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Album review: Ke$ha is a wisecracking 'Animal'

KESHA_REVIEW Ke$ha comes on like a well-worn worst nightmare, her manicure chewed and her morals thoroughly compromised. The 22-year-old music industry brat -- her mom's a songwriter who raised her family in studios and dives from Los Angeles to Nashville -- has irritated some critics by reinvigorating the Girls Gone Wild sexual recklessness of a few years back, but really her act reaches much farther.

She's a classic screwball blond, brassy like Jean Harlow and saucy like Mae West. Hating Ke$ha for kicking pretty boys to the curb and vomiting in the closet of some rich kid whose party she crashed (allegedly, Paris Hilton) is like saying West was too forward when she told Cary Grant to come up and see her sometime.

What makes Ke$ha interesting, though, isn't the substance of her act. It's the way she and her producers -- primarily her mentor, hitmaker Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald -- refashion the screwball heroine role to suit a new era of aggressive superficiality and libertine self-empowerment.

The main lyrical idea behind "Animal" -- that a woman behaving like a sexist, inconsiderate male oaf turns the tables in a way that shocks but ultimately leads to freedom -- is neither new nor particularly useful. But unlike many of the pop ingénues who've tried on this attitude, Ke$ha offers a thoroughly fleshed-out character to embrace or despise.

Her total commitment to the deliberately stupid script "Animal" provides (one that she and her mother, who co-wrote several songs, helped devise) makes it work.

Part juvenile delinquent, part wisecracking dame, Ke$ha pulls the rug out from under the overly proper. She finds power in the modernizing toys of her time, enticing boys with drunken text messages and juicing her libido with the hottest dance-floor beats. If some of her vices, like Jack Daniel's and guys who look like Mick Jagger, are cutely antiquated, she herself is as thoroughly of this moment as is her doppelgänger, Taylor Swift.
KESHA_ALBUM_240_ Her producers endlessly process, overdub and multiply her vocals until she's half like a Chipmunk and half like a hottie from a Japanese cartoon. There are moments on "Animal" -- the country-in-space of "Stephen," the 3OH!3 collaboration "Blah Blah Blah" -- that are nearly as experimental as an Animal Collective record, but instead of some wistful, Brian Wilson-loving artiste at the song's center, there's this girl, rolling her eyes and snapping her gum.

Ke$ha's tipsy lilt allows her to effortlessly shift from half-singing to half-talking, a technique that makes her vocals carom like shiny pinballs against the crazy beats and sound effects that make up these tracks. She never gets bogged down or sounds like she's trying too hard.

Her deceptively yelpy vocal bounce recalls the Moon Unit Zappa of "Valley Girl" and legendary rap princesses like L'Trimm and Salt-N-Pepa. Instead of going burlesque like her friend Katy Perry or trying to be soulful the way even Britney Spears does from time to time, Ke$ha mines the history of bubble gum rap, connecting Miami bass and her idols the Beastie Boys to Lady Gaga and Big & Rich.

Her thefts are playful and essentially innocent, which matters a lot. For all of her rampaging, getting wasted, trash-talking and man-stealing, Ke$ha never comes off as mercenary or even really very mean.

The messages "Animal" sends out are worth questioning. Do we want young women to approach sexual relationships as a matter of "turnabout is fair play," or to think drinking until you vomit in a closet is funny? Ke$ha falters both aesthetically and morally when she tries to justify her ridiculousness on earnest and unbelievable ballads like "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes" and the title track.

She should stick to the wisecracks and the slapstick. That's where her power really lies.

--Ann Powers

Ke$ha
"Animal"
RCA
Three stars (Out of four)

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Faces to watch 2010: Ke$ha

Photo credit: RCA

 
Comments () | Archives (24)

OMG!!! The last thing we need right now is another Pink! Thanks, but no thanks. I wouldn't mind being her probation officer, but that's about all I'd want to do with her.

