Abigail Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Betty Friedan…Ke$ha? I know, crazy. Yet according to recent media, this assertion might not be as ridiculous at it sounds. Not your typical Rosie the Riveter, Ke$ha has made a name for herself through her raunchy party music. Believe it or not, underneath all the drugs, sex, booze and mountains of glitter, there just might be a lyrical nugget of female empowerment.
I’m not a huge Ke$ha fan myself, so it was initially hard for me to even entertain the idea that a pop star singing “I wanna dance with no pants on” could ever be comparable to the famous feminists of the twentieth century. However, Ke$ha has been recognized for her songs that confront sexual double standards. Critics love her bold reversal of gender roles, epitomized in her unapologetic odes to getting totally wasted and having a great time. I’m not saying that there’s any substance behind Tik Tok other than the potential substance abuse of Jack Daniels. That’s the point. Ke$ha’s lewd lyrics are exactly what they sound like, and in many cases illustrate how male rappers regard women.
This notion is best exemplified by her hit “Blah Blah Blah,” in which Ke$ha basically says she isn’t interested in chitchat, she just wants to get down to business. When asked about writing this hit, the star simply says, “I’m a young, responsible woman who can work and party as hard as any man. So, if I want to talk about drinking and sex, I’m going to do it.” In her own way, Ke$ha confronts social taboos of how women view men, objectifying the latter for a change. Her music echoes the sentiments expressed by feminists such as Naomi Wolf in her 1991 book The Beauty Myth: “The fact is that women are able to view men just as men view women, as objects for sexual and aesthetic evaluation.”
In her song “Booty Call,” Ke$ha again defies common female stereotypes through bold gender reversal. There are probably a million songs out there sung by female artists about a guy, but how many characterize him as simply a booty call? How many tell him to not get “attached when I call you up trying to get some ass?” I hate to admit it, but Ke$ha’s bold lyrics do stand out as unconventional. The best part is that she doesn’t pretend to hide deeper messages underneath the heavy electronic beats. Listening to her album makes you feel trapped in a loud, endless house party, and that’s exactly what she intends.
Ke$ha’s treatment of men might reflect her unusual upbringing. According to her biography, her mom wanted to have a child, but did not want a relationship. Some sperm banks had reportedly been infected with HIV, so she asked some of her friends to try to get her pregnant. Ke$ha still doesn’t know the identity of her father, but is completely satisfied with the way her mom played both parental roles during her childhood. This might explain why her mother, a songwriter herself, is so influential in Ke$ha’s work. She even danced around in a penis costume onstage in Budapest while her daughter sang, “Grow a Pear.” Talk about a dynamic duo.
While I agree that this evidence does advocate for Ke$ha’s secret feminist side, I cannot be deluded into thinking the artist has the same progressive mindset as some of her feminist contemporaries. Media has attempted to further solidify this theory by delving into Ke$ha’s childhood, fawning over how she used to make her own outfits and calling it a rejection of conventional beauty. Ke$ha herself downplays the effect of her self-styling, referring to her make up as “face paint” and her hair as “a lion’s mane.” Let’s be real for a second here. No matter how much the media tries to portray Ke$ha as a hero, confronting societal standards beauty, it’s undeniable that the pop star still walks out on stage looking hot and dangerous.
In addition, Ke$ha gained a lot of public attention when she decided to take a solo trip to the Galápagos Islands after her world tour to meditate and write her sophomore album. Some tried to portray this mini-vacation as another feminist move, citing Virginia Woolf’s essay “A Room of One’s Own” to admire Ke$ha’s surely grueling isolation as a courageous escape from the world. Of course the pop star ate this up, describing her journey as such: “As I sat there on that rock in the middle of the ocean, in a place stuck in time… I was smiling, but I knew that the biggest challenge of my life was staring me in the face. I knew that if I didn’t rise to the challenge and write a spectacular sophomore album, my career could be short-lived. I took a deep breath, meditated, and felt the wind hit my face. I looked at the blank page and realized that I was right back where it all started, a girl with a crazy dream and a notebook. I took my pen and wrote one word: warrior.” Cue cacophonous symphony. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine overcoming a challenge like that. I mean, she has the entire world of feminism sitting on her shoulders. If Ke$ha can’t produce more glittery, auto-tuned goodness…who will women turn to next?
I think I can safely conclude that Ke$ha’s feminist front only holds validity in her lyrics. After her instant rise to fame with the debut of her album Animal in 2010, Ke$ha made it clear she wasn’t looking for the same type of career as Kelly Clarkson or Britney Spears. She wanted fame, and she wanted it now. She’s casually crude and callous to critics. Yet despite all of this, she still deserves some credit for flipping the sexual standards of popular music. •