We started this process by promising you Ke$ha. We end this process by giving you Ke$ha. Happy New Year, folks…
David Moore: I’m trying my odds at stacking the controversy deck again this year, though I couldn’t find anything quite as galvanizing as “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” which was the most controversial Jukebox song of 2009 by a mile. Ke$ha must be deserving of the title this year, what with a few Jukeboxers devoting untold thousands of words to her music and others not really giving her the time of day. Looking forward to critical whiplash and I hope the group doesn’t disappoint. It’s probably my favorite Ke$ha song, but not for the first half, which is enjoyable enough — the gore mixed with adolescent taunting is genuinely weird if nothing else (sue me, I laughed when she said “anus”). But at the chorus Ke$ha emerges from a haze of dry ice and smog (I hear “I am Cannibal!” like “I am Iron Man!”) with back-up dancers in rags, pseudo-hipster zombies shuffling listlessly (oh, they’re just hippies; I guess that makes sense). And, eschewing the two faces we’re used to — “Tik” with her goof-rap grin and “Tok,” the emotive sadface — she calls them all to action — OWWWOWOOWWOWWWWOOOAH. Her voice does something here that I haven’t heard from her before, it breaks a little before settling into a piercing yawp; it’s powerful, but you also get a sense of vulnerability that seems more apparent in her often inept live performances. Sensing their leader faltering, the hippie zombies all back her up, lift her in a throne. That moment crystallizes something I like about Ke$ha generally — there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors, sure, but there she is, believing in it, embarrassing herself for it when necessary (or unavoidable). She doesn’t have the kind of professional competence that makes Katy Perry seem so disingenuous. There’s an earnestness in it, the brat lashing out because she can, but without entirely hiding her discomfort — she swears in front of grown-ups but her voice cracks, she’s brash but not fearless. Meanwhile “Cannibal” is one of her boldest productions, though it’s spare: the electrothrob synth and tom-tom pitter-patter sustains it until the big laser-show chorus and bigger bridge, both of which she carries practically unaccompanied at first. As the production swells, you get the sense that she might not quite make it through this time, that this whole “Ke$ha” thing is just an accident, an unsustainable fluke — like, what the fuck is she even doing? But she does it, whatever it is, and it works for now.
Mallory O’Donnell: Betcha never thought you’d miss Princess Superstar.
Kat Stevens: During this year’s Ke$ha Discussion Frenzy I felt a bit like the emperor had got a new invisibility cape that I could see. I have read reams and reams of copy about how great she is but I just don’t get it. But then I didn’t like Gaga at first either: I found “Just Dance” so dull musically (and her visuals had yet to really make an impact) that I assumed she wasn’t worth bothering with — until I heard “Bad Romance”, of course. Ke$ha doesn’t care whether I’m bothering with her or not. She doesn’t have any little monsters or causes to fight for, which is fine — her job is being a popstar, after all. Except she doesn’t seem bothered with that either! Lazy drawling and Duplo block tunes, staggering around instead of dancing. There’s no hard graft or special talent or new ideas or challenged boundaries here. The raps on “Cannibal” are amusing but like so many drunken anecdotes I doubt they’ll be funny after the 4th hearing. I like rotting my mind with booze as much as the next girl but my eyes are still functioning enough to see a boring girl in a dull brown visible cape.
Alex Macpherson: Scrubbing the Autotune off her voice — in the verses, at least — is a good look. Until you realise that without it she’s just Fergie with a worse flow, puffing and panting down avenues already blitzed by Lady Gaga (“Monster”, right down to the call-and-response male voice) and Nicki Minaj (“Roman’s Revenge”, though Ke¢ha’s attempt to match it in menace and wit is embarrassing). A severely underwritten chorus — bellowing one phrase four times fails to disguise its lack of hook — provides whatever the opposite of a cherry on top is.
David Katz: Most bad music provokes a scramble for the stop button, but some, like this gem, just makes you grin.
Jer Fairall: Ke$ha is the most puzzling pop star of the new decade, mostly on account of there being absolutely no pretension to her image. Like Lady Gaga, she skipped right over the tween-courting phase of her career (even Madonna had this) and emerged fully formed as something a little bit scary and most definitely bad for you. The irony here may be that in being as vapid, tuneless and trashy as she is, Ke$ha might actually be the post-post-modern pop construct that the indeed very pretentious Lady Gaga continually purports to be; in other words, Ke$ha’s music is so consistently bad that there must be something genuinely subversive at work here of the sort that Lady Gaga cares far too much about her music to attempt. Hence, I’m puzzled, though not the least bit entertained, and after a year of Ke$ha I can’t even say I’m even disgusted enough by this latest deliberate provocation to slap this with a . She’s already too boring to elicit true outrage.
