Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

What Is The Deal With: Ke$ha?

Ye$, Ke$haIt's official! Singer/co-songwriter Ke$ha is the first Number One Hot 100 artist of the decade with her song "TiK ToK." In fact, she just had the second biggest sales week of all time on iTunes (first biggest by a female artist). But if you're anything like me-even though you pay a decent amount of attention to trivial pop culture things like this-you still have no idea who Ke$ha really is (other than that she brushes her teeth with Jack Daniels). Not to worry: I've done all the research for you. And, upon further review, I think she might be this generation's pre-Federline Britney Spears.

Let's start with the basics. It's not Kee-sha or Kee-dollar sign-ha. The correct pronunciation is Kesh-a, "kesh" pronounced like "mesh" (WELL GUYS, I GUESS WE'RE REALLY DOING THIS!). She's a 22-year-old who was born in the Valley and then moved to Nashville, where she spent her formative years with her punk singer/songwriter mother. After appearing on-and this is now the world in which we live-the Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie reality show "The Simple Life," she sent her demos to mega-producers Dr. Luke and Max Martin.

Not familiar with Dr. Luke? He's the protege of Max Martin (and if you're not familiar with Max Martin, he invented the sound of Britney Spears and 'NSYNC). In the last few years Dr. Luke has amassed his own fairly impressive pop discography, including Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend", both of Katy Perry's hit singles, literally all of the Kelly Clarkson songs you like, Miley Cyrus' "Party In The USA", and a bunch of other huge, huge hits.

After Dr. Luke and Max Martin got hold of her demos, the producers coerced her into moving to LA, where (according to her official bio) she did the struggling artist thing for a few years before eventually getting a record deal with Jive, the same label that has been home to-wait for it-Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, and 'NSYNC.

Next, she was featured anonymously on the Flo Rida hit "Right Round" (you don't think you know this song, but you do, and it's actually the number one most downloaded song in the course of a week on iTunes), and then in October of 2009 she put out "TiK ToK," to mixed reviews. She began to gain momentum with the ONTD-set and then the tweens by being featured on "The Hills," the new "90210" (a lot better than you might think!), and other shows of that ilk. Suddenly, she's the number one singer in America, performing on "Ellen"!

I know this is going to sound crazy and really premature to say,but I think there's a lot of evidence that points toward Ke$ha being this generation's Britney Spears (say, the Baby, One More Time through Britney era). Sacrilege? Not at all. Let's look at this objectively.

You probably think Lady Gaga is this generation's Britney, but that's where you're wrong: Lady Gaga scares the crap out of some people (myself included) and isn't really palatable to all of America. Sure, she's obviously a huge superstar with a gigantic following, but for better or worse she's "Like A Virgin"-era Madonna: a really good pop star who, at this point, is much more committed to creating spectacle rather than just making hit music. It's just a different lane to go down.

Ke$ha, on the other hand, is a version of Gaga-lite, but in a good way. She is sort of edgy in that she puts on weird eye makeup, but she also just wears vintage-looking t-shirts and jeans when performing on national television. As opposed to donning some weird Gareth Pugh leotard while standing on top of a blood-draped ladder that's in a coffin set on fire, or something.

Aesthetics aside, and looking past the cute, marketable, blonde-girl-singing-songs written with one of the most prolific producers in the world, Ke$ha is this generation's Britney because she's pretty much like any other girl you know.

If you watch her performance of "TiK ToK" on "Ellen," the whole thing is reminiscent of something you would see on stage at a college sorority's rush event (note the skipping step into the weird robot move they do in the chorus, 0:58 min mark). But it's her relatability and sincerity as an exemplar of true girl-next-doorishness that makes her such the right pop star for right now.

