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Don't be a little b1tch with your chit-chat
I take my critical stand in favor of... Ke$ha? Yeccch!

Great convo over on the Singles Jukebox, in full thrall even as I type this, about "Blah Blah Blah" which I reviewed at the last minute expecting to give it a 6 or so and discovered to my surprise that I was at a 9.

This was my Jukebox review:

Tunefully pretty clatter that's clatter nonetheless, fusillades of frosting from all sides, chocolate kisses battling with sugar squirts, totally blah-blah-blah appropriate. Wiseacres 3OH!3 show up sounding proper and somnolent in comparison and are instantly obliterated by Ke$ha's cotton-candy eruption.

And this was my comment, in response to Alex O. saying "She dares to be stupid and vapid and revels in it, and makes it sound attractive":

She may simply be stupid and vapid – I haven't done the research. She's probably just falling into clichés of the wild life as her path of least resistance, though I'd like to project desperation onto her in order to imagine depth. I hated her from the get-go and may still hate her. So I went into this thinking "catchy enough for a 6″ and came out with a 9; what happened is that I hooked into the high-pitched pretty chaos and the pulse that's quite a hot throb underneath and that pulls everything together, and as sound this began making "You Belong With Me" and "I Kissed A Girl" and "3″ and "I'm On A Boat" and "Loba" and "Tik Tok" and "Heels" and "Untouchable" and "Outta My Head" and "Wobble" and "Cry For You" and "Disturbia" seem too pale and bare and languid in comparison. As sound, that is.

In other words, this rocks. The nearest equivalent I can think of is Tommy James & The Shondells' "Mony Mony," and this has a throb that beats that.

Which doesn't necessarily make "Blah Blah Blah" better than all those – though maybe it does, my viscera often holding sway against everything else; but I'm not a one-issue voter. But if I were still thinking of going anywhere as a musician, I'd try to figure out what Ke$ha and her producers did here and ask myself, "How can I harness that?"


Tommy James & The Shondells

EDIT: Oh yes, and I spent half an hour last night doing a quick skim of John Leland's singles columns in Spin in the late '80s, unsuccessfully looking for what my memory told me was his recalling how he once said to his mom that he liked rock 'n' roll because it was noise, and by noise he meant Tommy James, not the Stooges. Maybe my memory is wrong here, and it was someone else, or my imagination.</failed fact check>
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I don't buy that Ke$ha's any more brutal or aggressive or out-of-control than the rest of pop's drinking culture, or even different in any interesting way. Last year alone the Paradiso Girls had you drunk and throwin' up/so! fucked! up!, Electrik Red had that drink in their cup, Jamie Foxx blamed it on the Goose. Going back further we have J-Kown getting tipsy, Trina forgetting where she parked and losing her iPhone, Sia drinking to get drunk and smoking til she's senseless, Lil' Kim being ready to fuck after three bottles, the entirety of Lil' Jon and Pitbull's careers. How is Ke$ha's persona remarkable in any way?

"She dares to be stupid and vapid" - how is this daring? How is it not what everyone else in pop does?

Pop's drinking culture and embrace of vapidity isn't bad in itself, but nor is it good in itself. What makes it good or bad is how you do it. And Ke$ha does it fucking terribly.

It's a matter of sounding in control despite singing about being out of it. Electrik Red and Jamie Foxx are completely in control of their songs -- they make it sharp and sexy. Ke$ha actually seems as out of control (and as clueless) as her music is saying she is, except there are two different "out of controls" here: one is the "outta control" wildness or whatever in the club and the other is out of control, of the song, of herself. The thing is that she's not quite inept, she's just...a little off, y'know?

Oh, I get it. She's actually punk! And this is why I don't like her.

Sort of -- except I don't think she makes any claim of her off-ness or ineptitude being an asset -- I think she's just generally unaware of it. Which is why Frank's "proto-punk" connection here works -- the original punks hadn't turned their punkness into a badge, and neither has Ke$ha.

And maybe I should say "punkiness," not "punkness" -- the sense that these guys were actually a buncha little punks.

Oh I DEFINITELY don't think she's unaware of it or even that she has no other mode of performance. I'd be shocked if there was any moment in any of her songs which wasn't deliberately meant to sound like that. And I think punkness, not punkiness: Ke$ha's too try-hard and self-aware to be a little punk who really doesn't give a shit, but she IS consciously taking on some of the attributes of punk, the genre.

