Op Ed

We R Who We R?

There is a lot of discussion about the state of pop music and the women who are in the mix. (GET IT, THE JOKE?) The indelible Sady Doyle  discussed the issue at length, with her explanation about how Katy Perry is in fact, a false feminist prophet in fake eyelashes and polka-dots.

She touched on another current pop singer du jour, Ke$ha. Ke$ha of the awful outfits, drunken partying and auto-tuned rapping. Ke$ha has sort of positioned herself as a dirt under her nails, unwashed hair and glittered lips pop star opposite the cotton-candy and vanilla-frosting coated Katy Perry, and she relishes this role.

I would love to debate the merits of either woman’s music and image, but I actually have a more serious problem with Ke$ha. I hate that she is rip-off and unintelligent version of L’Trimm. In fact, she’s a crummy facsimile of many African American female, trail blazing hip hop artists.

Ke$ha has said she is inspired by Beck and the Beastie Boys. But weren’t both acts, at least at the beginning of their careers, riffing off hip hop and posturing and using it as a metaphor to comment on themselves? The problem with Ke$ha is that she appears to be 100% serious. I mean, I know she talks about waking up feeling like P. Diddy, but I don’t think she’s in on the bigger joke. I think she really thinks she’s a counter to cleaned up female artists and she’s doing something revolutionary by saying she likes to get drunk. Gurl”¦.NO.

It is annoying that Ke$ha, either willfully or through sheer ignorance, refuses to acknowledge the women in hip hop since its inception and that makes her the worst kind of imitator. Does she think we’re not informed of the musicology behind her? Salt n’ Pepa and L’Trimm and The Real Roxanne paved the path with their witty, perfect rhymes, which allowed for her and Jack Daniels breaf.

Now I know, I know, things evolve and obviously, Ke$ha was barely born during the Roxanne Wars, but puhleaze. I listen to the Beatles, all the time, and was not ALIVE in the 60’s. We all have our inspirations, our loves of music, and decades have little to do with that. But do not tell me that Dr. Luke or whoever didn’t give Ke$ha L’Trimm’s Grab It and she didn’t listen to it, obsessively. For that matter, who’s to say she hadn’t been listening to them and taking notes anyway, by the time she had to record her mediocre garbage.

Ke$ha isn’t original; she may be more marketed or have a better styling budget, but let’s stop pretending her stuff doesn’t have a history. Furthermore, black acts from back in the day continue to struggle with royalty payments and financial sustainability, while Ke$ha makes a mint in cash and Glad bag dresses, and it bugs the hell out of me.

Besides, Lady Tigra called and she says your flow is weak.

30 replies on “We R Who We R?”

I don’t know. Mainstream music sucks in general, but I don’t see the point of criticizing them for doing what they have to to make money. Its a sexist/stupid world, I don’t see the point in blaming the effect rather than the cause.
How should Ke$ha “acknowledge her female predecessors in hip-hop? Mention it in her interviews? She very well may have, and if not you can be damn sure she wasn’t asked.
And I doubt Kesha has heard of L’Trimm. She probably doesn’t go that deeply into good music.
Look, I guess what I’m saying is, they’re not trying to be offensive. I don’t even think they are. She’s certainly not racist, though that probably wasn’t what you were saying.
Hate Ke$ha for her painful music. But we don’t know anything about her.

I agree Ke$ha is annoying, unoriginal, and def a passing fad. She’s also just embarassing, to herself and anyone associated with her. I dunno how she can be compared to Katy Perry though. I see her as the Dirty Manic Pixie of GaGa. Now I know some people like to see the MPDG on a more positive role, some I’ve even seen as saying “they” are MPDGs (seriously?), but she’s some weird fantasy–the party girl who can hold her drinks, who doesn’t stop, who will fuck you and won’t write some stupid song about it (GaGa will). That *is* a fantasy for some people.

It’s another woman being objectified, and it’s a creature that execs have created. It’s sad, because she doesn’t even realize that this is basically a “fast fashion” of music–and she’ll never be able to wash that dirt off.

Thanks for articulating the problem with Ke$sha. And while she is of course guilty of appropriation, I am sure that she doesn’t comprehend this at all. Can you imagine what’s on her iPod? She’s just plain ignorant–and a construct of the people behind her. Although I know that isn’t how things work, they’re the ones who really should be held responsible for this musical tragedy.

I didn’t mean to drift the conversation away from your point — the appropriation of minority artists by mainstream, corporate driven ‘white’ performers is a historical embarrassment. But I think its so successful over and over again for many of the reasons I mentioned — people are lazy as shit, so they accept that whatever is presented to them is new and pure. I think the commercial aspect of music is pretty much accepted and expected, but the whole issue of ripping off black/minority artists is just glossed over.

I’ll stop before I start rambling further, but I liked the article and I agreed with your points. And I’d love to see you do a piece on L’Trimm.

