2010 In The Rearview, Part I: Make It, Pop
BRAND NEW #1 ISSUE! INTRODUCING THE NEWEST MEMBER OF THE PANTHEON OF HEROES! WHAT SECRETS DO THE GLITTER SHADOWS HOLD? COLLECT THEM ALL!
Some songs bear the weight of their generation. They are cruxes in time, the point at which everything that has led up to this moment meets everything that will follow. “Crazy Blues” by Mamie Smith & Her Jazz Hounds, 1920. “West End Blues” by Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five, 1928. “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday, 1939. “The Fat Man” by Fats Domino, 1950. “A Fool In Love” by Ike & Tina Turner, 1960. “Everyday People” by Sly & the Family Stone, 1969. “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer, 1977. “Vogue” by Madonna, 1990. “Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears, 1999.
This is either an argument that Ke$ha joins an illustrious pantheon, or a jeremiad on the slow degradation of popular music over the past century; either way, her place at the vanguard of modern pop, whether the slope ascends or descends, is assured.
But that’s all bombast, sleek and empty as a will.i.am production. What matters is what impinges on the individual consciousness. I only have access to one.
She enters doing a voice, and exits laughing. Later, she’ll claim to be sick of being so serious, but on the evidence of her radio hits, she never has been: trickster goddess, teenage brat, her refusal to take anything seriously is the source of her power, an ELECTROMAGNETIC FORCE FIELD against which the hordes of intelligence and taste and sobriety and responsibility rage in vain. Even the infamous bottle of jack is more taunting symbol than literal truth: though the synths swerve drunkenly from one chord to the other, her voice is not drunk but hyper-controlled, meticulously placed off-pitch and making inhuman electronic runs that end up sounding a lot like giggles.
It’s the giddiness that won me, I think, the childlike pleasure in making sounds that have no correlation to human vocal chords. There is moment of vulnerability as she acknowledges the DJ’s power to build her up and break her down (is this perhaps her SECRET ORIGIN?), then a million chipmunk voices join her in electronic orgasm and she taunts, woozily, that the party don’t start till she walk in. If I am reminded of the drunken bravado of Wolverine, is it because I never recovered from a superhero-damaged youth? (I never particularly liked the X-Men.) Like Logan, she’ll take any amount of punishment, conflates violence and partying, and is the best there is at what she does. (Billboard, for what it’s worth, agrees.)
The second half of that line — and what she does best isn’t very nice — is the key to her aesthetic. Like Al Swearengen, she refuses to tell us something pretty (unlike another, to whom we will come in time), and the scuzzy, wrecked glamour of 70s rock is just as important a touchstone to her as the sleek certainty of modern pop-rap. (For every Diddy there’s a Jagger.) Like Michael Jackson, she seeks to conflate black and white, male and female; but rather than an attempt at universality, at being everything to everyone, she wishes only to be more certainly herself.
The year began with her; the decade began with her, and in a certain sense time began with her. The children of today will date the world they know from “TiK ToK,” no matter how much we who know better insist otherwise. And they won’t be wrong.
But other things happened in 2010. Some of them, like this, originally happened in 2009.
Next: Yr Vertigo Stick