I can’t find Ke$ha’s songs on iTunes because I keep spelling them right, but you have to admit that the glitter queen born Kesha Rose Sebert is an unmistakable pop presence with quite a few unironically great songs. Against competitors like Rihanna, who I’d describe as plain but fun, and Katy Perry, who I wouldn’t bother to describe, Ke$ha is a self-realized nasty girl in the glorious tradition of Vanity 6. She’s as obnoxious or sedate as she wants to be. She’s the most fun. If you don’t get it, you’d probably make fun of her — and that doesn’t even matter, since she’s already making fun of herself along with you. Boom. Now that’s empowering.
Since I’m really digging her new album Warrior (and the non-single “Supernatural,” to be specific), I thought I’d explore the five most salient reasons to declare Ke$ha a gay icon. Ready? Dance.
1. “We R Who We R”? Anthem-worthy.
Sure, “Born This Way” did the gays the service of naming each part of the “LGBT” acronym by letter, but Ke$ha’s self-empowerment anthem “We R Who We R” may have a leg up on Lady Gaga’s smash in one key area: She completely fits in with her crowd. The fact is, there’s no separation between Ke$ha and her fans, so when she says “We” she clearly means (and speaks to) a klatch of like-minded, determinedly libidinous, or at least honest devotees. It’s not condescending, which is the only real criticism I’d level at “Born This Way” or the most confused, depressing “gay empowerment anthem” of all time, Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” Did Christina and Linda Perry get together and say, “Let’s make a song for ugly people”? Because that’s what the unconvincing empathy of lyrics like “Words won’t bring me down / Don’t you bring me down today” tell me.
Meanwhile, Ke$ha’s 2010 jam is a supercharged declaration of camaraderie that doesn’t judge its listeners: “Tonight we’re going hard / Just like we’re superstars / We are who we are.” Coming out of Ke$ha’s mouth, those lyrics are an awesome rallying cry. It’s not accusing anyone of being a firework that must be told to let its colors burst. It’s not assuming anyone is in dire need of a pop star’s guidance. It’s a riot in the name of partying and ridiculousness, not self-help instructions. Even her digitized voice is empowering. You need Auto-Tune, dear listener? Yes? Then why not apply it with a shovel?
2. She’s cleverly monstrous.
Enjoy the flagrantly trashy lyrics of “C’Mon”:
“Feeling like I’m a high schooler / Sipping on a warm wine cooler / Hot ’cause the party don’t stop / I’m in a crop top like I’m working at Hooters.”
I mean, what is there to criticize here? Her writing is chockablock with great imagery, ratatat internal rhyme, and silliness. The only thing I find disturbing is that she somehow sounds exactly like the Irish band The Corrs during the chorus. Woah.
On her EP Cannibal, Ke$ha’s appetite is stimulated by a most interesting muse: flattery.
“Whenever you tell me I’m pretty
That’s when the hunger really hits me
Your little heart goes pitter-patter
I want your liver on a platter”
She’s not just your ordinary Hannibal Lecter. This is a monster whose pounce is motivated by something that renders a lot of us inhuman: genuine human interaction. Love. It.
3. Her video for “Blow” is the most inventive use of unicorns to date.
Behold, one of the weirdest and most entertaining videos by a mainstream artist of the past five years: “Blow” is a dada tableau of Dawson’s Creek stars, face-sucking unicorns, laser fights, and carnage. Ke$ha, at the center of all, spouts nonsense dialogue to ensure we’re all aware of how self-aware she’s being, and that brassy meta-abrasiveness is more simultaneously detached, sincere, and interesting than most other artists you’ll hear on the radio this year. And by the way: Has James Van Der Beek ever been hotter?
4. Her mother is responsible for one of Dolly Parton’s tenderest hits.
Get this: Ke$ha’s mother Patricia “Pebe” Sebert, who has co-written many of Ke$ha’s songs, is responsible for one of the sappiest and most-beloved Dolly Parton hits ever. Pebe originally recorded “Old Flames Can’t Hold A Candle to You” herself, but Dolly made it a #1 country hit in 1980. And turns out the Dolly pride runs in the family: Ke$ha just recorded the track herself as part of her Deconstructed EP. It’s a touching and vulnerable cover, much like her rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”
5. Sexual lyrics as they’re meant to be: direct.
The first time I realized Ke$ha truly ruled was when I listened to the lyrics of “Blah Blah Blah,” her raunchy single off Animal that declares, “Don’t be a little b*tch with your chit-chat / Just show me where your d*ck’s at.” As much as we claim that pop music is routinely smutty in 2012, the problem is that most “naughty” pop artists want to market themselves as sexy pin-ups before they want to be honest or candidly sexual performers. There’s nothing wrong with sexuality, but there’s something weird about, say, wailing sexual innuendos while wearing cupcakes on your breasts like an eroticized child pageant star. Ke$ha, meanwhile, is guileless and unambiguously self-owned. She has no game, and that’s part of her liberating powers. The game is sincerity, freaky as it may be. Love it or leave it.
What do you think? Is Ke$ha the prime pop star of 2012? My vote is a big, sloppy, glitter-choked “yes.”