Hey y’all.

This is an awesome dialogue. Honestly, I am less concerned with the repetition of pop culture or even the lack of acknowledgment of sources; I am sick to death of of color artists being ripped off by white artists.

Ke$ha’s shit, whether intentional or not, is L’Trimm without a brain. Now, I am not jerky enough to claim hipsterism shit and say, ‘WHAT? YOU don’t know L’Trimm?’

What I am saying is that music has a path and it is, rarely, totally invented from nothing; that’s why I love it so much.

This is an on-going fucking problem wherein white artists/their puppetmasters can claim something they sure as shit didn’t invent and the public fucking buys it. I don’t just mean spending the paper on the crap, but actually think innovation is part of the whole package.

Seeing that this is Black History Month, maybe I just should’ve written something about the importance of women in hip hop, namely L’Trimm.

I’ve always believed that the quality of contemporary music is pretty much directly proportional to how much the artist knows/is aware of their influences and the influences of their influences. If you don’t know why what you like sounds like it does and what influenced it all you’re ever going to be is an increasingly fuzzy xerox copy of something. Then it all gets really problematic when someone like Ke$ha is the commodity.

Case in point: AtomicBoy’s 18 year old step sister and her friends thought they discovered “Don’t Stop Believin'” by “this random band called Journey.” They sang it en masse at their graduation, apparently.

In regard to your last hypothetical regarding the availability of older media, I look to my own anecdotal experience. They ONLY reason I was exposed to older media was through my stay-at-home dad who all but force-fed me all the media form his childhood – young adult years. Later, I kept growing from that and wanting to discover more for myself, and did so accidentally chronologically.

I think more than anything, it takes the awareness of someone who each person respects to cultivate a curiosity about what came before X. Because X is now, and for many of the target audience for pop, as you say, they just want to be into X.

Absolutely. My dad played Steely Dan obsessively when I was growing up — they weren’t a band of my age group, but I know a lot of their music. And it’s not just that band. I had an advantage in having a father who was a former musician and really into music — while he didn’t specifically intend to expose me to a wider array of music, it all sort of sunk in. Slaybeau and I intentionally do this with our daughter. I don’t really know too many other parents who do.

But, yeah, I do think that it’s sort of on us to say to the people who love current X, that they might like this older X, and explain how trends and performers hook up.

Does she think we’re not informed of the musicology behind her?


I’m not being glib and I don’t think Ke$ha, herself, is the one who thinks we’re ignorant, but I do think the vast majority of the mainstream consumers of music are completely ignorant of music that lies outside of their immediate age range. We know what we’re exposed to and most people aren’t interested in educating themselves about X thing that they’re into. They just want to be into X thing.

That’s why all us old heads get so pissed off about this. Pop culture is a dragon eating its own tail, and we recognize the rings as they slide by, and everyone else is looking at the ‘new’ landscape. Its sneaky and disingenuous for pop acts to act like they’re reinventing the wheel, but what do they have to lose? No one is going to call them on it.

Don’t think that I’m defending Ke$ha. I find her kind of abhorrent and I spend a lot of time and energy educating myself and my child on pop culture, trying to expand our interests and our frames of reference outward. But I’m not sure this is entirely normal. And that’s why Madonna’s Express Yourself video has been remade 3 times that I can count in the past year.

I do wonder what is going to happen with the availability of older music/film/tv at our fingertips now, if we’ll see a better educated, more sophisticated consuming public. I’m not really crossing my fingers for it though.

I think it’s important, too, if you want to grow a music listener (or just a smart consumer of pop culture), to not only expose the next generation to what came before — what influenced the music they’re listening to know — but to know there’s music out there outside the realm of mainstream pop. I’m lucky in that I had parents who listened to a wide variety of music, most of which didn’t make it to radio. The sad thing is that while much of it’s available with just a few clicks, our frame of reference is getting smaller.

This is totally true. When movies that were only made, say, 15-20 years ago are getting remade, it becomes entirely valid for pop artists to start remaking the sound of artists that came only a few years before them. And, (as a generalization), remakes adhere to a formula to make them more broadly appealing than the originals.

It’s totally incumbent on consumers of pop culture to look more deeply into the sources of the music/art/fashion that they’re consuming, but like you’re not really crossing your fingers for it, why bother?

Ke$ha is immediate, highly processed and formulaic to be appealing to the masses. That, and being a consumer of music such as Ke$ha makes you relevant to a larger culture. I’ll totally own having absolutely no idea who L’Trimm is (although a few torrents later should remedy that), while all aspects of Ke$ha, and her role in pop music have been discussed at length in my circle, L’Trimm has never come up.

I think it’s easier to be dismissive of pop culture entirely, rather than looking art artists and seeking out the material and people that they are pulling from and watering down for mass consumption.