Getting moralistic about this girl strikes me as falling right into the trap she's set for you: you're mom dropping the plate of pancakes on the floor. One of the things I like about her is her authenticity. She might actually BE trailer trash, just as Britney Spears had once been accused of being, yet kind of glories in it. There's really not a lot of difference between Ke$ha's amoral persona and Jim Morrison singing "I woke up this morning and I got myself a beer," or even, for that matter, Paul McCartney's "Why Don't We Do It in the Road." Not to overintellectualize the lady, but she's not the least bit concerned about being a role model for tween girls, which Britney had been saddled with for a time. As Paul Simon wrote, "I've got no deeds to do, no promises to keep." Let's watch the girl and see what she does over the next few years. It could be interesting.

This girl is a waste of time. She wishes she had one inch of Pink`s talent. Ke$ha is pure white trash and even if she has some pretty catchy tracks, her lyrics are so ridiculous and over the top it`s really hard to listen to the whole album. Dinosaur is a very strong and early contender for one of the worst songs of the new decade. Go away please.

Whatever happened to soulful music, and being present in the world we live in? With raging wars and a diluted economy, where's our Joni Mitchell traveling the world writing music?

Ann, you're a far better writer than judger of music. This girl is a bad imitation of Lady Gaga.

Ann Powers is everything that's wrong with music. Can't wait to see her out of work.

Talentless poseur. Prolly succeed fabulously.

So boring.

I hate overly produced models mascurading as musicians/songwriters.

She wrote some of the songs with her mom? Really? Really?

Less business, more music would be better.

I'm in my late 30's but I speak with people in their early 20's/late teens of intelligence and they consistently complain that this generation is lacking good music. Not entirely true, but primarily true.

I just listened to her new Dinosaur right now. Not impressed... I'm more disgusted with her because of the song! The TiK ToK song will probably her only catchy single.

Oh great, another stupid girl singing (if you can call it that) songs and making videos about getting drunk, trashed, etc. No wonder the current teen generation doesn't think its a big deal since stupid people like this glorify absolute crap.

Very good pop; I for one love the beats and the sassiness. I think Ann is one of the few good reviewers.

...and Ann Powers just lost her credibility.

she's only 22? her cover makes her look like a well-worn, 30-something, truck stop hooker. glad I'm too old for all of these pop poseurs.

She does sound like she's trying too hard and her whinny vocals get me to change the station. No prob, radio is dead anyways.

She is nasty. It is sad these songs are one and two on itunes right now, it just shows that some AMericans are just wasting away into idiocracy. So trashy, I would be ashamed of myself as an artist if I was her.

personally, I LOVE ke$ha. she is my favorite artist right now. I love that she's not afraid to be trashy and completely out there. I would rather have someone who's genuine and gets trashed, gives the paparazzi the bird, and then writes scandalous songs. Poser is a word I could never associate with Ke$ha; she is as far from a poser as could be. AND I think she's extremely talented. Who else could right as song saying "show me where your dick is at" and have it be completely catchy and AWESOME?

Ellyn K, extremely talented? AWESOME???? Anyone who listens to her songs and thinks thats talent is an idiot. She might have a little talent, but it sure is hard to find listening to her. I hope she gets ganged by a group of guys in a back alley somewhere who dont care about anything but that one thing, and then she left there to rot like an animal does. Im so sick of hearing all this trash just pouring out of the woodwork lately. We had britney , then here came the little annoying brat called miley sirus who also has to "sing" with all these stupid little sounds in her voice. This isnt called singing. Then Lady Gaga who looks some transvestite freak. Now we have to listen to more shreaking and effects from a trailer trash ugly called Ke$ha... Other than Lady Gaga, Im not hearing any real singing or talent. For those who think these people are so good, then why do we never just hear them singing in their normal voices? Their all a bunch of fake trash b*tches running around screaming LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME, I'm a nasty annoying skank trying to sing!!! They think if they can somehow distort their voices, that all the sound effects will make them sound better. Actually people with any kind of ability to detect talent can clearly hear this NOT to be the case. I dont see how some people are tricked into thinking there is something there that there isnt.

