Is Ke$ha’s Party-Girl Image Holding Her Back?
Bashing Ke$ha’s music has become a favorite online sport, and I’ll admit, I’ve indulged. So I’m going to skip the rinse-and-repeat cycle. After all, what can I say about “Tik Tok” and “Blah Blah Blah” that hasn’t been said? Today, I’m looking for answers to questions besides the one posed in the title of this post, like what does Ke$ha think she’s doing in that publicity shot above? And who exactly keeps downloading her singles?
She’s sold millions of them (some five million of “Tik Tok” in the U.S. alone), but where’s the sort of fan fervor that greets Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber everywhere they and their music go. No star is without detractors, but I can’t remember a recent hitmaker who has inspired such intense love and loathing as Ke$ha.
But how deep is the love? Why isn’t one of the biggest singles artists of our time not also one of the biggest stars? She’s on the verge of scoring her fourth Top 10 single as a headliner on Billboard‘s Hot 100 as “Take It Off” jumps from No. 27 to No. 20 in its fifth week (she also was featured on Flo Rida’s No. 1 “Round Round” and 3OH!3′s Top 10 “My First Kiss”), yet her debut album, Animal, which was released in January, is only now closing in on sales of one million in the United States. It’s a respectable showing if you’re Leona Lewis or Miranda Lambert, but not quite the mark of a zeitgeist superstar, the next Gaga or even the next Katy Perry.
I know that things are tough all over in the music industry these days, but for the sake of comparison, consider the performances of the official debut albums by the two other big breakouts of the last year. Justin Bieber’s My World 2.0, out since March, has produced two Top 10 singles and went platinum within two months. Meanwhile, Drake’s Thank Me Later, released in June, has spawned one Top 10 hit so far and sold about half of Animal‘s lifetime sales in its first week. When you consider that Lady Gaga’s The Fame, a much slower starter than Animal, was well on its way to multiplatinum by the time she was working on her fourth Top 10 hit (“Paparazzi”), it’s clear that something is missing from Ke$ha’s success.
That Ke$ha can sell tons of singles effortlessly, while her album sales are short of spectacular, means that people are connecting with her songs but not necessarily with the artist singing them, which does not bode well for her long-term potential. It’s a malady currently afflicting Jason Derülo as well, but it’s more confounding in Ke$ha’s case because she’s everything a multi-platinum pop star should be: beautiful, sexy (if that’s what you’re going for), memorable. So why has she yet to break out of the singles scene in a major way?
Despite her pop-star look — which, on the surface, would seem perfect for at least the five-year multi-platinum plan — her image might be working against her. Unlike Britney Spears when she was starting out, or Taylor Swift, or Miley Cyrus before she insisted on not being tamed, there’s nothing for young girls to relate to. She lacks the polish and glamour to hold the attention of straight guys the way Katy Perry and Rihanna do. She’s the epitome of a one-night — or a one-single — stand. She’s not fabulous enough to be a gay icon. And unlike Gaga, she’s spectacle without sparkle, a low-budget pop star.
The general consensus on the plentiful I Hate Ke$ha websites seems to be that she’s a bad singer and an even worse role model. Her video persona is that of the fun but kind of trashy friend who embarrasses you at parties by getting too drunk, stumbling about, slurring her words, and spilling drinks all over everyone. First impressions stick, and that’s the one she created from the moment she brushed her teeth with a bottle of Jack Daniels in the first verse of “Tik Tok.” She even sings like she’s kind of wasted!
As with most unapologetic party girls (and boys), she’s good for a few great nights out, but you probably wouldn’t want to commit to spending more than a few hours at a time with her. In the case of her music, make that about three minutes top.
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