Thanks to the Internet, and the whole "death of shame" trend to which it is both handmaiden and accelerant, the separation between famous people and people who really want to be famous has gotten as narrow as Keira Knightley standing sideways. People who want fame badly enough actually can just go and get it. In the same way that a blogger in LA who names his blog after a socialite can become friends with-or more famous than-the celebrities he writes about, or a fashion blogger in the Philippines can get his own eponymous Marc Jacobs bag, a girl like this, who isn't not talented but really wants to be a pop star, can get on a reality show, get her demo to the right people, work with super-producers, and then in a relatively short amount of time become a record breaking musician. (It helps to have an amazing Twitter feed.)

And that is the deal with Ke$ha.

141 Comments / Post A Comment

Does Lady Gaga scare tweens? :(

mordzook (#2,330)

Gaga scares me, and I'm her target demographic (that is, a fruity 23 y.o. who hates women unless they look like fash-forward drag queens).

elecampane (#1,877)

Courtney Love agrees with David Cho:

Fifi (#1,639)

OMG, is that a feathered roachclip in her hair? WANT.

crookedE (#1,817)

holy crap! that transported me right back to the Durham Agricultural Fair, circa 1986.

Bittersweet (#765)

As a 38-year-old parent who likes Gaga and pretends to have some taste in music, I'm contractually obligated to hate this chick and her 'song.'

It is pretty catchy though.

David Cho (#3)

If you read up on her and watch her YouTube videos, she becomes sort of endearing. Before doing any research and only hearing her sing, she really annoyed me.

sox (#652)

the pulsating noses and tongues on those wolves scare me way the fuck more than lady gaga.

also, do people really think that screeching sound is singing? ouch.

joe (#2,899)

Way more Willa Ford than Britney?
See also: a direct (label) reaction to Taylor Swift

Moff (#28)

Yeah, something like Willa. I feel like the innocent sex-doll/schoolgirl/pedophilia thing was central to Britney's persona, especially during the pre-K-Fed era. Whereas Ke$ha seems a lot more (marketedly, but still) self-aware and (also marketedly, but still) punky than Brit ever did until, like, Blackout.

David Cho (#3)

Willa Ford never had a song that was as popular as "TiK ToK" though.

Also, I feel like this song is still on the rise, like it's not even on that overplayed level yet on pop radio, which seems definitely bound to happen.

Moff (#28)

Yeahyeahyeah, but you know how history is, like, cyclical but not precisely repetitive? She will maybe, like, occupy the same valence Britney did, but the elements she is composed of are more similar to other female pop stars of ten years ago.

Although that said: I Lala'ed Animal this morning, and I'm not convinced of its staying power. Is there a second single with anything like "Tik Tok"'s staying power, you think?

Moff (#28)

("Although, that said…" was probably not the right transition there.)

joe (#2,899)

Who knows how Ford would've fared had iTunes and ONTD and the internet in general been the hubs of initial buzz and consumption, though.

Also, re: second single — "Your Love Is My Drug"

joe (#2,899)

Also: "Blah Blah Blah" featuring the line "I don't really care where you live at/ Just turn around boy, let me hit that/ Don't be a little bitch with your chit chat/ Just show me where your dick's at."

I can definitely see why young ladies would like her. Makes me bummed out that we only had Britney / Xtina for our formative sexting years.

hortense (#2,780)

I think she's a bit closer to early Pink than to Britney or Christina, though, in that both Britney and Christina were all about the "Lolita/I just want to be your girlfriend" biz and Pink, who was about Ke$ha's age when she broke through, had the "fuck you, I'll do what I want" dance songs presented under a slightly punked out but still fairly glossy pop exterior.

Also, I think Pink used to go by P!nk, so they have that in common, too, I guess.

Yes. All that you say is correct. Party girl with a TUDE rather than v!rgin/slut who just wants to dance yall.

David Cho (#3)

I think I'm commenting more on her place within the cultural sphere, and less on the similarities in the actual articulation of whatever.

katiebakes (#32)

"the actual articulation of whatever."


Emily (#20)


We're not going to be tested on this, are we?

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Thanks for this comment. I feel empowered.


