Who the fuck is Ke$ha? Animal, her debut album, presents two possibilities. On the surface, she’s a bratty, snarky party girl whose primary pastimes include getting drunk and getting naked, partying too hard, and spending her days hungover. But that can’t be it, can it? In her deftly crafted garbage-pop tunes, she constructs a persona that oozes satire, and she may well be a pop-genius, a gutter-glam Jonathan Swift.
Either way, this 22-year-old Nashville girl could well be the neo-feminist, unabashed debauchery advocate we desperately need right now. Consider her contemporaries. On one side, the Disney-sponsored flavour of the week chumps making cutesy, smiley music with undertones of morality, faith, and corn-fed, white-bread middle-Americana. On the other, Lady GaGa and Katy Perry, who strut and pose behind dizzying iconography, resting on Andy Warhol references and shock value.
Months before the proper album’s release, Ke$ha’s infectious, millions-selling single TiK ToK turned heads and made it seem kind of sexy to brush your “teef with a bottle of Jack.” No sign of traditional morality or outdated gender roles here. With its driving, filthy synths and stutter-step dancefloor beat, and Ke$ha’s hypnotically auto-tuned bubblegum gab, TiK ToK served as a teaser for what the album as a whole might sound like. Ke$ha sings: “Ain’t got a care in the world, but got plenty of beer. Ain’t got no money in my pocket, but I’m already here.”
But what of the rest of the album? In the capable hands of Dr Luke and Max Martin, the music thumps and gyrates through snaking synths, obnoxious disco, hand claps, auto-tuned talk-singing, and gum-smacking disenfranchisement. Animal may well be a new low for the popular music consumer’s moral standing, but it’s a new high for the gutter-glam middle finger.
On the album’s second single, Blah Blah Blah, Ke$ha holds her postmodern post-feminist flag high, expressing her hopes to “get [her] rocks off”, belittling whatever poor schmuck is trying to get her off the floor and into his car: “I don’t really care where you live at, just turn around boy, let me hit that. Don’t be a little bitch with your chit-chat. Just turn around; show me where your dick’s at.” 3OH!3 makes a lame attempt to assert the case for male equality, but Ke$ha comes off as so infectiously dominating, it’s hard to take the dude seriously.
On Take It Off (which is a call to “turn me on,” and “take it off”), Ke$ha oozes swagger: “Got my drunk text on. I’ll regret it in the morning, but tonight, I don’t give a…” and invites the listener to join her at a “dirty free-for-all.” On the stadium-rocking Party At A Rich Dude’s House, her stiff upper lip becomes a rigid, bratty sneer as she recounts waking up in the front yard after throwing up in the closet and “pissing in the Dom Perignon.” Again, she advocates: “Party ’til your pants come off. Come on, get naked!”
Dinosaur features a Mark Mothersbaugh-like whistle-synth, and focuses on the grossness of older men hitting on younger girls (“A carnivore, you want my meat, I know it.”). Never mind that on TiK ToK, she hoped to meet boys who “look like Mick Jagger”; Ke$ha is not sympathetic to plight of the elderly: “Not long ’til you’re a senior citizen, and you can strut around with a sexy tank of oxygen.”
There are the obligatory ballads – and they’re fine – but the Ke$ha we care about is the sweaty, trashy, inebriated party girl. Stephen opens with some Kansas-style vocal harmonies, and tells the story of that one guy Ke$ha can’t bag: “What the hell? I can charm the pants off anyone else, but you.” Dancing With Tears In My Eyes is an exploration of the effects of all this partying on the more lasting aspects of one’s life, hypocrisy, et cetera (“I’m such a tragedy. With every move I die”). But how does that jive the rest of the album? Perhaps Ke$ha is, in fact, a more complex and multi-faceted party girl than she seems like on the surface.
Arguments of purpose and meaning aside, Animal is an infectiously good dance-pop album, and by all meaningful estimations, a towering triumph. More than that, it’s an introduction to a young singer/songwriter (that’s right, despite her ditzy, dirty pastiche, Ke$ha is a hell of a songwriter) who may well become a major voice in the popular music of the future. And Ke$ha’s future is not something to fear, you denizens of traditional values. Maybe it’s time to put all that aside, and dance “’til your pants come off”.