But the charm of Ke$ha, if that's what you want to call it, is that what she is hyper-aware/self-conscious of is not quite related to the actual spectacle of what she is. I don't think she understands quite how pathetic it is, despite her trying to "own" the patheticness, too. In fact, her "owning" it makes it more pathetic. But at the same time, she succeeds in forcing you to have fun in a way that (let's say) 90% of the Dr. Luke cheerleaders fail to, and I think it has to do with how weirdly vulnerable (shallow? thin? something?) she remains no matter how many defenses she has. This is something Katy Perry never did -- and what I like about Katy Perry has mostly to do with the songwriting and little to do with her -- she seems more like a hired hand. Ke$ha seems far more like a hack completely out of her depth, which is more refreshing than a hack hacking it up quite comfortably. I don't think Ke$ha can necessarily do anything with her discomfort, I just think it's what makes this particular album work.

With the exception of "TiK ToK," which I have occasionally enjoyed jumping up and down and shouting along to (mostly while drunk!), no, actually, Ke$ha has never succeeded in forcing me to have fun.

Anyway, being forced to have fun is never fun! It's...getting roofied, or something.

Side note: I was actually thinking, as I got ready this morning, am I doing the same thing to Ke$ha that I accuse other people of doing to Taylor Swift? Namely, setting up an artificial acceptable / unacceptable dichotomy, and engaging in "kind of girl" criticism? ("I don't like Taylor Swift because she's the kind of girl who...") I haven't come up with an answer yet, but now that you mention being "forced" to have fun, I realize part of the reason I dislike Ke$ha is because she seems like the kind of girl who will, like, repeatedly grope you, no matter how many times you tell her to stop. (There's a probably-not-intentionally hilarious bit in the "Blah Blah Blah" video where she's telling this guy to stop talking to her because he's never going to get her, while writhing and crawling into his lap, while he ignores her and seems perfectly content to just play his guitar.)

Also nothing about Ke$ha (as a person, as opposed to as a persona) reads "out of her depth" to me. She seems completely capable, and well aware of what she's doing and how she's being perceived. In fact, I think part of what bothers me about her is how in her depth she seems -- it's that thing with the viral video, it's what petronia said above about her shell being see-through, it's how behind her artifice there is only more artifice. She is an M.C. Escher drawing of artifice. And while it's kind of interesting to look at an Escher drawing at first, after a while you're like, "Wow, I just spent three minutes repeatedly looking up and down those interlocking staircases, and nothing about them was actually interesting."

Oh, I like a ton of her songs -- "Your Love Is My Drug," "Take It Off," "Blah Blah Blah," "Tik Tok," "Kiss N Tell," "Dinosaur," "Party at a Rich Dude's House." And what I mean is that, speaking as someone who has never gotten on board any of the force-fun of Avril or P!nk or Katy Perry, something about Ke$ha seems different, and it may just be that the shell transparency is what's doing it. Or maybe it's just that her songs have more annoying sounds and ideas in them than their slicker Avril/Katy/etc. counterparts (I like Alison Iraheta's cheerleader track more than most of 'em, too). Or maybe it's totally random -- I haven't quite figured it out yet.

But I definitely think that Ke$ha scans as far less capable than Katy Perry, not quite selling her singing or her rapping or her whatever else she's doing. Also think her artifice is somewhat complicated by how blunt and violent some of the imagery is -- that line between caricature and someone with issues. Not that she's singing about the issues, but there seems to be a sense in her details that something's amiss -- funnily, when she tries to sing about pain she really falls flat ("Dancing with Tears in My Eyes"). What I can't figure out is why (for me) the other stuff isn't falling flat when it seems like it should be.

Alison's song should probably be under the "totally random" bit -- not sure what it is about that one that makes it more bearable, except that the verse/chorus dynamics are a bit more interesting. In that there are actually dynamics.

Once again, Dave clearly articulates my weird love/hate/love relationship with an album while I'm still trying to wrap my head around it.

There's a definite link between the haphazardness/slap-dash nature of the sonics (no matter how deliberate they are) that feeds into how her persona scans - ditto the (purposely?) grating vocals which somehow add up to something that's insanely catchy. And Ke$ha's genuinely embarrassing in a way that Katy or GaGa never were. GaGa I disagreed with - "you aren't as smart as you think you are (yet)". Katy was annoying and frustrating but more in a "HOW DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND HOW WRONG YOU ARE?" way. Ke$ha makes my skin crawl at times and other times makes me feel embarrassed for her. Not sure if that's the right way to describe it.

