Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Ke$ha – Take It Off

Not a cover of The Donnas’ only top 40 hit, sadly…


Anthony Easton: This could have been an Amanda Lear B-Side from 1976, though any place that goes hardcore most likely does not have glitter on the floor.

Al Shipley: I never thought anyone would find a way to force their voice into uglier, more curdled tones via AutoTune than Kanye. But whenever you think pop has hit rock bottom, there’s a white girl standing there with a shovel and a shit-eating grin, ready to dig deeper.

Michaelangelo Matos: Shamelessness is the root of what I like about her. Her voice and music really aren’t. So her leap aboard the robo-bandwagon doesn’t have much to recommend it aside from its shamelessly tour-guide-like lyrics (“It’s a dirty free-for-all”).

Alfred Soto: Every time she reminds the hapless audience about a “place downtown,” I want her to actually describe it instead of exhorting us to take “it” off. She reminds me of the friend who gets hammered at my place before heading to the bar and making a fool of himself. I don’t care if you wind up saving money.

Katherine St Asaph: Oh my God, Ke$ha saved top 40. I know I’d heard this before it was released as a single, and I think I danced to it once or twice (it’s not really the sort of song conducive to remembering how much you danced, or where or how.) You can’t really appreciate “Take It Off,” though, until it wades into the flood of dance muck spewed nonstop into the radio by Usher, Eminem, Enrique and wallops them all with Ke$ha’s bottle o’ Jack. She’s still autotuned to Hades, but all the processing in the world can’t blunt the sheer animal force of her voice (or maybe that’s processing too, but let’s pretend) as she tears through a backing track more propulsive and dangerous than anything in rotation now or for the past few months. It isn’t surprising, per se; every other dance song on the radio’s played through a minor-key haze, just begging to be stripped of its beats and made into a lament. The fundamental difference, though, is that Ke$ha’s clearly trying to sound fucked up, while everything else aims for sexy but instead hits desolate. The biggest surprise is that this is Dr. Luke. Why the hell doesn’t he write them all like this?

Chuck Eddy: Distorted electrobeats, places in France where ladies don’t wear pants (foolproof hook at least since P-Funk days), whiskey-filled water bottles in the handbag, lost minds, lost clothes, schizzy switch-ups, dirty downtown dive that may well be supposed to imply glory holes but ought to remind everybody of somewhere (my wife says the old Siberia bar, in Manhattan). One of my fave tracks when the album came out, and it’s still up there. Better than Chic’s identically named song.

John Seroff: I was kinda hoping I actually heard “now we lookin’ like pubes/in my gold Trans-Am” in “Take It Off”, but that would be actually transgressive and for all her bad girl posing, being genuinely nasty isn’t Ke$ha’s business. It’s an odd feat to autotone down a century old song, but this rendition of “The Streets of Cairo” isn’t half as dirty as the original (Fun Fact Corner: didja know the original lyrics read “Oh the girls in France/Wear their whiskers in their pants/And the things they do/Would kill a Russian Jew”?). Ke$ha may be more fun to listen to once she either gets down to serious hootchie-kootchying or cops to Radio Disney aspirations but this schtick is getting old and Animal is already aging poorly for me.

Kat Stevens: Sometimes you just can’t keep a good tune down. Ke$ha joins a huge club of dudes that have pillaged “The Streets Of Cairo” for any Sphinx/Pyramid scene-setting requirements over the years (attention songwriters: “Streets” only went out of copyright in 2008 so is now RIPE for exploitation!). Ke$ha’s version sounds most like the Egyptian Tribe level in Lemmings 2.

24 Responses to “Ke$ha – Take It Off”

  1. I meant to fact-check that date before the deadline, whoops. It’s either 1988 or 2008 depending on a complicated set of reversionary rights rules, but 2008 sounds better. Hurray!

  2. Sorry I missed it.

    I’m closer to Katherine than anyone else on the song, but she’s released better singles and has better songs still on the album. The idea that she saved Top 40 deserves serious consideration, though. (I’d say it’s closer to her having saved Top 10, since that’s what most Hot Hits stations actually play, but let’s not quibble.)

    It’s why despite a month of trying I can’t think of anything substantive to say about Katy Perry the way I can* about Ke$ha, even though the same factory is pumping out their hits. In some ways Animal made the world safe for Teenage Dream; though Teenage Dream is less interesting, it’s more broadly accessible, and represents a kind of perfection of the Martin/Luke/Blanco aesthetic. All they had to do was remove that pesky personality.

    *though I say it myself, etc.

  3. And this is far better than the Donnas track. For one thing, it has a tune.

  4. I actually listened to Take It Off a few days ago; the title track is definitely better than Ke$ha’s song.

  5. I listened to it a few days ago too! First time in years. Which is what inspired me to mention it. Pretty good album — not near Chic’s best, but still glad I own it — but nope, Ke$ha has way more going on. (Didn’t think of the Donnas one, but fairly sure I’d take Ke$ha over that, too. Though there are probably tracks on American Teenage Rock ‘N’ Roll Machne and Bitchin’ that would make for tougher contests, for me.)

