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Thursday, 4 August 2011

KE$HA

 So its official I have the worst taste in music.  My ipod proves this.  Despite knowing my musical knowledge leaves much to desire I still cannot start afresh and kill my old classics.  
MMM-Bop, every single song Pink has ever recorded and most recently the whole of Natasha Beddingfields first album take pride amongst the songs I am ashamed to admit I downloaded when they pop up on shuffle.


Let’s talk about Ke$ha. A singer my boyfriend and I heavily dispute over. A topic I can and will rant on about for some time.
I love her.  He loathes her.
My i pod shuffle loves her. 

To me she symbolises youth who aim to have fun, that love being wayward in a slapdash carefree sort of way.  To him, she represents a slut.  He gives her more grief than he does any other female singer we discuss, and why? What does she really do thats so bad for the womans reputation?

Now, I can completely understand when a lot of people, sexist boyfriend included say she isnt that talented, I'm aware she doesn’t sing very well.  Typically, pop songs are well-crafted, well-sung. This one isn’t. Why? It’s all part of the message and the image. Ke$ha understates her looks, dresses down, and doesn’t bother auto-tuning the trailer park out of her voice.  
A lot of female singers have hit the big time being talentless.  It’s instructional. Music videos teach girls how to cast a spell.  Mumble some words, transform reality.  You don’t have to be able to sing, just be hot.  Is Ke$ha succesful because she is dressed like a hooker?  She does have a really short shorts on.  But she’s not dressed like a hooker. She’s not dressed for the boys at all. Guys don’t care about bangles and eyeliner. They’ll pretend they do, but really they just want to see how big the boobs look.  She’s dressed for the girls. She’s got boots on. High heels advertise sex. Flats advertise sensibility. Boots are a raised middle finger.


I readily admit, anybody I claim to like is quite possibly awful but I will argue her corner when she is labelled a skank.   
The heavy drinking, looking like a slob, etc is, of course, the point; she’s not doing this by accident. It takes a lot of time and money to look that bad, her mum is one of her songwriters. She’s not Amy Winehouse. 
Her being judged on her fictional persona reminds me of the stories you hear about soap stars being attacked in public for things their characters have done on tv.
 
I don’t particularly like using words like “skank” or “slut” for anyone.  Ke$ha’s just doing stuff male rock and rap stars have done forever, but kicking up dust because she’s a woman. 

Most women in mainstream music these days are highlighting their sexuality, the majority of women have done in, well forever!  
Because she sings about lust as opposed to love, and fun instead of heartache does that mean labelling her a slut is a given?  Music videos are constantly being churned out that depict singers, some barely 18 warbling away about tales of love lost and despair, why should Ke$ha sing about such subjects when all she, like most young women can't relate and just wants to have fun?  

In the 90s, it seems like women had a kind of bravado that was more about confronting men regarding the emotional fallout of romance culture. But for Ke$ha it seems like a different kind of bravado, more about rejecting that fallout altogether or about transcending it.  Maybe this, and her anti-pretty look is what throws men like my boyfriend off, she isn't simply crooning about her forever devotion to a man, she isn't admitting defeat to heartbreak.

A few months after its release her single Tik Tok achieved a significant historical benchmark: it sold 610,000 copies in one week! Thats more than any single by any female artist ever. 
This sort of success doesn’t happen by accident.  Ke$ha, as Louis Armstrong might say, has got “that thing”–she has the talent, the charisma, and the work ethic that constitute genuine star-power.  But despite her enormous success, she has won little of the  praise that is constantly heaped upon stars like LadyGaga.  
Everybody seems reluctant to take her seriously as an artist or as a star. I think Ke$ha deserves far more respect, as an artist and as a feminist icon.

Ke$ha has also amassed more haters than just about anyone in the music world.  My boyfriend, I'm pretty sure would ridiculse most commercial artists.  Justin Bieber for example, he is never taken seriously and remains mostly a cute little punchline.  People poke fun at him for looking like a nine-year-old and for his mediocre music, but its all in good humour.  Ke$ha-haters, in contrast, are dead serious, and their jabs are often joltingly vicious.  
The boyfriend see's Ke$ha as an attention seeking slut, whoring herself out in a pathetic attempt to compete with stars like lady Gaga and Katy Perry.
The sheer amount of hating only seemed only to increase in the wake of the “TiK ToK” craze, as though its popularity had been an insane bender that people wanted to put behind them.  The question, as with all such morning-after disavowals of the past, is: What is it about “TiK ToK” that makes people so ashamed to have liked it?  


