Sunday, March 21, 2010
Ke$ha argues that she's furthering the cause of women's rights by appropriating an aggressive drunkenness that was once the preserve of frat boys and the disenfranchised."I could drink a pirate under the table", she told The Observer's Elizabeth Day. "People are shocked by it, but if I were Guns n' Roses or Van Halen, no one would be surprised." Actually, they probably would be. As we all know, tough guys can hold their liquor. Crapulence is about the only vice self-styled rock gods won't commit to video. Splicing footage of Axl Rose puking in the gutter is the paparazzi's job. But Ke$ha is miles ahead of TMZ. She's not only publicising her anti-social tendencies, she's monetising them. More disturbing though than her technique of self-promotion is the way its success lays bare alcohol poisoning's newfound cultural cachet. This is an unprecedented and altogether unwelcome development.
Of course male singers have been carrying a torch for "Sister Moonshine" since time immemorial and it's hardly undone Western Civilisation as we know it. But in the annals of popular music, drinking until you pass out in a stranger's bath tub has traditionally been regarded as a regrettable event - along with its attendant consequences of losing one's woman and waking up baffled and cashless in Reno. Over-enthusiastic celebration has been lamented as often as it's been lauded in song but prior to Ke$ha's Party At A Rich Dude's House, projectile vomiting had yet to be a Top 40 cause for celebration. While the Beastie Boys famously exhorted us to fight for our right to party, Ke$ha's agitating for catatonic squatter's rights over California's bathrooms.
The problem with Ke$ha is not merely that she's lowering the tone or setting a bad example. Her Bogan Babe swagger and zealous pursuit of self-inflicted brain damage would be easier to dismiss if not for the inflated sense of personal power Ke$ha projects. She seems completely oblivious to the heightened risk of physical assault that her purported behaviour courts. Her depiction of a good time is one that's likely to end up a very bad time for women who find themselves in a similar situation. She's either grossly naive or she doesn't, in fact, get out much at all. A young woman who drinks herself comatose in a strange environment is, to say the least, in a vulnerable position. Much as we may wish it were otherwise, we can't simply depend on good luck and bravado to see us through. Ke$ha may think that unwelcome male attention can be dispatched as easily as "kick(ing) em to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger", but even if that were a plausible tactic, she'd have to be kung-fu equipped and cold sober to effect it.
For all her alleged upending of gender roles, Ke$ha's outsize posturing is unconvincing. She doesn't come across as an empowered, self-possessed woman. More like the opposite. With her tomboy's disdain for female vulnerability and her cartoonish re-working of old-school cock rock: "Don't be a little bitch with your chit chat / Just show me where your dick's at", she gives the impression of a woman in thrall to machismo. One can't help but think that she'd really rather be a bloke. If penis envy had an anthem, surely it would be the over-compensating jail-bitch baiting of Blah, Blah, Blah.
Ke$ha's "lout and proud" emulation of the worst aspects of masculinity is totally retrograde. Far from giving men a "taste of their own medicine", as she boasted to the Observer, her equal opportunity misanthropy only serves to absolve and, ultimately, legitimise bad boy behaviour. Her version of libertine female emancipation is not only naively nihilistic, it doesn't do men any favours either. There's no freedom in chaotic, drunken aggression, it just makes everyone more fearful.
To those who compare Ke$ha's "ironic slapstick" to Mae West; or argue that she's just a clever postmodern joke on ladette culture LA style; there is only one reply. Would they find her so harmless if she were exalting the pleasures of Marlboro Lights to her girlish audience instead of Jack Daniels?