Ali, Lorraine, Newsweek
Byline: Lorraine Ali
Ke$ha's music has been called 'repulsive, obnoxious, and ridiculously catchy.' She'll take that as a compliment, thank you very much.
It's the morning before the MTV Video Music Awards, and Ke$ha still hasn't had her nails done, let alone decided on what she's wearing down the red carpet. Instead, the 23-year-old singer, who's behind the biggest dance hits of the year and up for three top nominations, including best new artist, spent the morning messing around with her new "as seen on TV" BeDazzler.
Her weathered Army boots and faded Harley-Davidson T shirt are now covered in rhinestones, each of which shoots little rainbow prisms across the room every time she moves. "I did try to get a pedicure today," she says, playing with the drawstring of her baggy sweatpants. "I figured I should since I'll be competing with the Beyonces of the world." But she shrugs when she pulls her sockless foot out of her boot and exposes the chipped, drugstore nail polish on her toes. "I guess that's what closed-toe shoes are for."
It's that kind of irreverence--along with her Auto-Tuned electropop--that's made Ke$ha the love-her-or-hate-her artist of the moment. The Nashville provocateur has sold nearly 20 million tracks and ringtones since her debut, Animal, came out 10 months ago. She's also set a record for the most digital album sales by a new artist. But Ke$ha, and her success, have inspired some of the nastiest commentary the blogosphere and media can dish out. No doubt Perez Hilton will find plenty more fodder in Ke$ha's new material--a CD of fresh and repackaged songs due out next month. But why all the love/hate? Ke$ha is scrappy, working class, and more clumsy than -choreographed--attributes that attract and repel, depending on which side of the fence you stand.
For those tired of uber-polished acts like Rihanna, she is a savior. Ke$ha raps and sings about brushing her teeth with "a bottle of Jack," boys in "tight-ass rocker pants," and crashing a "party at a rich dude's house" (the "$" in her name is meant to be ironic--she adopted it when she was still scrounging under couch cushions for bus money). She finds her inspiration in the rougher corners of pop culture--evidenced by her decorative gold-capped tooth and beat-to-hell cowboy boots--yet her songs are club-o-licious thanks to a production team that includes Britney songwriter Dr. Luke. Even Israel's troops found Ke$ha hard to resist. Soldiers patrolling a Hebron street were caught on camera, then YouTube, dancing in formation to her hit "Tik Tok." They were later ordered to make a public-service announcement on the dangers of dancing while on duty.
The gangly star has been labeled everything from a "low-rent Gaga" to "absolute garbage" by snarky bloggers, while Rolling Stone decried the singer's dance tunes as "repulsive, obnoxious, and ridiculously catchy." But like her or not, Ke$ha is keeping the music industry alive--along with a handful of other female artists that include Lady Gaga. Three of last year's four bestselling albums were by women, and the most-played artists on radio and online this year are Beyonce and Taylor Swift. Ke$ha is a big player in this game-changing group, yet even here she's still the odd girl out. Take this interview, for instance. She showed up in sweats that looked like hand-me-downs from her big brother, with her tangled blonde hair falling out of its clip and her freckled face makeup-free. "Most women in the music biz are very sexy, and I'm not trying to be that," says Ke$ha. "Everything is very polished, big, perfect, choreographed, and that's just not me. I don't really plan what comes out of my mouth, and that's what makes most of my lyrics entertaining. …