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Where Dirt and Glitter Always Cover the Floor: Exile in Ke$haland, Part I

March 4, 2011

She's ba-ack... and yes, that is that guy who played Dawson. (screen shot from "Blow")

Observing the pop cultural silence enveloping Ke$ha recently, I was beginning fear that all of her crass brawn and glitter-coated sleaze had fizzled out after the mega-success of her first album.  It seemed like a distinct possibility that the overly produced, self-reflexive pandering of “We R Who We R”  finally did her in.

At the very least, I’ve noticed recently that radios have dropped Ke$ha’s newer releases in favor of “Tik Tok” — a move that seemed to say that Ke$ha’s moment was far enough in the past that it’s now appropriate, even kitschy, to revisit her original hit.

But all of these fears were allayed when Ke$ha strode back onto the scene in typically attention-greedy fashion with her newest music video, “Blow” — an amazacrazy, suggestively intelligent flick that works to parody Ke$ha’s own ridiculousness. And if that weren’t enough, she’s succeeded in pulling James van der Beek out of cultural obscurity along with her.

“Blow,” which features violent acts against both unicorns and the aforementioned obsession of bygone teen girl fantasies, as well as an interlude about muenster cheese, is essentially a culmination of all that has begun to define Ke$ha’s cultural brand. The video puts the final glossy sheen on the fantastical locale that shapes the background of all of Ke$ha’s music: where bars boast seedy back jukeboxes, where partygoers break bottles and hurl trashcans with gleeful abandon, the loyal congregate at voyeuristic holes in the wall, where the party never truly starts ’til she walks in– this is Ke$haland.

In an effort to chart the fantastical locale, I offer the following list of themes that run throughout Ke$ha’s oeuvre. Their powers combined, these factors coalesce into the glitter-coated sleaze that makes Ke$haland so alluring– and, importantly, that allow the platform from which Ke$ha launches the parody of her own style in ‘Blow.”

So begins the first part of a multi-part series, in which I will attempt to explore this bright new terrain…

Factor #1: Sordid dissonance: First and foremost, the inconsistency that makes watching any Ke$ha video a joyfully ambivalent experience. The psychological terrain upon which Ke$haland is constructed.

Part of what gives Ke$ha songs their enduring appeal is the contrast between the impersonally auto-tuned, saccharinely nondescript voice and the abrupt insertions of profanity or explicit sexual desire. Evident in song, this phenomenon grows exponentially in the corresponding videos.

Take “Tik Tok”: a song that conjures up images of waking up in a gutter accompanied by nothing but your own vomit is played out across a constructed video landscape prominently featuring suburban children and a bright pastel palette. The songstress herself spends much of the video tooling around on a bicycle decorated with juvenile handlebar ribbons, pedaling prettily as she chants about liquor and (presumably) riotous parties.

Talk about scandalous: Tik Tok's suburban setting

“Blah Blah Blah” is even more intensely dissonant: Arguably her most sordid song, featuring the truly excellent lyrical gem, “don’t be a little bitch with your chit chat/ just show me where you dick’s at”, the entire video takes place in what looks like a mix between a boring bowling alley and the least cool, most brightly-lit club you’ve never wanted to visit. No wonder she (allegedly!) just wants to hang out in the back with the jack and jukebox. But Ke$ha one-ups the bizarrely lame visual vibe with her video antics, in which she pulls off such more-or-less harmless, stock middle school pranks as covering an idiotic suitor with duct tape and then pants-ing him. All while singing, in a show of her gleefully absurd inconsistency, about how much she just wants a little love in her glove box.

While “Blow” lacks much of the lyrical perversity that defines early Ke$ha, it’s more than present visually. The video at first seems, disappointingly, to parrot the typical trope the female pop star: she appears overly produced and incongruously shoved into fetish-style garb. Then it becomes clear that the object of all this sexual posturing is not the same infantile male playthings of her earlier oeuvre but a room full of unicorns. We are officially in Ke$haland.

Screen shot from "Blow"

And for next time:
What to do if you’re hot and dangerous– Ke$haland is nothing without its inhabitants.

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