Bittersweet (#765)

Only if you co-habit with anyone 8-19.

cherrispryte (#444)

I am refusing to listen to this SO HARD.

cherrispryte (#444)

Oh also – fuck it, i'm gonna be sorta racist – I am surprised that "Ke$ha" is white. I had thought our African-American bretheren were going to break the "symbol as part of a name" barrier first.


anildash (#487)

O(+>? MAS$E? C'mon.

Slava (#216)


Slava (#216)

FINE Anil!

cherrispryte (#444)

How could I forget Ma$e. My apologies, one and all.

anildash (#487)

To be fair, MA$E's (unfortuantely impermanent) departure from hip hop to become a minister was the most persuasive evidence yet provided for the existence of God. So it's okay that you forgot about him; He's the guy who killed god.

Dave Bry (#422)

And before Mase – and a gazillion times better – Too $hort.

kneetoe (#1,881)

Wait, so many things. But let's start simple. Dr. Luke, he's not really a Dr., right?

(Also, with the description of Lady Gaga, you had me with "obviously a huge superstar with a massive . . . .).

keanesian (#1,116)

This is the first I'm hearing of her, but this reminds me that I should definitely have $$ in my handle. Thanks Cho! KEANE$IAN

I'm not crazy about the way it looks on me. xoxo Ter$eNur$ePorn$tein

HonoriaGlossop (#1,247)

Honoria Glo$$op? Wodehouse goes gangsta!

lawyergay (#220)


So David, why the dollar sign in her name?

Do I have to go to Wikipedia for that info? Please don't make me go to Wikipedia …

josh_speed (#97)

One of her friends said to her, "You don't need money, you are money…". SRSLY.

Hmmm. Sounds suspiciously lame and made-up.

Here's my theory: Some music-biz exec or agent told her to do it so they can legally trademark her name.

Before you know it, you'll be seeing Ke$ha™ instead.

Is it too late to change my handle to Colonel Mu$tard?

It's supposed to be "ghetto," right? Is that it?

David Cho (#3)

Hm, I actually didn't even come across that. Brb.

gumplr (#66)

I'm already sad that there will never be a Ke$sha album called "Ke$sh Cow".

gumplr (#66)

Still holding out for the Ke$sha/Ma$e collabo, though!

Perhaps it can sample the theme to "The Facts Of Life," as Ma$e's "Welcome Back" did with the theme from "Welcome Back, Kotter."

gumplr (#66)

ft. Mindy ¢ohn

NominaStultorum (#1,638)


joe (#2,899)

Wiki sez: "On the dollar sign in her stage name, Kesha states that she was being ironic in that she does not believe in placing an emphasis on earning money. It came about after her Flo Rida collaboration achieved success worldwide and yet she did not receive any money to show for it." Heh.

I'm gonna say that Ke$ha is more 2010's Katy Perry than anything else. Differences: She wears Crazy Eye Makeup instead of Dresses That Look Like Legumes; she I don't think has the Christian background that Perry does, but she still writes songs about going OMG CRAAAAZY with… her mom; the Dr. Luke connection. If she's ever yelled "PENIS!!!" really loudly during one of her shows, then you have a one-to-one parallel, since I saw Ms. Perry do exactly that while trying to get the crowd's attention at the Warped Tour a few summers back. (She also took a call on a banana phone. It was so Juno, OMG!)

Also is she really 22? Just asking.

And I've been thinking this ever since the Katy Perry ascent, but I'm starting to find the importance of ONTD in breaking these outsized-personality pop stars more than a little weird / worthy of mention. And maybe unnerving, since I know firsthand that there are definitely publicity types posting items to that site on behalf of their clients — but without disclosure of such. But I guess transparency is just another side of "authenticity," which is so two thousand and late!

Ugh, obv the Dr. Luke connection is not a "difference." Sorry, the California Games-y backing track of "Tik Tok" keeps shorting my brain.

David Cho (#3)

Her and Katy Perry are actually friends? Apparently?

