Last night, Ke$ha appeared on Late Night With Conan O’Brien in a dress printed with images of Conan‘s face. She reminisced about the first time she put Conan’s beard in her mouth, discussed her fondness for chomping on beards in general (“I wouldn’t ‘let him’ [put it in my mouth], I would request it” she corrected Conan) and made a self-deprecating joke about how she can sometimes take things too far. She also talked about going to a beard contest (“it was like porn”) and discovering a guy with the best beard ever, one which was filled with tiny dinosaur figurines (Ke$ha loves dinosaurs). “Did you start dating this guy?” asked Conan. “No, but I did make out with him for two seconds.” “Did you get a dinosaur in your mouth?” “That’s like, my fantasy.”
After watching this clip, I wondered once again how anyone can hate this sparkly garbage lady, and began to write a nice post about her. Unlike many haters out there, I do not think Ke$hasuxx. (A refrain so common she made it her Twitter handle.) I think Ke$ha rulez! And even if you find her music annoying, which you might, so should you. Here are some reasons.
1. Ke$ha is a pop auteur.
So I realize authorship is a thorny question in popular music these days. Some people don’t think it matters whether pop stars write their own songs, as collaboration or straight up people-writing-songs-for-other-people is a tradition that goes back to Elvis. Others think it matters a great deal, and anyone who doesn’t write their own songs is “inauthentic.” (This argument is often flavored with misogyny.) I’d like to popularize a third opinion whereby we don’t shit on people for doing what Elvis did, but we can still respect the craftsmanship and badassery that goes into writing and performing your own songs. Ke$ha writes or co-writes most of her songs, and furthermore, she works on other people’s songs, too. She has written music for The Veronicas and Britney Spears!
It’s clear that Ke$ha (born Kesha Rose Sebert) cares about the authorship question too, as her breakout moment (and she wanted very badly to be famous) could have come when she sang the hook on Flo Rida‘s 2009 hit “Right Round,” but she refused to take credit for the part or appear in the video, because she wanted to succeed on her own terms, and not as a sexy girl who sang a part in someone else’s song.
2. Ke$ha goes after the things that she wants.
One time, Ke$ha bribed Prince‘s gardener to let her into his house, just so she could give him her demo. If that’s not tenacity, I don’t know what is.
3. Ke$ha is fucking honest about the things she does.
I don’t know about you, but I kind of hate it when I hear someone singing about poppin’ bottles in the club or whatever, and then I find out that person is actually really boring and stays at home with their kids all the time. Meanwhile, I have reason to believe Ke$ha has done pretty much all the things she sings about doing, including brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack. Case in point: her love of beards is not just a gimmick she came up with to seem quirky. She really loves to put those beards in her mouth. She says she has cute boys she hangs out with in every city, and that’s true, too. She has hooked up with at least three guys I know (two bearded). She could probably have fucked a lot of famous dudes by now (and if she had, I’m pretty sure we’d know about it), but she seems to prefer regular people. She seems like the kind of person who would come to a party in Brooklyn with me and my friends, buy us a bunch of beer, pay for all the drugs, and be nice to me not because she wanted to fuck my friends, but because she is nice. And then she would fuck my friends. Ke$ha is our most honest pop star.
4. The things she does are not ruining society.
I feel like an inordinate amount of blame gets placed on pop music for being about shallow things like partying and having sex. Well, guess what? The world is pretty fucked right now. I’m not saying you should just listen to Ke$ha all the time and ignore your problems, but sometimes you need to forget the bad things for a minute. Ke$ha knows she’s not making high art, and she admits it. She also has a sense of humor about herself. When asked by Us Weekly why she thinks people like her music (a loaded question), she replied: “It’s not pretentious, it’s not too serious, it’s just fun. When there’s a recession and times can be hard, dancing is free. I want to make people dance.”
And actually, I would go so far as to say that fun is really, really, really crucial to keeping society running. People need to let off some steam in order to face their situations Monday morning. If you’re a conservative, you want to preserve the current world order, so you should want people to party. And if you’re a liberal, you want people to have more time and money to do the things that make life worth living (which for many, is not their jobs), so you should also stand up for people’s right to party, even if you don’t like to party yourself.
And this steam is not just about partying; it is about class, and class-based mischief. Ke$ha is a pop star of the people, if such a thing can actually exist in a world where pop stars are rich and most people are not. She’s rich, but she remembers where she came from (Brentwood, TN). She doesn’t stand on ceremony. She sings about drinking 40s and throwing up in rich dudes’ closets, and she wears mullet dresses to fancy awards shows. She is a representative of the truly “popular” who has been elected as a semiotic placeholder for the American dream.
And for the record, Ke$ha has never gotten a DUI or anything of the sort. (Party responsibly!) Nor has she been the subject of publicity she can’t control. She is more in control than you think. In fact, I see her as an emblem of the fact that it’s totally possible for a young girl to drink alcohol and have premarital sex without ruining her life. In fact, I’d say she’s pretty much kicking ass. Work hard, play hard, amirite ladies?
5. Ke$ha is all about girl power and sexual agency
My friend Maura Johnston once compared Ke$ha to feminist punk pioneer Kathleen Hanna in that both might be said to believe in “the radical possibilities of pleasure,” which made me mad at first because I think Bikini Kill‘s music is way better than Ke$ha’s. But then I realized that was beside the point. The fact is, we still live in a world where it’s frowned upon for a woman to have sexual agency, to like fucking for fucking’s sake. Of course, you could also swing the pendulum the other way and talk about all the girls who only dress and act “sexy” because they think it’s what guys want, but take a look at Ke$ha and tell me who you think she’s dressing for. Yes, she is overtly sexual and wears skimpy things. But she also wears things that look like she found them in the trash, and drag queen makeup, and glitter, and feathers, and dirty, dirty hair. She’s described her own look as “garbage chic.” Like Lady Gaga, most straight men do not consider her a sex symbol. Ke$ha is dressing for Ke$ha, and for her “animals,” the feral children who see themselves in her. When Ke$ha gets laid, it’s on her own terms, with guys who are not too intimidated by her image to go there.
And have you noticed how Ke$ha doesn’t shit talk other women? Even when given a very easy target like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, whom her family once hosted on an episode of The Simple Life, she doesn’t take the bait. “I don’t have anything against her. I think she’s really nice, but we’re just very different,” she said, when asked if she’s friends with Paris. And of Nicole: “Nicole was hilarious. I really liked her, but it’s just kind of like, what does an apple and a penguin talk about?” This was a good answer. You can be a dirty hipster party girl without feeling superior to other girls.
And as for that stupid dollar sign in her name? She adopted it as an ironic gesture of bravado back when she was a struggling waitress. Along with our friend $Bands$, struggling Ke$ha had a lot of humor and chutzpah. And shouldn’t that count for a lot?