  6. Actually, come to think of it, there are tracks on Chic’s Take It Off that’d be tougher contests, too — Just not the title track. (And “pretty good” might be understating things — by most anybody other than Chic’s standards, it’d be more like pretty great. Not sure whether I’d take it over Animal or not, but it might be close.)

  7. I’d rank them:

    Real People
    Take It Off
    C’est Chic

    the rest

  8. This is the least grating Ke$ha track I’ve heard, but that’s because of the hook-jack. Not that that’s not necessarily a valid way of making a good track, but…I’m not hearing any reason to be fascinated with her. “Sheer animal force”? A squirrel, maybe, or some sort of small squeaking rodent. John is right, her bad girl posing and hard partying stance doesn’t really convince. I don’t want to go drinking with her, I don’t feel like she goes particularly hard at anything, she seems tame, not transgressive. The bar for bad girl posing and hard partying has been set pretty high by now and she doesn’t add anything to it.

    So I agree with Al that basically Ke$ha is part of what pop needs to be saved from, not a saviour in her own right. Would have given this a [5], or maybe a [4] because the autotune really is gross.

  9. Was gonna do that myself. Anyway: C’est Chic > Risque > Real People > Chic > Take It Off. Not sure whether I’ve even heard any later ones.

  10. Tongue in Chic and Believer are best heard excerpted on the latest comp or the older ’92 Rhino thing.

  11. I rate this in the middle of Ke$ha’s album tracks but yeah, in the top 10 it shines (or shone; it’s now fallen to 11). Ke$ha’s the only singer right now who rides the dance-pop mess; Derülo and Iyaz and Cruz just sort of pleasantly embody the mess, while everyone else messes around in it.

    Things to do:

    (1) Send Katherine a draft of my 30,000-word essay on how Taylor Swift and Ke$ha are actually the same person.

    (2) Write draft of 30,000-word essay on how Taylor Swift and Ke$ha are actually the same person.

    (3) OK, they’re not the same person, but they inhabit the same world, so what I really need to do is add a 30,000-word addendum to my equally nonexistent 60,000-word monograph on why Metamorphosis is better than Exile On Main Street explaining why Taylor Swift and Fearless are the real Exile In Guyville and way better, and more Stones-y, which’ll contain a 10,000-word digression as to why, while Ke$ha merely wants Mick Jagger, Taylor is Mick Jagger (will include long footnote discussing whether the “merely” needs to be reversed in that sentence, i.e., “while Ke$ha wants Mick Jagger, Taylor merely is Mick Jagger”)(will include another sub-essay on little-known Taylor album outtake “I’d Much Rather Be With The Girls, Than With A Boy Like You,” song written not by Taylor but by an agent-publicist, rejected by Taylor for sounding too commercial), theme of the digression to be that Ke$ha finds release by getting wasted, and Taylor finds release by getting even, but Taylor knows that (as Mick could tell you) getting even is no release at all. Ke$ha is actually the more benign and accepting of the two (throws up on the rich dude’s wardrobe basically because it’s there, like Everest and Twinkies, vomit being the acknowledgement and blessing she bestows on everything), while Taylor is the more virulent (“I start a fight because I need to feel something”), and – woe is me – as usual I find the virulent woman sexier.

    [But I was middling on “Mine,” and I don’t know how Taylor will fare if she now veers towards happy endings: I guess if she were to do More Songs About Boys Who Fuck And Run that’d maybe seem like spinning her wheels, but I worry that she’ll be like all the other pop and rock artists in not being able to survive maturity.]

  12. If it weren’t for the constant exhortations to take it off, this might be a . . . 3? There wouldn’t be anything good or fun about it, mind you, it would just be another installment in the saga of this hideous-voiced thing crowing about how wasted she gets. But then she had to bring in the take it off business – and the crowd chanting the take it off business! – and the hollowness and market-testedness of her whole enterprise just gets laid out there. Compared to this, ‘Tik Tok’ is like a ‘God Only Knows.’ [1].

  13. And yeah, Chic’s ‘Take It Off’ isn’t any good either, but at least it’s laughably bad (e.g., “your package is nice but I have to look twice”). It doesn’t sound like its writers went into a song factory and polled fifty phrases for market response.

  14. When exactly did Allan Sherman become the prevailing influence on current chart pop?

  15. I’m not sure I understand jer’s question, but listening to Sherman’s “When I Was A Lad” in the era of Mad Men will send a shiver up your spine.

  16. Hello Diddy… hello Gaga…

  17. Oh sure, Ke$ha is pretty tame as far as transgression goes, and she’s trying really hard — but at least she’s trying, and the music is reasonably commensurate with what she’s trying for. Autotune or not. One of the worst things about it is that it tends to take the personality out of people’s vocals — I could easily pick on the Jay Sean bloc here, but let’s try Hayley Williams instead — specifically, in Airplanes, in that little vocalise she does at the end of one of the versions (can’t remember if it’s the Eminem one or not). It’s clearly supposed to be her wistfully pirouetting over the song, but all I hear is the autotune bouncing her from note to note like someone’s playing Pong. It sounds lazy, which is fitting because that’s what all the “AUTOTUNE: THE SCOURGE COMING TO *YOUR* AIRWAVES!” news reports a few years ago hand-wrung about: the prospect of people not really trying, not really committing. You can’t argue that about Ke$ha here.