Anthony Easton: KE$sha’s songs sound the same, but the sheer Eucharistic/sexualized consumption of this — enough to make Freud’s oral obsessions cower — add to her mystique. Extra points for a reference to Dahmer that dropped my jaw.
Jonathan Bogart: She can really sing she swears she can, but she won’t do anything so bourgeois respectable as to stop using AutoTune, she’ll sing through the machine until it nearly buckles under the strength of her voice. The oh-woah-oh-oh fugue is breathtaking as a nest of signifiers — a callback to “TiK ToK,” a cry of untrammeled passion, a slide into the actual madness which her cartoon-ghoul lyrics only wink at. All this and the Horror of the Feminine too; what do you call something that bleeds and bleeds and doesn’t die? If the patriarchy’s not dead, it’s not because Ke$ha didn’t sharpen her stake properly.
Chuck Eddy: Over-the-top Eurocheese conquers America: Jungle drums and voodoo rhythm, roars from the dungeon, howls like Tarzan Boy swinging through treetops (my wife hears Skinny Puppy! Though I doubt they ever sounded anywhere near this tuneful). Plus, Ke$ha’s second song with the word “carnivore,” and she only just started — take that, Ted Nugent! Not to mention Toto Coelo, the Buoys (“My stomach was full as it could be/And nobody ever got around/To finding Timothy”), and Alfred G. Packer. She eats cannibals, it’s incredible, we bring out the animal in her. Rrrraaggh!!
Katherine St Asaph: Ke$ha isn’t just a cannibal here, she is Cannibal, Archetype, rampaging through a track more wreckage than anything and stopping only to warp “Tik Tok”‘s chorus into a banshee cry. Banshees, of course, are explicitly female, and the gender coding is no mistake. “I am cannibal” begs to be completed with “hear me roar,” especially once she actually does. She reverses gender roles again like she did in “Blah Blah Blah” — he’s the one with the pittery-pattery heart and she’s got the hunger and (blood)lust; he’s a groupie hanger-on, he needs to hush and know his place. “Use your finger to stir my tea / and for dessert I’ll suck your teeth” is blatant innuendo, but innuendo devoid of anything mutual or reciprocal. She uses; his body parts get used. As Jonathan Bogart has noted, it’s a misogynist’s worst nightmare, their own kind of predatory sexuality wielded even by the fun party girls. That Ke$ha can spin this all out of “Imma eat you, fool” is why she’s worth watching.
Josh Langhoff: Here’s my current theory: her “party-girl” accent — all those “errrrrr”s and triphthongs and flattened Southern vowels — is less “Valley Girl” than “cobbled together to sound as little as possible like correct singing or speech”. That is, Ke$ha wants to give her transgression an immediacy that’s lacking in Katy or Avril, who still sound like they’re trying to Sing Songs, poor things, so she pronounces words in ways that no credible singer would let herself. Hence the second half of Verse 2, from “Use yer fingerrr tuh stirrr mah teeeeeah,” where she basically sounds like a twanging banjo (Nashville Scene voters take note). I admit that my examples from this song occur during raps — her singing here is just a playground for Auto-Tune fun — but the theory also applies to her singing on other songs, like “We R Who We R”; and anyway, I don’t get the sense that she differentiates between rapping and singing all that much. They’re different skills, sure, but it’s not like Rapping Ke$ha is a different character than Singing Ke$ha. But anyway, this all leads to my current and largely untested corollary hypothesis: Ke$ha writes her lyrics to play up the aforementioned vocal idiosyncrasies. Example: Katy’s “Teenage Dream” and “Firework” contain only a few “er” and “ar” syllables, whereas this song and “We R Who We R” contain a bunch.
Frank Kogan: Think that raw-voiced Ke$ha usually gets by on musical smarts more than technical ability. But on this one, her throat does the work, overdubbed into sheets of force and fire. I’m amazed.
Michaelangelo Matos: Her flipped-around moans during the bridge make her sound more like a landed dolphin than whatever kind of creature she thinks she’s imitating. That, or like the sickly cousin of Shakira’s she-wolf. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Alfred Soto: The first set of verses consist of Ke$ha’s usual not unpleasant string of talk-sing banalities. The chorus is too close to the boring clodhopping pulse of Robyn’s lamer electrodisco moments. The third part, when her vocoderized/pitch-altered voice goes up and down enough scales to frighten the hell out of Pavarotti, is monstrous in a good way. A shame Ke$ha hasn’t figured out how she wants to sound, which, I suppose, is a sign of her superficiality. I still believe the right collaborators could situate her voice in the appropriately abrasive sonic context. For now, though, hammer away.
Martin Skidmore: I’ve never had any taste for strained faux-outrageousness, so she mostly annoys me, and the “I eat boys for lunch” lyric here doesn’t change that. Sonically she’s kind of annoying too, shrill and strident — can she really be processed to deliberately sound like that? Anyway, I don’t like her and I don’t like this.