I hadn’t thought about Grab It in years so I just relistened and there is NO WAY that Ke$ha has never heard this. She sounds exactly like L’Trimm, except more caricatured. It does such a disservice when artists (I can’t believe I’m using that to describe Ke$ha) don’t give proper credit when it’s due. It just seems ungrateful. You weren’t the first, lady, and you certainly won’t be the last.

It’s great that you mention this – and by ‘this’ I mean Ke$ha’s lack of acknowledgement (or even actual knowledge) of her forbears) because I was just thinking the other day about how pop almost seems to be regressing in terms of racism and sexism. I know everyone idealises what they grew up with, but when you grew up with black female bands and solo singers making leaps and bounds in the top 10 and being more lyrically astute than Ke$ha or Katy Perry could ever DREAM of being, what does that say about how far we’ve come in 10-20 years?

One example that I was thinking on recently is GaGa’s ‘Born This Way’. Now, I’m a fan of GaGa’s, and I think she is genuinely talented songwriter (as far as I’m aware it’s not only the words she writes but all the melodies and harmonies as well – that shit is difficult), but the way there has been so much hysteria over the somewhat problematic and clunky lyrics, you’d think there had NEVER ever been a song that was so firm in telling you to ‘be yourself’. Did everyone suddenly forget the existence of TLC in all the intervening years? “Unpretty” is no gay club disco banger, but I genuinely think it was a song that helped me (and quite a few teenage girls) struggling with their appearance to accept and embrace our own bodies and not to settle for anyone else’s opinions of it.

I’m all for GaGa and other women in pop going down this path, but I am kind of tired of the fact that the minorities in pop have blazed the path but rich white girls in the presence seem to reap all the rewards with little consequence.

Yes! I often get the feeling it is regressing as well. I grew up with these ladies that are almost never spoken of.SWV, Aliyah, Mya, Brandi, Tweet, Xscape, Monica, Toni Braxton, Janet Jackson, Salt n Peppa, Missy Elliot, Erykah Badu…Legendary women that have gotten almost no credit or play.

There’s also a huge amount of “be yourself”/”love yourself” pop that’s cheesy but popular and like, in super recent memory. Aren’t there top-40 Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, and Sugababes songs within the past decade (if not more recently) that got a lot of airplay that said the exact same shit as Lady Gaga’s new song? I like her a lot, but I don’t think she’s as innovative as the hype wants us to believe.

No one is really calling her innovative in this song–this is the criticism she’s getting from everyone. That she wrote a song about loving yourself and so did everyone else.
But my opinion is so what?
This was really expected from her if you know her music history anyway. Now she has more creative freedom she’s gotten to create an album totally about what she wants.

Yes, yes, I agree with all of this.

I despise Ke$ha and her music. She sucks. Period. She cannot sing, her lyrics are asinine and ridiculous, her outfits are at best, irritating, and at worse, culturally offensive.

I decided a long time ago to stick my head in the sand and listen to the female artists I love who sadly will probably never get the kind of millions that Ke$ha has. Artists like La Roux, Bat for Lashes, Lykke Li, Imogen Heap, Zoe Keating, Florence + the Machine, Jem, and others.


When I think if Kesha (which is a very SMALL amount of time), I never actually imagine her as a performing artist, a musician or an interesting person for that matter.

I imagine something similar to a mannequin robot. Stylists are getting her hair and makeup to do outlandish things. The recycling bin is contributing to her fashion needs and a band of producers, mixers and writers are putting together music such that all she has to do is stand there and be a prop. Is she actually singing? Who knows.

But then, this could be applied to Katy Perry. But rather than using a recycling bin for source material, the stylists went to the Sanrio store and bought vinyl in bulk.

This is where Pop music is headed. It’s been going down that dark road for a long time.

I think the best way to get the GOOD artists (let me underline artist there) out there in the ear-buds of easily influences teens is to tell people about it. Spread the word. Post stuff on tumblr, facebook. Give your 13 yr old nephew a CD. Tell him it will blow his mind, or whatever it takes to get the kid to listen to an “Adult.” (I got my 16 yr old cousin The Donnas for Christmas a few years ago. It got her to put down the country-pop for a little while) In the mean time, I’m going to go listen to some of this L’Trimm business.

I’m pretty sure Ke$ha doesn’t know Jack about shit. If you asked her who her musical influences are she’d probably say Autotune. I don’t know that she’s even responsbile for her own marketing.

But *somebody* behind her shtick *does* know the difference and they know damn well what they’re trying to do. I imagine they’re also pretty pleased that they’re getting away with it.

You beautifully articulated a lot of what bugs me about many acts these days, though I could never put my finger on it before

These folks like Kesha really believe their own pitch, and are so blissfully un-self-aware that they can convincingly market themselves as unique, disregarding all those who truly blazed the paths they now dance – if you can call that dancing – down.

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