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Ke$ha: A 'Warrior' In Search Of Legitimacy

Ke$ha's new album is titled <em>Warrior</em>.
Yu Tsai
Courtesy of the artist
Ke$ha's new album is titled Warrior.

Ke$ha uses a dollar-sign instead of an "s" in the middle of her stage name. It's one of those gestures that's meant to bait her detractors — suggesting before anyone else does that she's only in it for the money. It turns out, though, that like pop stars ranging from Madonna on back to Chuck Berry, Ke$ha wants it both ways: mass-audience success and artistic acknowledgment. For Ke$ha, that's what her album title Warrior means: She's fighting a war on multiple fronts.

To continue the war metaphor Ke$ha introduces on Warrior, sometimes combatants die on the battlefield. The album's second track, "Die Young," is all about living as though you might not be here tomorrow. Ke$ha's idea of conducting war is, to be sure, pretty frivolous; this song and others here are party anthems. But they're party anthems with a special urgency — you can hear Ke$ha, in the way she sings and the way the songs are arranged, attempting both valiantly and confidently to convince a listener that she's not going anywhere. That she's neither so party-crazy that she's going to burn out, or that she's not so AutoTuned or overproduced that she's going to be consigned to novelty-act status.

Ke$ha was raised in Nashville and Los Angeles. Her mother has worked as a songwriter; her output includes a hit for Dolly Parton, "Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You." Ke$ha herself seems to have been listening to country music in putting together Warrior — particularly Taylor Swift's diaristic compositions. The confessional impulse comes to the fore in a song called "Wonderland" and another one, "Thinking of You." But because Warrior is positioned as Ke$ha's move toward semi-legitimacy, she wants to cover many genres. So she collaborates with a couple of members of The Strokes in the rock-ish song "Only Wanna Dance With You" and seems giddily proud to introduce her duet partner in "Dirty Love": punk pioneer Iggy Pop.

At various, regular points throughout Warrior, Ke$ha keeps asserting that she wants to "get wasted," and that she "doesn't care." But the intensity of her singing — and the intensity of the beats she's created with a number of producers, most prominently Dr. Luke — stands as a musical rebuke to such hedonistic sentiments. Unlike a lot of hipsters who try hard to make it seem as though they're doing nothing, Ke$ha is actually trying very hard. She'd never admit it, but she wants your approval. Which renders the attempts to craft a terrific album while insisting it's a throwaway all the more impressive.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.