I had heard that someone passed out from glitter inhalation at a Ke$ha concert a couple of nights ago. I chuckled when my friend told me, but when I pulled up at the Showbox SoDo there were two ambulances spinning their lights just down the block. What had I gotten myself into? Was death by glitter really a valid concern?
If it was, I soon realized, Ke$ha would have been dead long ago. Dance pop’s raining keg party princess smears glitter over her body, fires it out of cannons (like a disco GWAR), and advocates filling your brain with it. She wears glittery corsets and breastplates and hot pants, and at one point last night queried the audience, “Who doesn’t think my tits are glittery enough?” before dumping an extra bucket of sparkly stuff across her bosom.
Her show also offers flashing strobes, blinking neon, light-up glasses, smoke machines, feathered headdresses, ripped-up fishnets, and plenty of rude words and cursing. It’s colorful, energetic, and a hell of a lot of fun. All of this I expected.
What I didn’t expect was that it would be so damn funny.
Ke$ha is good at telling stories, and perhaps the best story she has crafted is her own. Her videos, which show the singer raving it up in empty pools and highway tunnels and waking up in bathtubs, are meant to be read as autobiographical. Her official bio relates a dubious tale of her breaking into Prince’s house to drop off her demo “wrapped in a giant purple bow.” She’s a hot mess, we’re meant to see, young and blonde and beautiful and out of control.
The singer does herself a disservice with this story, though, because the Ke$ha I saw last night was far more interesting and appealing. She was certainly blonde and beautiful, but seemed fully in control of her faculties, pulling off an elaborately-choreographed hour-plus stage show with nary a totter nor a slur. In addition to vocal duties, she did time on the synths and an electric guitar (wielding the latter in a phallic stance worthy of her famous breaking-and-entering target).
Competence alone is not fascinating, however. (Alas.) What really made me fall for Ke$ha was the steady vein of tongue-and-cheek humor that coursed through her show. There were bawdy visual puns: a Korg sound-effects box held between her legs; a man dressed as a giant pear during the song “Grow A Pair.” As Ke$ha performed “Dinosaur,” a song about a sleazy old man, two backup dancers performed a gymnastic routine involving metal walkers. Her stage banter, too, was frank, self-aware, and funny (see the above line about her tits).
Frequently derided for her strange sense of fashion and alleged wild-child life, Ke$ha defends herself eloquently in the media. She gives smart and honest interviews that laugh incredulously at the idea that she, say, actually advocates brushing your teeth with Jack Daniel’s. So why isn’t this side of the singer shown in her videos or transmitted over the airwaves? Perhaps people really do want to buy into the story; perhaps escapism markets better than intelligence.
As I danced in the crowd to the appropriately-chosen finale “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” (which, hearteningly, every sixteen-year-old in the world still seems to know the words to), I watched Ke$ha bash a pinata full of condoms with a baseball bat. After every swing, she threw her head back and laughed. “I want to hang out with this girl,” I found myself thinking, and not because I want to know the way to the hole in the wall with the dirty free-for-all. I just think she seems funny, seems smart, and seems to really enjoy and appreciate the amazing place her life is in. I could use a few more people like that in my life.
And also, probably, a little more glitter.