an abbreviation of the term "popular", exists as nuisance in my world - nuisance widely and blissfully ignored.

The exceptions alluded to may be extremely rare but typically topple barriers, transcending the simple realm of their peers and causing me to obsess for a few months. The perpetually self-challenging and self-redefined Christina Aguilera, whose soulful voice soars with the greats, demanded my attention with the permeating Stripped in '02. Then, in '05, the rebellious, naturally beautiful P!nk blasted my radar with her delightfully un-PC I'm Not Dead!.

Earlier this year I caught an unusual guest performance on American Idol. In spite of the show, the girl with the mic (and, eventually, the headdress) seemed to be more rapping with hints of melody than singing (though I soon learned singing was well within range). Four dancers with giant televisions on their heads hopped and pranced in the background as the brash tune went on. I'm honestly not sure if I full-on "liked" what I was seeing in the moment, but I certainly enjoyed it, and one thing's for sure - I remembered the song Blah Blah Blah... and the name "Ke$ha".

Well, to quote Boots & Boys, I think it's time that I mention I've got myself an obsession. Honestly, it started as more or less a goof. I knew what Ke$ha's reputation about my social circle was apt to be and, for laughs and some guilty pleasure, I racked up some Blah Blah Blah scrobbles on my last.fm profile. Soon I was scrobbling other singles TiK ToK and Your Love is My Drug while sporting a Ke$ha avatar on The Corrierino. Not so slowly, I was finding something I genuinely liked about the starlet, and it wasn't much longer before I picked up her debut album, Animal.

As I type this, Ke$ha stands at position seventeen on my overall last.fm chart with well over three-hundred scrobbles, beating out long-time favorites like Alice Cooper, Poison and Van Halen. On the merit of just one album and a few officially unreleased songs, she has already breezed past the aforementioned, contemporary pop veterans Xtina and P!nk. Beyond the taste-tracking site, I have also joined the online fan club to stay on top of releases, added hordes of relevant videos to my YouTube "favorites" and even made plans to shoot an amateur music video for Dinosaur. Yeah, I've got myself an obsession, alright.

I attribute much of this obsession to not only the catchy music but also the backing attitude. For being who some are calling the "New Queen of Pop", I feel Ke$ha is almost anti-pop. Yes, of course, the music can hardly be tagged as anything else, but there is a strong streak of irony through every track. Though many of the purposefully "shallow" lyrics are revealing of the artist's party-hardy lifestyle, more than that they tear a veil away from the pop world. Ke$ha, even for this early stage in her high-profile career, has a significant amount of creative control over her work (a running theme amongst pop artists I favor, it would seem) and uses the platform more or less to roleplay. Purported is not the ideal image of a Britney or Jessica, but the public's wide (if eagerly presumptuous and possibly uninformed/misinformed) view of them - trashy, ditzy and easy. Ke$ha gives it to us raw and wriggling - sex, booze and rock 'n' roll.

One particularly impressive aspect of the young singer's blossoming career is how true she seems to have stayed to herself. You look at most any pop sensation and they started out as a puppet for a production company. Even Xtina's self-titled freshman outing was a mere notch or two above having its every string yanked by money-grubbing suits. Ke$ha, contrarily, has managed a seamless segue into fame without "selling out". In that sense, she's easily relatable to the fresh screen talent Kristen Stewart. She hasn't gone into shell-shock mode with the onset of popularity. Of course, where a key characteristic of "KStew" is shyness, Ke$ha is on the opposite end of the spectrum. In interviews she avoids pretension and overconfidence with an organic heedlessness but saturates her art with bombast.

What's more, Ke$ha had been making music for a good handful of years, scraping by on peanuts, prior to snaring the spotlight, and her stylings have not been undermined through the transition. Early tunes like Butterscotch or Lost Weekend would fit right in with Animal's offerings. What might be even more important is she seems to be having a ball with success rather than huddling away to protect some kind of image. It's not just refreshing, it's empowering, and through her interviews and even songs I feel, to reasonable extent, as though I know the real Ke$ha as opposed to some intangible entity of popular culture.

Speaking of style, how about that Auto-Tune? Generally my opinion of the pitch-correcting software is right in line with common thought - it's annoying, unnecessary and makes sub-par music even worse. Well, leave it up to Ke$ha to instill an alternative viewpoint. Now, I'm under no illusion Ke$ha is in complete control of this technical aspect of her output. Whoever does have that control, though, uses what's often an ear-sore to perfectly compliment what's already, yes, good singing. The way Auto-Tune is implemented here alongside penetrating record-spinning adds "oomph" and an extra dimension of fun.

According to her Wikipedia page, Ke$ha lists among her influences Beck, Madonna, the Beastie Boys and even Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. And you know what? It shows. She's distinct, like any of the credited artists, and while she may not be doing anything on the level of Desolation Row, the influence is apparent through uniquely defined presentation.

To identify what makes a Ke$ha song a Ke$ha song, just look for the fortitude. As previously mentioned, her confidence straight out of the box allows for heavy doses of irony. Along with this irony, which often comprises self-objectification, she objectifies men just as men do women in most Top 40 content. Contemporaries, like Xtina, have done this in the past, but never as overtly. All the while Ke$ha maintains versatility, effortlessly gearing between the sexual intensity of Take It Off, the bubblegum mentality a la Kiss N Tell and even more goofy realms as in the hilarious Dinosaur. Then, the stand-out cherry on the debut album - title track Animal - goes empoweringly philosophical, encapsulating the pop star's core mentality: "I am in love with what we are, not what we should be."

Where typically when I become infatuated with a female celebrity as I have before with Kate Beckinsale for, sure, their physical beauty, but more their artistic talent, I barely begin to think on them in a sexual manner. There's something about the respect for these women that's higher than a simple, "Oh, yeah, bra, I'd totally nail 'er." Here again, however, Ke$ha is providing new adventures. Okay, so I'm not exactly swilling PBR with one hand and slapping a frat buddy with the other declaring how I'd show the girl a "good time", but through her songs and attitude Ke$ha really demands you lust after her. Tonally it's more accessible than, say, Fergie's fare, since Ke$ha doesn't paint herself as some display on a pedestal. Some may call this "slutty" but to those people I say: you haven't been paying attention.

So, to the naysayers, go ahead - say your nay. It just makes things better for those of us enjoying the raucous abandon.

Massive records have already been crushed (and TiK ToK is the only song to have ever replaced the Simpsons theme), yet I still feel Ke$ha is an underdog. In spite of these accolades she doesn't even have her own tour yet, instead acting as "special guest" on Rihanna's Last Girl on Earth tour. Hopefully Ke$ha karrie$ on to create a multi-faceted career without losing her edge. I, for one, already can't wait to see (and hear) what comes next. After all, who doesn't love an underdog?

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