The ONTD thing is a really interesting thing that's happening, especially for these dance/pop acts. People like Gaga and Ke$ha are so much more popular on their before they hit the mainstream, but I also think that they're fairly discriminating of an audience and won't just like anything that is presented in front of them.

That doesn't surprise me. I'm going to guess that both sort of bounced around the session-singer circuit for a while. (Katy sang on the album by the once-ubiquitous session songwriters The Matrix — that was the record used as the hook when she was first interviewed by Blender back in 2004. The release was then canceled and The Matrix put the record out themselves… last year.

Also all the early leaks of "Right Round" credited the hook to Katy! It's all connected!)

David Cho (#3)

For some reason Katy Perry's self aware thing is much more loathsome to me than Ke$ha's though? I don't really have a good reason for it, but I feel like Ke$ha is much more amiable?

Yeah Ke$ha definitely seems a lot less… self-aware, I guess? That's not the best way of putting it, but I always felt like K. Perry's "penis"-yelling and kissing of girls and stuff was very "look at me, I'm the life of the party, I've got a lampshade on my head"! With Ke$ha the persona is still annoying (and influenced by Uffie!) but it's not tied up in that noxious "I'll try out for Girls Gone Wild but don't you worry, I'm still a good girl who goes home to my boyfriend" semi-piousness that oozed from Katy's every move.

Also, anyone who bites L'Trimm's style gets a sheaf of free passes from me. (Although the Autotuned yodeling really needs to stop.)

LondonLee (#922)

I am so over the chromium sheen of Autotuned voices. But I'm 47 so WTF do I know?

You guys are lucky to have Lilly! Miss her!

sunnyciegos (#551)

I know. Wish she would just stick with being a pop star. I saw her here in DC and she put on a good show. Sang her vocals professionally, had just the right of amount of insouciance. Looked and acted like a star. And her pop songs are simply the best of the crop of early-20-something lady stars. (Excepting Gaga, who's in a different genre, really.)

Rod T (#33)

Will Norton Anti-virus remove Kedollarha or should I just wipe my hard-drive?

josh_speed (#97)

"Thanks to the Internet, and the whole "death of shame" trend to which it is both handmaiden and accelerant…"

LOL. Truer words were ne'er spoken.

I was so proud of myself for not having a clue who this chick was before reading this article, and then halfway through I realized OMG I AM SO OLD ALL OF A SUDDEN.


This. Also, how young she looked on a clip I googled from The Simple Life and the fact that she's now 22? Terrifying.

Rod T (#33)

And where does this leave Little Boots?

Bittersweet (#765)

Ke$ha for hipsters.

dado (#102)

Is she the one who kicks men to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger? Because I think that is odd, Mick being 65 and all.

Moff (#28)

Also odd because looks are not exactly what he ever had going for him. Coolness and sexiness, but not looks. That said, I still think the lyric works.

David Cho (#3)

She likes what she likes!

AND (thanks slow work day and YouTube) in the actual video for this song, her beau appears to be played by SIMON REX. Who used to bang The Simple Life's P. Hilton a lot. Talk about coming full circle… (Head explodes)

josh_speed (#97)

She barfed in Paris Hilton's closet once after recording the backups for PH's album:

That's because her mom wrote the song.

hockeymom (#143)

So true. My 9 year old listens to this song obsessively. (yes, I know it has a bad message, but I'm a shitty mother. I used to love a song with the lyrics "she had the body of Venus. With arms." What can I say.).

Anyway, the 9 year old and 12 year old asked me who Mick Jagger was and I said he was a super old guy in a great group. They seemed stunned that there were people who were actually MUCH, MUCH older than their mother. They were also creeped out that she wanted a guy who was "like Grampa Larry old".

Whatever, it's got a catchy beat and it's replaced The Black Eyed Pease in the automobile rotation.

