Ke$ha and the hipster primitive look
On Friday, I profiled the electropop singer/songwriter Ke$ha in preview of her Hollywood Palladium show (and her new Sept. 17 date at the Gibson Amphitheater). Over her full-length "Animal" and its followup EP "Cannibal," she has revealed herself as one of the savviest writers in Top 40 pop, creating a persona that perfectly threads the needle between today's dominant club jams, Anna Faris-style ditziness and a sly feminism underpinning all the boozehounding. Not to mention at least a half-dozen meticulously irrepressible choruses.
But at the Palladium on Friday, the most striking thing wasn't the music, which was faithful to her effervescent records. Even her ambitious stage setup, a sort of multitiered sci-fi strip club, had nothing on the sheer maw of teenage girls who have so thoroughly adopted her fashion aesthetic. One part savvy bag lady, one part apocalyptic rave casualty and one part Aborigine trapped in a craft store, Ke$ha may be the dominant example of an aesthetic that the literary journal N+1 referred to as Hipster Primitive in its often hilarious book, "What Was the Hipster?"
Lady Gaga may get all the attention for avant-garde designer couture, but Ke$ha may actually have the bigger impact on the Millennial visual aesthetic, because her image is inherently reachable (as she told me last year, a good swath of her wardrobe comes from dumpster-diving). And there may be a real hint of rebellion to it. As N+1's Mark Grief put it:
In culture, the Hipster Primitive moment recovered the sound and symbols of pastoral innocence with an irony so fused into the artworks it was no longer visible. Music led the artistry of this phase, and the period's flagship publication, the record-review website and tastemaker Pitchfork, picked up as Vice declined. Here are the names of some significant bands, post-2004: Grizzly Bear, Neon Indian, Deerhunter, Fleet Foxes, Department of Eagles, Wolf Parade, Band of Horses, and, most centrally, Animal Collective. (On the electronic-primitive side, LCD Soundsystem.) Listeners heard animal sounds and lovely Beach Boys-style harmonies; lyrics and videos pointed to rural redoubts, on wild beaches and in forests; life transpired in some more loving, spacious, and manageable future, possibly of a Day-Glo or hallucinatory brightness. It was not unheard of to find band members wearing masks or plush animal suits... If a hundred thousand Americans discovered that they, too, hated the compromised culture, they might not look entirely unlike the Hipster Primitive. Just no longer hip.
To paraphrase Grief, this look and lifestyle may be one of the more potent strains of rebellion in a subculture derided for having little of it. Funny, then, that the most visible archetype of this image comes from a Top 40 star who synthesized the Native American fashions, party-pastoral idyll and status-rejecting empowerment language of today's neo-hippies with the chemical indulgence and sexual libertinism of both Vice magazine-era hipsterdom and today's R&B lotharios. And then she wound it all up in three-minute dancepop packages for an army of feral teenagers, a population whose travails are the source of so much hipster nostalgia in songwriting.
So what did I learn at the Palladium on Friday night? Ke$ha is the ur-hipster, and anyone claiming higher ground on taste or aesthetics needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
-- August Brown
Photo: Ke$ha reaches out to fans. Credit: Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images