Like any self-respecting intellectualoid, I had only haughty disdain for Ke$ha and her antics. After all, she sang a childish bubble-gum rocky electropop that glorified getting drunk, getting high, and calling people either douchebags or losers. On top of that, she couldn’t even sing!
Then I spent two weeks in Hawaii, working on the house. My handyman, in his early twenties, forced me to listen to Ke$ha’s first album, Animal + Cannibal on the half hour drive from and to the site. At first, I was horrified. After a couple of days, I was intrigued at how easily some of her songs just catch your mind. I never got into the lyrics as much as he did, but I started really appreciating the music.
First of all, the criticism leveled at Ke$ha is appropriate. She cannot sing, as she amply demonstrated in her live appearances:
She also constantly sings about getting drunk, partying it up, and similar themes. To make matters worse, she seems obsessed with casual sex and men who want to have casual sex. The ones that don’t want to have casual sex with her or that she is not interested in (but who are interested in her) are deemed douchebags. The ones she’s lost interest in are typically branded teeny-weenie losers that should grow balls.
There is a lot to dislike about Ke$ha’s world view. No doubt about that.
The musical quality of her world, though, is a different story.
I was looking forward to her second album, Warrior, because it promised to be proof positive or her faults and of her successes. In short, the album does not disappoint in tis regard.
The faults are easily visible. The world of party and douchebags is still there. Ke$ha tried to retcon herself and her first album into one philophical stance, arguing that her new album was going to be more introspective. That didn’t work – the teeny weenie still shows up (Thinking Of You), there is lots of partying (“Been spending too much energy / On stupid shit, when honestly / I wanna get high, just wanna get high / With everyone else here”).
Musically, several songs are just indistinguishable fillers. I am not going to highlight them, because they are bound to be someone’s favorite songs in the whole wide world (I am just not going to mention them, that’s how you know…). That’s particularly sad because Ke$ha now can work with the best talent in the industry: she can do without songs like Animal’s Stephen, which apparently was one of the first songs she wrote (showing mostly off how much she improved over the years).
BUT, despite its faults, Warrior sometimes succeeds. There is the country song, Wonderland, which is strangely believable. It shows off Ke$ha’s roots in Tennessee, her mother’s songwriting never far from the young girl. Wonderland is a beautiful ballad, full of irony and longing, back to the days of being a waitress and dreaming big. The top comment on the YouTube song is, “I misjudged her.”
The collaboration with Iggy Pop seems improbable. I remember Iggy from the olden, golden days of “Real Wild Child,” when I first learned about punk rock. Yet Dirty Love is an amazingly fun song, full of silly lyrics like “Santorum did it / In a V-neck sweater.” The theme is still casual sex, the song is still pop, but it’s driven by a powerful beat at an unusually slow pace (which makes it perfect for fast spinning, by the way).
Finally, among the gems in this album, I will mention the song from which the lyrics above are taken, All That Matters (The Beautiful Life). The driving beat, the hedonistic lyrics, the switch to falsetto like in the days of the Bee Gees, the chorus – all of that primes you to a silly, meaningless song.
But there is a current under the shallowness. The song is incredibly sad, musically. Instead of joy, it presents anger. The restlessness of the beat is coming from depression, not from satisfaction. The harmony that underpins the chorus speaks of desperate longing.
Some listeners have gone to the obvious step of comparing All That Matters (The Beautiful Life) to the very close Beautiful Life by Ace of Base. They (the listeners) point out that both songs were produced by the same guy (I didn’t know). They also share the same title (sort of). But the big difference is that Ke$ha’s song is referring to a different, beautiful life, and one that she has fallen out of love with.
Ke$ha’s best songs have one thing in common: they are subtly critical of the lifestyle she lives. Whether it’s the party where she pees in a champagne bottle (as she did in Party At a Rich Dude’s House) or the concert at which she tells people to “Put your motherf**ing phones up,” Ke$ha is only sincere when she declares dissatisfaction with party and sex.
Note that I am not judging that lifestyle. I am simply saying that Ke$ha’s music works when she does. When she speaks of dreams, of the past, she works. When she talks about the life she lives, it’s dull (Boots and Boys). When she criticizes drugs, booze, and parties, she seems to be closer to her true self.
The question, of course, is why she lives that lifestyle if she hates it so much.