Sometimes, it's easy for me to mistake a love of music with a love of novelty. Most music, I've found, doesn't age well to my ears. I get sick of it. After a certain point, I can't even listen to it anymore. I don't have any Nirvana on my iTunes, for example, and for the most part I can't listen to commercial radio because every song feels like flat, used-up bubblegum to my ears. I don't understand what kind of joy anyone can feel on hearing the exact same version of "Takin' Care of Business" for the 10,000th time, or "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," or "Southern Man," or "Come Together." Nothing new can happen, and by the time you turn thirty, or forty, or fifty, you've probably heard those songs in every context imaginable. How does any 45-year-old man pump his fist with excitement when he hears those same, tired licks of "Whole Lotta Love" come on the local Clear Channel-owned classic rock station? You can't get anything new out of the same old recordings of songs like that. They're vacant.
Authenticity is something that every generation wrestles with. The worst question I've ever gotten from an editor was years ago now, in reference to a very rowdy punk band: "But do they mean it?" Uh. Yes, they meant it. And no, they probably didn't. What do you mean by mean? How can you prove intent to mean something? Why is meaning so important with music? Why do some people treat two different covers of the same song as an earnest-off? Who meant the intent of the original meaning of the song more? Do I mean any of this? Do you know what I mean?
Kesha Sebert, better known as Ke$ha, turns 26 today.
I have a conflicted relationship with Ke$ha. She put on one of the best shows I've ever seen, but I was also repulsed by it. It was a massacre of light and color and glitter and context and sex. It was also a giant party and a school play gone horribly wrong (or right, depending on your opinion of school plays). I left with more questions than I went in, and my head was buzzing with the same kind of questions I wrestle with when I leave a very good reading with a very smart author. But there was one question I did not have at all in my head, even for one second: Did Ke$ha mean that? She absolutely meant it, every air quote and sappy lyric and sarcastic comment and ironic joke and promise to always love each and every one of her fans for always. She meant every contradictory statement and mixed message and confused statement, and she meant it with every ounce of herself.
The last year wasn't a great one for Ke$ha. Her new album, Warrior, didn't sell as well as everyone had hoped. She put out a photo-collage book, My Crazy Beautiful Life, that was a disappointment and felt like her first dishonest step, an up-with-people Oscar acceptance speech of a book that victory lapped around Warrior before it was even released. That book was on my desk for much of the winter, because I couldn't think of what to say about it. My coworkers would walk by and pick it up and read some passage from the book at random, like:
I've worked so hard to get to this point in my life, and I know that to keep it all going I have to take my work seriously. I embrace the pressure because I know how lucky I am, and I'm not going to let anyone take it away. It doesn't matter how hard I party, I always work ten times harder.
And I would slouch down in my shitty rolling office chair in embarrassment until they went away. Ke$ha, how could you? How could you shock a string of clichés to life with nothing but your lyrics and your wobbly delivery, but then let some dreck sit on the page like that?
That said, Warrior is a very good album, a clear evolution of Ke$ha's work. It's made up of almost no missteps. It's ridiculously listenable. The music sounds like a Ke$ha show feels: a slam-bang spray of lasers and fart noises and what sounds like sampled choirs causing near-accidental moments of beauty in between throbbing bass beats about fucking and getting drunk and partying like there's nowhere respectable left to go. I've found the distaste that people feel for Ke$ha to resemble the way some people stare with disapproval at the young woman on the bus at 7 in the morning on a Sunday. She's wearing a dress that seems to be fashioned together out of dental floss and glitter, her mascara is running away from the red slits of her eyes, the heel of her shoe is broken, she's got hickeys on places that other people never get kissed in their lives, and she smells like all of yesterday's parties and sweat. Some people can't help but glare at the vulgarity of it all, or hiss words under their breath. But the young woman on the bus doesn't give a fuck. She's grinning like she's getting away with something, and whatever lipstick there was on her face has long since been worn away, so her smile, by any metric, is a real one, absolutely 100% authentic. That's what Ke$ha's music in general, and Warrior in particular, sounds like to me.
Ke$ha's music is beyond simple. You can tell how a song is going to go within thirteen seconds, and then it unfolds in exactly that way. By all rights, I should've been sick of it months ago. But I can't get enough of it. I keep listening to it. I keep feeling that strange little flutter just under my neck when one of her songs come up on my iPod, I keep trying to sing "We R Who We R" at karaoke even though everyone else in the room is in visible pain. It feels like something true. It feels like something I'm never going to get sick of.
Of course, so does every song you love at one time in your life or another. Who can say how it will really be in one year, or five years, or ten?
Back when Occupy Seattle was just getting started, we here at The Stranger offices got an e-mail from some musician claiming to have written the anthem of the Occupy movement. It was clearly some douche with Woody Guthrie dreams, trying to capitalize on a moment. We were making fun of him around the office, and then I said, "That's ridiculous. I think the anthem of the Occupy movement should be Ke$ha's song 'Blow.'" Everyone laughed. I wasn't kidding.
You want to know what punk rock is, in 2013? Ke$ha owns a headdress made out of the teeth of her followers. That is punk as fuck. If Sid Vicious ran into a woman in a club wearing jewelry made out of human teeth back in the 70s, I bet he'd shriek and run in the opposite direction. That's some sort of power, right there. That's some kind of incredible thing.
I want to wish Ke$ha a very happy birthday, is what I'm saying.