Ke$ha is to Madonna, as Taylor Swift is to Reba McEntire..
Both Ke$ha and Taylor Swift are what's wrong with today's music. Ke$ha pretends to produce legitimate pop star while Taylor Swift is posing as an authentic country star. Listening closely to the music of both, one can hardly find any traces of the genres they are trying to fit into. Plus, there's a lack of vocal talent.

NOT AS GOOD AS I HOPED. "YOUR LOVE IS A DRUG" IS THE BEST SONG ON THIS CD TO ME. THE REST OF THE ALBUM IS DESCRIBED AS ONE OF THE SONGS ON THE ALBUM "BLAH BLAH BLAH".

I completely agree with Robert B.
I dont think Ke$ha's looking to be called perfect or anything close to that. I think she's just brilliantly reckless. She shouldn't be taken completely seriously; if that's what she wanted I'm pretty sure she could have done it. She's for those who just want to have a good time. I listen to a lot of different genres of music and Ke$ha's is the first I've fallen in love with at first listen. I wouldn't even mind if someone told me I didn't have taste in music just because I like her. She's the best I personally have heard in that type of music. You either hate it or you love it! It's your opinion

I can say I don't like Ke$ha. The problem with all of these arguments is that people are just debating, for the most part, about her image. Seriously, we need some specific commentaries about the actual music. And to tell the truth, that's the biggest problem I have with her and many other modern musicians. Music is no longer about what you feel, what you've dreamed of; it's about making money. So many artists, Ke$ha included, are just presenting America with sideshow acts for attention. There's a reason why they're called MUSICians, so where's the music? I walk down the street and instead of friends discussing music, they're all hyped up about Kanye West's interruption, or someone running onstage during a Britney Spears concert; it's all become horrendously materialistic. As for the music itself, the narrow-mindedness of the content is what gets to me. Nearly every song is about booze. Whether you're brushing your teeth with it or just binging in a closet because of it, this album makes me feel like my life is destined to spiral into a submissive state of alcoholism due to an apparent inability to avoid whiskey. Other lyrical goodies, including "blah, blah, blah" don't repair my already strained perspective of this artist's debut album. I usually try to give a neutral, non-satirical POV, but at the moment I learned of the extent of Ke$ha's success, my ears imploded.

The reason why I listen to Kesha is because after a tiring and busy day of work, I like to hear something that I don't have to think and the song, "sleazy" in cannibal, I can totally relate to that, it makes me feel I don't have the need for anything really grand, i can live the simple life.
Anyway, that's the main reason why I listen to KESHA because I don't have to think what she's saying in the songs, it is simple and stress-free.

i can't help but think everyone is missing the point.
first and foremost, this is manufactured pop "music." it isn't meant for much. it will have a short shelf life. it IS what you hear in a club. its fast, fun, catchy and ultimately empty. its not like she stole the grammy from Arcade Fire.

i find it funny though, that the reviewer asks if "turnabout is fairplay." as she mentions earlier, we've seen this. the girl, acting like the boy, being an ass. is it "liberating?" hell, i dont know. are we still trying to answer that question? are we still asking it?

even more amusing than that, are all the comments across the net calling her everything from "white trash" to "classless whore." and i notice how many of these comments come from women. there are many, MANY women artists out there advancing music and being great role models. kesha isn't it. she doesn't claim to be. she hasn't asked to be. and isn't calling a woman a "trashy slut" offensive? particularly when you are basing it on a music video and don't actually know the person? no one seems to mind the barrage of womanizing lyrics that come out of rap and many other genres. but she sings about flirting with boys and she's a slut. hmmm... ok.

i just think this whole "debate" here is absurd. as absurd as the people arguing "she's not as good as lady gaga" or "we don't need another pink." its like your snobby friend who won't see a fun summer blockbuster. yes, its a dumb movie full of explosions. no, i wont remember it next year. yes, it was still fun. don't worry, no one is questioning citizen kane's place on the list over it.

I liked some of the recently released music. I'm not a big fan of her


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