In my opinion the views of people like the boyfriend are more than just garden-variety culture-blog trolling.  Everyone gets made fun of on the Internet, but not like this - this has “personal” written all over it.  
With its bargain-bin sarcasm, its seeming indifference to the usual need to be funny or sound clever, its eagerness to start saying mean things as quickly as possible, this criticism feels inspired by some sort of vendetta.  People take such pleasure in hating her.

With her ratty cowboy boots, her drunken flailing dancing and her disregard for personal hygiene, she is undeniably quite a bit different from any major female pop star in recent memory, different in ways that annoy people severely and prompt them to lash out at her, if only to make sure everyone within earshot knows that they are firmly in the anti-Ke$ha camp.  A lot of people like her, but few want to be known as the type of person who likes her.



In my view, the reason everyone is so keen on hating her is exactly why as a feminist, I think so highly of her.  She messes around with gender identity in a way that many people find genuinely discomforting.  The nasty jabs hurled at her have one thing in common: they tend to smell mildly, if not heavily, of sexism.  They are usually expressed in terms associated with femininity in all its  stereotypical associations, as if trying to force Ke$ha to be more feminine, to be a lady. 


To me it seems in the want to neutralize Ke$ha, to push her to conform to the stereotypical gender role she supposedly belongs in. The Pink song, Stupid girls springs to mind.  Do the Ke$ha-haters want her to be a ditzy, blonde-haired, bubbleheaded and at the same a time shallow attention-whore with a fake image calculated to sell records?
 

It annoys me how the boyfriend seems to have completely overlooked how non-sexual she is, at least in “TiK ToK”.  (The rest of her album is, I will allow, a different story, but “TiK ToK” is, I'm pretty sure the only song he will have actually listened to)  The video shows admittedly her in very short shorts, but she still routinely wears way more clothing than almost any major female pop star in years.  She remains disarmingly modest, wearing clothes you would see in any nightclub anywhere.

She labels her style "white trash dumpster driving chic", a look hardly screaming sexy.  In Taio Cruises music video she is seen crouching over a toilet and making sex noises, this although focusing on sex has the added effect of making her look like an actual human being rather than some sort of materialized male fantasy or a glorified lingerie commercial.  It's almost humerous.


She doesn’t flout the now-conventional hypersexualization of women, in her songs and music videos she actually satirizes it and undercuts it in some enormously clever ways.  We are perfectly accustomed to women who get drunk and have sex.
She underscores her striking unpromiscuousness in the “TiK ToK” music video by reversing the conventional drunken-hookup narrative.  In the course of the video, she has taken us through a full day of carousing and a full night of drunken partying without any evidence of ill-advised hookups.  She does enjoy picking up guys “who look like Mick Jagger,” but only, it seems, for their throwback appeal—and she defends herself  if they try to “touch her junk.”  
To me the breakdown of “TiK ToK”, in which we see Ke$ha thrashing drunkenly about in a whitewashed basement, is a dead-on satire of this most troubling of pop culture trends.

In the past five years or so, exotic dancing has broken out of its rightful place in the dregs of society and become one of pop culture’s most seen thing, especially in music.  The Pussycat Dolls have proudly announced they used to all be exotic dancers, and you can hardly watch a music video without the female singers gyrating, so why does Ke$ha get such a bad wrap?
The usually seen type of dancing calculated to please the hungry eye of the anonymous but ever-present male audience is transformed by Ke$ha into goofy, innocently shit-faced flailing.  And instead of the male audience Ke$ha is singing, not to some anonymous man she is trying to bewitch, but to the DJ, who has her under his spell along with everyone else at the party, male and female alike.  
Ke$ha dances because she feels like dancing.  


As I mentioned, the remarkable non-sexuality of “TiK ToK” does not extend to most of her other songs.  In “Blah Blah Blah” and “Your Love Is My Drug” sex returns to its usual center position.  What persists throughout the album, though, is the strange sort of androgyny that lies at the heart of Ke$ha’s persona. She is a woman who can carry masculinity as though she owned it.  She effortlessly plows over any stereotyped feminine behaviors that get in the way of her fun  while keeping the ones that she likes.

Most importantly, “The dudes are lining up,” not because we’re hot or because we have nice racks, but because “they hear we got swagger.”   

I believe “TiK ToK” and Ke$ha are revolutionary.  Seeing a woman with that sort of freedom is still too much for some people.  The backlash against her should remind us of a crucial and constant struggle for the equal rights for men and women in society and media.  Gaga’s good-natured provocations have captured the attention of feminists, as did Madonna but defense for people like Ke$ha, who are branded degenerates should be as high. 





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