  18. Allan Sherman was all about appropriating Anglo-American culture in order to comically insert Jewish content (“He was tramping through the warehouse where the drapes of Roth are stored/He had the finest funeral the union could afford,” shifting the meaning of “union” from the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” to the garment district), whereas Ke$ha’s just participating in a long-time party practice, creating new words for a venerable dirty playground ditty. Ying Yang Twins did the same thing several years ago, and probably scores of others have. But using and transforming other people’s tropes has always been a big feature of hip-hop-inspired pop, though it’s had to sidestep the copyright police since the early ’90s.

    Take It Off rated in order:

    Spoonie Gee —> Ke$ha —> Lloyd —> The Donnas —> Chic [all of which are real good except the Chic!].

    Think I prefer The Donnas’ “Wanna Get Some Stuff” to any of those “Take It Off”s except Spoonie’s.

  19. “that’s what all the “AUTOTUNE: THE SCOURGE COMING TO *YOUR* AIRWAVES!” news reports a few years ago hand-wrung about: the prospect of people not really trying, not really committing. You can’t argue that about Ke$ha here.”

    Very true, she’s intensely committed to being the human equivalent of nails on chalkboard. Whatever you think of her you can’t accuse her of vocally half-assing.

  20. Tray’s analogy is precisely correct: like the proverbial disruptive student scraping her nails down a blackboard, Ke$ha aims to annoy, and to create meaning out of being annoying*, and her success rate is as impressive as anyone else’s in pop.

    *whether that meaning is merely “hey look at me” or a more anarchic “the ostensible reason for all of us being in this class together can fuck off,” both are supremely punk gestures.

  21. So do I give her credit for intentionally annoying me, then? Whereas I’m allowed to dislike Beyonce’s ‘Halo’ for unwittingly being annoying? What if all these years Beyonce’s been (so, so successfully) trying to annoy me? Is she a great artist now? But seriously, if intent matters, I think the aspirations behind your annoying-ness matter, and I don’t know if hers go any higher or deeper than just being the most obnoxious, trashy, stupid thing on radio. Moreover, I’m not so sure that she’s even trying to be annoying; I tend to read her act as being her good-faith view of what’s cool. There’s obviously some ambition to push dance pop to its outer limits of trashiness and inebriation, but not as a punk gesture, more because, like the folks on Jersey Shore, she ascribes actual virtue to being trashy and constantly wasted. Or because she has some confused notion that in 2010 being wasted and female continues to be transgressive. Well yeah, maybe a century ago. But even if you think she’s this Joaquin Phoenix-like concept art project in pretending to be the archetypal mess one runs from at parties, I just don’t see how that’s any more of a worthwhile artistic purpose than the muddled ideas animating I’m Still Here.

  22. I certainly don’t think you need to find what she’s doing interesting or relevant in any way; annoyance is maybe the purest reason there is for outright dismissal. And my ascribing intentions to her is more of a case of anthropomorphizing the sounds I hear than anything she’s ever expressed.

    But she’s definitely smarter than to think — or anyway to say she thinks — that what she’s doing is good-faith cool. The most repeated line of self-analysis she gives in interviews is that much of what she’s doing is a joke, from the dollar sign in her name to the bratty obnoxiousness of the vocal style on her most popular songs. Which is both an escape clause — if it’s all just a joke no one can say she’s terrible, because she’s terrible on purpose — and an opportunity to dismiss her, because if there’s one thing no two people can agree on it’s what’s funny. (It’s also a very teenage-brat thing to do, to mutter I wuz just kidding geeze when called on your bullshit.)

    I agree that “Take It Off” doesn’t succeed as either seduction or debauchery — it’s mostly straight-ahead bosh, with some gothy decorative touches in the production and lyrics that shy squeamishly away from their own implications. “Take it off” is exactly the wrong phrase for what’s actually happening in the song, which is all about dress-up and play-acting. Vulnerability and authenticity are the furthest things from her mind here, which makes the disconnect with the title even more infuriating. The semiotic gibberish of the video — physical contact equals transformation into colored powder? — was maybe the only way to dramatize the incoherence of the lyric: violence and danger is promised, but in the end it’s just another chorus.

    (I should mention that in my deployment of the most loaded term in rock discourse, I’m not using “punk” to mean “good.” If Ke$ha is punk, it’s because she’s abrasive and immature and cocky and good at getting a rise out of people. Like punks, only with better technology.)

  23. I almost don’t want to say that this song sucks, because that would imply that this song has failed in some way. This does not fail. It succeeds. It succeeds in all its goals, most of which involve destroying all concept of happiness or fun in the world. If not for “BlahBlahBlah,” this would be the worst big hit song of the year.

  24. for the record, my “Streets of Cairo” lyrics are NOT from the original version.