Monday, 11 February 2013

Pop Corner: Ke$ha - Warrior

While my MRD colleagues will undoubtedly shake their heads at this, I legitimately like Ke$ha. For all its auto-tuning, sophomoric writing, and head-burrowing earworms, Animal was such a hedonistically satisfying pop record for these very same reasons. A sort of tongue-in-cheek joke of both the music industry and consumer that a daughter of country singer-songwriter could stick a dollar sign in her name and write party anthems about puking in Paris Hilton's closet in a warbled half-talking, half-rapping style. Y'know, of one of the many warning signs of the apocalypse.

And it's the sort of irreverence that makes her so easy to endear/hate, where even the 'love ballads' like "Stephen" are delivered with humour and sarcasm (how many songs vow: "I'll knit you a sweater"?) to shield an underlying vulnerability and desperation. If Katy Perry thought she was being oh-so provocative for kissing a girl and liking it, Ke$ha would take taboo a step further, with her own twist on "Hot for Teacher" with a female perspective, making upfront advances on history teacher "Mr. Watson".

In the moment of pyrotechnic divas in an arms race of avant-garde coutoure and over baked 'concepts,' Ke$ha practically rolled out of the glitter factory dumpster wailing "D-I-N-O-S-A-you are a Dinosaur".

So as EDM was further embraced in the pop cultural landscape of the '10s, I was actually excited when the "Tik Tok"-er herself started hyping that her next album would feature her take on a "cock rock"-revival (see: 80s glam/hair metal), with me expecting perhaps gender role reversals in the form of cheeky odes to male objectification. Alas, Ke$ha's second album Warrior, could not be that entirely, but rather turned out to be as sloppy as Ms. Sebert's wardrobe. 

Starting with the good, her instincts with sharp infectious hooks are intact as ever, with lead single "Die Young" (co-written by fun.'s Nate Ruess) sounding like a dance rave in a hippie commune. "C'Mon" shows off a surprising amount of tenderness (by Ke$ha standards) and intimacy amid primal desires all set against a subdued fuzzy synth. My favourite track "Thinking of You" is brilliant simply for how ridiculous it is. Taking cues from Taylor Swift, but infused with her own sense of self-satisfied trashiness, Ke$ha explains: "I know I said I wouldn't talk about you publicly, but that was before I caught you lyin' and cheatin' on me, slut." She writes her unfaithful lover off: "I'm over it, so suck my dick" and breaks into the sung tease: "I've been thinking of you-ooh-ooh." On paper, it's headshakingly absurd--especially when you factor in the vocoder vocalizations toward the end--but embodies her daring aesthetic and warped sense of humour, serving as one of the best successors of her debut.

The adoption of rock-influenced music itself is more of a mixed bag. Iggy Pop himself appears on the unashamedly glam "Dirty Love", which features Ke$ha showing off some respectful rasps but nothing impressive beyond a notable, but drunken karaoke performance. Iggy's verse certainly works better--even though his Rick Santorum reference, for all its snark, already feels eye-rollingly dated. The Strokes-esque "Only Wanna Dance with You" is the album's 'indie rock' track, but is little else than a fun, insubstantial bopper. "Wonderland" is presented as a sun-soaked, nostalgic bar ballad, referring to Ke$ha's humble beginnings. Most of it is vaguely relatable fluff ("Everything was so simple then") but one verse, whether or not rooted in reality, offers one of the most personal windows into her life: "Carrie’s in the valley, she’s got a kid. Julie’s still a waitress, living on tips. Sometimes we get together and shoot the shit. But it’s not the same now. No, nothing is." It's hardly reflective or a compelling character study beyond a couple shout-outs, but offers a refreshing image compared to the club scenes we're so used to in her music.

From there, little else lives up. The opening chorus of "Crazy Kids" sounds like a fairly tame hook ready to explode into something that can live up to its namesake, until it peters out into a flaccid rap reminiscent of Dev at her worst. Little can be said about "Supernatural" and "All That Matters (The Beautiful Life") except that the former is about having sex with a ghost (seriously) and both feature pretty flavourless dance beats--likely thrown in at the label's suggestion for fans seeking familiar ground.

Ke$ha stated that she wanted positivity to play such a prominent role on this album. And, as noble of an intention as that is, the finale "Love into the Light" takes a few valuable concepts like the oft-visited idea of self-love but also abandoning hate, but enters an aura of self-righteousness when its spacey, bombastic beat is placed against "Can't we all get over ourselves?" So many pop songstresses have told us we are shining firework diamonds who were born fucking perfect this way, I would have liked Ke$ha to truly be a warrior and at least blaze a more entertaining way of rehashing the same message.


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