Screen Name (#2,416)

Ok, Ke$a, one more small little makeup thing and we'll… be… done. Can I call you Kesha? Hahaha, I said that without the dollar sign, get it? Nevermind. One sec. Just close your right eye for me. No, just your right one. Ellen loves you, by the way. Aaaaaaand we're done. You can open your eye now. Like it? That is so hot, girl. You look like a cross between a blonde, teenage Ace Frehley and a female rodeo clown. So hot. Haha, he was in KISS, silly! It was a band. Ask your mom. Ok, Ellen's ready for you now, hon. Go get 'em!

kneetoe (#1,881)

And shouldn't it be Ka$ha?

hman (#53)

On today's 'Ellen':
"Queen Latifah, what is the deal with Ke$ha?"

cupcakes (#439)

Thanks for making me look up ONTD on Wiki. I thought I was 26, but apparently I'm 140.

But this elicits the obvious question- When did young become so old?

kneetoe (#1,881)

20s the new 50?

LondonLee (#922)

I had to look it up too. Too scared to ask anyone here.

I liked her better when she was called Mickey Avalon.

When did it officially become permissible for young white girls to "rap"? Did I miss that memo or something?

Tuna Surprise (#573)

It's called "spoken word" when white people do it.

Legs Battaglia (#2,484)


Debbie Harry didn't do it with urban-black vocal inflections and mannerisms that are so wince-inducingly mimicked by this blonde young lady.

It's almost … minstrel-showish. Like wearing blackface or something.

Bittersweet (#765)

Urban-black vocal inflections…mixed with snotty Valley Girl! Enough to make your eardrums quit in protest.

forksclovetofu (#2,665)

The comments on this post are making me wonder if Ke$ha is in a way the girl character from Pulp's "Common People"!

"You're so funny!"

Bittersweet (#765)

Except the girl in "Common People" had decent taste in men, chasing after Jarvis and all. Mick Jagger? Ewww.

anildash (#487)

I would like to file a complaint with the management that this "old white people's introduction to pop star" piece didn't mention that she BROKE INTO PRINCE'S HOUSE. That is an important fact for the class of 1989 to relate to.

Moff (#28)


David Cho (#3)

Guh, I read that and then saw her explain it in some interview in Austria or something, and after seeing both, it kind of sounded made up/not completely truthful. So, omitted. :/


Prince Henry? dreaaammyy

gumplr (#66)

Crushing — was hoping for a Left Eye/Andre Rison sort of conclusion.

I guess she has some kind of old-guy-pop-star fetish?

That would explain the Mick Jagger thing.

I would like David to explain the genesis of ONTD.

afarerkind (#379)

It's still on livejournal. Boggle.

Sablesma (#1,244)

Nashville: when we first met her, she wooed one of my friends into turning an already-about-to-happen party into a 19th birthday party for her. Then, later, they totally made out and the party was fun, and I'm not sure anyone really knew it was for her. Then he went to pick her up at her house, which turned out to be her Cool Rock Mom's house, who encouraged her to stay out all night and get drunk and oh yeah, something about her being seventeen. Oops! Later she smeared the contents of his fridge all over the walls of his apartment. Even later, but not much, essentially the whole of Nashville turned against her. If you think that a whole party banding together to boo and throw bottles at one person until they leave only happens in movies, let me tell you: it does not!

This comment sort of got away from me, so let me say: her age should be suspect! And her music, it is awful.

I wanted to hear this story!! Thank you!!

katiebakes (#32)

HA, someone screenshotted this comment on Tumblr and I skimmed it and thought it was ABOUT THE CITY OF NASHVILLE. The kicker worked!

Hee! That's what I did!

Tulletilsynet (#333)

This is beautiful. Thanks Sablesma.

HiredGoons (#603)

I need to turn on the radio once in awhile.

cherrispryte (#444)

Trust me, you don't.

zidaane (#373)

If you focus on the DJ in the Ellen video it becomes kind of awkward.

hockeymom (#143)

Also, tomorrow on "Ellen"…Richard Simmons.