Those are all my least favorites! Well, no -- like I said, I have enjoyed "TiK ToK," and "Take It Off" is an all right enough set piece, though it doesn't really go anywhere with what it's setting up. (Dark hole in the wall, glitter on the floor, girl feels a kinship with and an attraction to freaks, but not enough to stop objectifying them.) But "Your Love is My Drug" and "Blah Blah Blah" are shrill and stompy, like Katy Perry songs, but without the distinctiveness of Katy Perry's lyrics -- they're not Ke$ha songs, they're just songs. Anyone could have sung them. (By the way, since when have Pink and Avril ever tried to force anyone to have fun?) Both "Kiss N Tell" and "Dinosaur" feel like less skillful versions of tracks off Lily Allen's first album. ("Dinosaur," in particular -- it swipes some of the sonic tricks from Lily's "Knock 'Em Out.") And as for "Party at a Rich Dude's House" -- okay, look, I've been to a party at a rich dude's house, and if you were in the closet pissing in the Dom Perignon, you were seriously missing out. There was way crazier shit happening than that! But "Party at a Rich Dude's House" just slops out another helping of the same wild-n-crazy Ke$ha's been serving up all album long. Drunk! Barfing! IRREVERENCE! Peepee! There's nothing that focuses on the experience -- not Ke$ha's experience, not my experience, not anyone's experience -- of crashing a party at a rich dude's house. It could just as easily be "Party at the Offices of a Major Media Conglomerate." "Party at Your Aunt's House." "Party Outside a Liquor Store Where We Ill-Advisedly Spent a Lot of Money."

aceterrier, whose real name I don't know, made a good point in response to the "dumbest Ke$ha lyrics" thing over on Tumblr:

The dumbest ones are the ones where she tries to be all vulnerable and ends up just sounding like everyone else.

I don't necessarily agree that this is tied to her trying to be vulnerable (some of her best stuff is in her vulnerable songs) but I do agree that the big problem with Ke$ha is, try as she might to create some sort of personality for herself, she doesn't sound any different than anyone else. And it's because she's a bad storyteller. As a songwriter, as a pop star, as an interview subject, she consistently chooses to come back to the most generic concepts: alcohol, sex, swearing, rebellion. She hardly ever peels back the layers of those things, exposes the details, makes them personal and distinct. And that's what I mean when I say she sounds well within her depth: She doesn't seem like she's bitten off more than she can chew, she seems like she hasn't taken a bite at all.

I suppose it might be an issue that I prize "distinct" over everything else, but I'm a writer. I'm trained to look for time and place and character and conflict. And the songs I like all have those things, or at least start down the road toward having those things. "Take It Off." "Stephen." (Although musically it just riffs off of Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek." Someone should tally up the number of times Animal sits on sounds established by other artists -- there's "Dinosaur," there's "Take It Off.") "Animal," where her voice hits a sweet spot between Fall Out Boy's emo whine, that Katy/GaGa vaudeville brass, and Rihanna's burnt hardness. The bit in "Backstabber" where she bitches about how all she ever did was drive your broke ass around.

But overall, she fails. She fails at establishing time and place and character in her conflict in her songs and in her persona.

Which is not to say that "starting down the road toward those things" won't be enough for me in the long run. it was enough for me with Lady GaGa. And even as I'm writing this, I can tell that in a week I'm going to turn around on Ke$ha, just like I did with Lady GaGa (and maybe turn around on her again, just like I did with Katy Perry). But even then -- the way I feel about Lady GaGa is very different from the way I feel about Lily Allen, or Demi Lovato, or Ashlee Simpson. I like Lady GaGa's songs. I have a relationship with Lily's and Demi's and Ashlee's.

And which is Allison Iraheta's cheerleader song? "Robot Love"?

I don't think you're wrong at all to see a "type of girl" in Ke$ha, though -- she's resolutely one-note, and going even more for "type" than I think I'm granting her, since what I'm saying is that what signifies to me is the failure of the idea of Ke$ha (this sorta gal doing these sorta things) that somehow translates into the success of the music of Ke$ha, possibly in part because of the failure of the idea (if the idea had succeeded I think I'd resent it). But there's actual evidence for the type you think she's typifying here, which is completely different from the Taylor convos, in which "evidence" was just the twisted projections of people who had no interest in listening to Taylor Swift very attentively.

No, but it's not really a valid critical response. It's not a critical response at all. It's just judging someone for not being a ~*totally awesome chick*~ like I am, which involves being (a) a jerk about what women should and shouldn't do, and (b) willfully ignorant about the fact that you can be more than one "type of girl" at once.

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