Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ke$ha Rises From Oddball To Icon In 2010

This year, nobody defied description quite like Ke$ha, the pop oddity who shows no signs of slowing down.
By James Montgomery

Photo: Venturelli/ Getty Images

In January, when "Tik Tok" was just starting to hit, I described Ke$ha as "a 22-year-old pop confectionary/cautionary tale." By November, when "We R Who We R" debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, I had crowned her an "outcast icon." The truth probably lies somewhere in between those two statements, but if there's a better way to sum up the pop star's rather incredible rise to fame, I am unaware of it.

Because in 2010, there really was no one else who came close to matching Ke$ha, whether in terms of sheer chart dominance ("Tik Tok," enjoyed the year's longest run at #1, spending nine weeks atop the Hot 100), or pure WTF-ery. She began the year as a belching, squelching, booze-swilling party monster and ended it as perhaps the most unlikely of role models — an unrepentant oddball who not only dared to speak her mind, but defy conventions, too. And through it all, she remained largely unclassifiable, shifting between genres (pop, hip-hop, rock) and personas (dumpster-diving diva, Topanga Canyon bohemian, DayGlo star child) with each successive hit. And because of that, Ke$ha became one of the year's most interesting characters, the kind of pop oddity that leaves critics alternately grasping at adjectives and scratching their heads.

"I think 'What is Ke$ha?' is definitely the question, more than 'Who is Ke$ha?' because the 'What?' is really the thing," New York Times writer Jon Caramanica told MTV News. "When she first came into the game, she was this pop singer with a little bit of a country background, but [doing] this sort of whiny, white-girl rap ... but, if anything, 'Tik Tok' proved there's an entire audience of people who are pop fans, but who have a really high tolerance for rap music. Maybe they're not going to buy a Kanye West record, but they're not unafraid of hip-hop. And with Ke$ha, and her loose, 'I don't give a f---' approach to making these songs resonates with the loose, 'I don't give a f---' approach of the fans in listening to the songs. They hear something of themselves in her."

Of course, Ke$ha suffered for her, uh, art, becoming one of the year's most popular punching bags — particularly following a pair of bizarre performances on "Saturday Night Live" — but as the year draws to a close, her grip on the pop world seems to be permanent. Not only is she the unlikeliest of stars, she's also one of the most persistent ... and love her or hate her, you've got to admit that she made 2010 just a bit more bearable, even if it was with her willingness to push the boundaries of absurdity. Well, her songs were pretty great, too. And she did it entirely her way.

"I think Ke$ha's definitely gone way past her 15 minutes of fame, [but] the appeal with her is that there's an honesty," Noah Callahan-Bever, editor in chief of Complex magazine, said. "In a market of totally prefab pop stuff, there's almost a sloppiness to her whole persona, and I think that realness appeals to people. I think it doesn't hurt that she works with the best producer in pop music, either," he said, referring to right-hand man Dr. Luke.

In 2010, thanks to that winning combination of pitch-perfect pop and pure, unfiltered weirdness, Ke$ha pretty much conquered the world. She won over fans and earned begrudging respect from the critics. And she wore dead animals on her head. Wherever she goes in 2011, I'll follow. And I'll likely be just as perplexed as the rest of you.

Do you expect Ke$ha's party to stop or keep rocking in 2011? Let us know in the comments.

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