Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dr. Luke & The Women (feat. Ke$ha, Katy Perry & Britney Spears)

This started out as a reply to a comment (below) on the post "The Ke$ha Project: 'The Harold Song' and Social Single Strategy" from the creator of the new blog Pop Messiah. It quickly became much more.

Dean B. - I admit, I'm not a big Ke$ha fan.. but one night I was at a friend's place and they were trying to convince me otherwise so they played me "The Harold Song" (They know I tend to like the emotional side of pop the most.) and I have to admit that I actually started to change my mind about her then. I do enjoy some of the singles, begrudgingly.. but we did not start off on good terms. That being said, I've moved into (at the very least) indifference and I've accepted that she's here to stay. For the record, I felt similarly about Katy Perry at first and now I love her. Time will tell. 
The whole idea of The Ke$ha Project is to provide (over time) the evidence, analysis and arguments that, while not always immediately apparent, have me - a fiercely academic and generally skeptical critic whose relationship with Ke$ha also started out on shaky terms - so convinced that this is genius at work that I can describe her with such hyperbolic, unsophisticated terms as "the Messiah of Pop" without an ounce of irony. There's a LOT of unreleased material that goes into this, and the best of it does speak a lot for itself, but I have plenty of critical arguments to make in defense of my point as necessary. 

The issue with Ke$ha, especially at the very beginning, is that the leap from how a person might initially perceive her to what I believe is the reality of her brilliance was so huge that, as a relatively new blogger myself, I knew I couldn't just come out and try to proclaim and defend all in one fell swoop. Even now as I'm preparing samples of my work to send to some of the more academic publications I'm avoiding making some of my more subversive arguments because even though I might be able to successfully defend them within a piece, there is no incentive for the reader in that situation to stick around and hear me out when there are lots of other writers out there with more established credibility.

What's been interesting, and admittedly bittersweet for my ego, is that throughout my slow and steady rollout of Ke$ha apologetics, the argument I'm making has grown a bit less outlandish, albeit not enormously. Your comment is a perfect example, and it's something I've heard more and more often especially since the release of Cannibal and Ke$ha's first headlining tour, which both have provided a much more developed idea of Kesha Sebert's abilities. "Blow" was I think the single that started getting some of the hipsters and the dance/electronic in-crowd on board. And anyone who's been to the Get $leazy Tour now knows she can sing, rendering that lame anti-AutoTune argument completely moot. "The Harold Song" is the crux of that argument, a very convincing one at that: she sings the song at the beginning of the thematic third act of the show, following a Daft Punk-esque, electronic-focused first act (she remains on an elevated platform with guitar, synths and other gadgets until at least fifteen minutes in) and the dance party-cum-light choreography Animal-referencing second act. 

Suddenly with "The Harold Song" the electronica takes a break (along with her dancers) and you spend a very surreal twenty minutes witnessing the girl who brushed her teeth with a bottle of Jack and woke up feeling like P. Diddy doing something even more shocking: singing her tits off. And the best part of it for me, someone who really does not care for what I would call melodramatic power balladry or ostentatious whining (often, admittedly unfairly) and you would call "the emotional side of pop," was that it didn't for a moment strike me as "oh, Ke$ha's doing this to show off her voice and prove she can sing," which I would have supported but not necessarily enjoyed as much myself - it was more "man, I'm not really into this song, but damn she sounds great, even better than I thought!" It was really seamless and it wasn't until afterward that I looked back and thought about the structure of the set list. I think that's the definition of a really good performance, one that works so well that you don't notice the machinery at work, at least until afterward, and even for me, so convinced Ke$ha is the real deal as I am, the concert was legitimately impressive and I was surprised it was able to, well, surprise me!

The Katy Perry comparison is very apt, as the two performers have a lot in common, even beyond the obvious similarities that shared producer and pop hitmaker Dr. Luke has exacerbated in his methods of launching them into superstardom, which of course are difficult to fault him for because he did the job so well. The best news I heard last week was that due to a new exclusive deal Dr. Luke made with Sony, he contractually will be limited to working with Sony Artists, which do not include EMI-signed Katy Perry. This is great for her, and from what I've heard and read I don't think she's too broken up about it either. Dr. Luke is a great launch pad, but he lacks the benevolence of his mentor Max Martin and has ten times the ego. It's going to be great for Katy Perry, who I have met and who I have been repeatedly reminded is an immensely hard worker with a good deal of talent and even greater brain under those colorful wigs (why do you think she's had all those #1 hits? If she has made one misstep since Teenage Dream dropped I must have been in the bathroom or something because I never saw it), and I think she'll really benefit from the chance to guide her career free of the mentors and influences to whom many people unfairly attribute her success. 

It simply baffles me that this nation is so sexist that Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Ke$ha, and Rihanna are out there raking in millions and millions of dollars right in front of us - I mean this is not secretive private-boardroom ludicrously complicated Wall Street trickery, here, these people are getting on stage and saying "how high?" when we say "jump" - and yet we just can't get our heads around the idea of a hot, sexually active young woman having any ability beyond blow jobs and chewing gum, so there has to be a man somewhere around deserving credit. At least Max Martin stayed invisible so while Britney Spears may not have gotten the credit she deserved there was still no choice but to look on in impressed wonder; it seems like Dr. Luke buys into the whole philosophy, and you can tell how much respect he has for some of his artists from the recycled, rarely original work he often does for them (Britney Spears is an exception, and the fact that she can demand innovation from a big shot like Dr. Luke and she gets it is further proof of who exactly is in charge). I admire Kelly Clarkson for standing up to people like that when she called out Ryan Tedder for just that following her previous album, and the most recent, Tedder- and Dr. Luke-free album Stronger is the first of hers I've purchased and rather enjoyed; I can see Katy Perry going a similar direction, though she may never dominate the charts again the way she has. But then again, maybe she's been there, done it and gotten it out of her system anyway, which is a good thing for her prospects as an interesting artist.

I admit I'm a bit nervous about Ke$ha and whether she will break free from him when the time is right or get so accustomed to pop success that she never lives out her full potential and ends up a Rihanna when she could have been a Robyn (and I believe that 100%; the Robyn comparison is one I've made a lot). The thing that gives me hope is that "Blow" and especially "The Harold Song," the tunes Ke$ha has turned her attention to most off the EP, aren't Dr. Luke staples; the former is really an Max Martin/Klaus Ahlund piece, and the latter is simply Ammo. Dr. Luke doesn't seem to dare to command Ke$ha even if she's a ways from commanding him the way Britney does. I know, I should probably remember to have faith, though, because even though she has let me down in the past (more than once), she's more than made up for it, just like the other two artists who, along with Ke$ha, are most important to me on a level that while backed by dense critical aegis, ultimately transcends beyond my head and, maudlin as it sounds, into my heart. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...