HiredGoons (#603)

I once heard John Waters say Richard Simmons made Divine homophobic, and I laughed at this when he said it.

LondonLee (#922)

I'm laughing at it now.

chia (#405)

Sounds a lot like Uffie. (

but looks less jail-baity and more Ashley Tisdale.

katiechasm (#163)

Seriously. This song is a direct ripoff, down to the singing style.

oatcake (#950)

indeed, I fully thought Uffie had broken into non-mp3 fame when I first heard this song

semiserious (#2,430)

I just realized that the instrumental to her song was used in the promo's for this season's Project Runway, which nestled it's way into my head. Damn it, before this I was firmly part of the "Ke$ha:Uffie::Owl City:The Postal Service" camp.

Rw (#1,458)

Glad to see Anglo-American Hype Women getting their due while on Break from L.A. ink, but whoa this is some Hot Garbage. Thank god my niece is in a Prince phase right now because this is Bullshit straight up.

Cameron (#2,210)

Is the "struggling artist" obligatory to a bio? I mean, I don't think anyone truly believes that story anymore.

sunnyciegos (#551)

"New young lady is the new pre-ruin Britney" is a pretty old broke-down horse. Will we ever accept – or hope – that Britney was a once-in-a-generation phenomenon?

ArtfulSlinger (#2,901)

She might become a mini-pop star, but Britney was a Disney cash crop – starting them off young and cute gives you way more time to have them fall and build them back up.

The song is catchy but I dont think there is enough here to make her a mega-star, but I dig tweens being into her if only cause shes seems a bit more "interesting".

tankboy (#302)

I concur … thought of this a few days ago after initially hearing the new disc and doing a bit of homework:

slinkimalinki (#182)

i'm getting more of a taylor dayne russian stripper vibe.

Rw (#1,458)

You can't be, that sounds sooooo much sexier than what's going on here.

slinkimalinki (#182)

oddly enough, there was very little sexy about taylor dayne.

anildash (#487)

Taylor Dayne? I liked that guy.

slinkimalinki (#182)


As opposed to donning some weird Gareth Pugh leotard while standing on top of a blood-draped ladder that's in a coffin set on fire, or something.

Shouldn't Mary HK Choi get some credit for this?

I've been seeing her influence pop up in odd places here lately.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

She's just setting a good example for the boys.

sallytomato (#549)

Was that the noise coming from my TV set yesterday when I was home sick with the flu? How unfortunate that I happened to see that mess live.

Brian (#115)

Needs more gay appeal to last.

jtotheizzoe (#2,902)

Is this what it was like to live through disco? I think our children will resent us for this.

LondonLee (#922)

Donna $ummer >>>>>Ke$ha

Bittersweet (#765)

Yes indeedy.

Hobbesian (#255)

This kind of music exists solely for sorority girls to get ready to.

missdelite (#625)

Gaga >>>> Ki$$MyA$$

I'm still smarting a bit from "isn't not talented."

Maevemealone (#968)

Cand Uffie and Ke$ha just hand all this back over to Peaches?

crispykazoo (#2,906)

Oh she is SO TOTALLY ripping off L'Trimm. The first time I heard it I thought it was some old L'Trimm song I'd never heard. Then I realized there were no L'Trimm songs I hadn't heard.

kbob (#2,920)

not a huge pop fan but did get into house dance music a few years back:i noticed she was quite out of breath on the live Ellen show.Katy -Ke$ha in a bar brawl maybe?

iplaudius (#1,066)

There's a lot of made-for-the-clurrrb house music/remixes that sound just like her shit. Old shit, I mean–stuff's been around for years. Only difference: instead of a fierce tranny or a strong black woman, it's some skinny lame white girl in the lead. And she can't dance.

Please, send this one back for a new model.

alexis (#3,379)

fro some reason i think ke$a dosnt take showers. she lloks musty and her hair looks musty ass well lol

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