Swift and Ke$ha present ponderous albums
Published: Monday, February 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013 13:02
Last year, as I was becoming more interested in music journalism, reviewing records and considering pop culture with some level of seriousness, I took it upon myself to listen to as many albums in as many styles as my strenuous 12-hour class schedule would allow.
That effort made room for a lot of music that would not normally receive airtime in my all-too-treasured headphones. Of the obligated listens, I have found myself pondering a surprising pair of albums: Taylor Swift’s “Red” and Ke$ha’s “Warrior.”
My original descent into the “music nerd” demographic began with a mystical experience of sorts, and it thankfully did not involve anything like “Love Story” or “Tik Tok”. It was Radiohead that brought me out of my dogmatic slumber early in my high school years. But before that and the changes in taste that followed, there was a different strain of bands that blasted out of my speakers, and it was proportionately closer to Swift and Ke$ha than I sometimes care to admit.
Among the few that I’ll still regularly defend for at least a solid album, you’ll find Sheryl Crow and Sarah McLachlan, both of whom dominated the radio in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, much the way “Die Young” and “22” have for the past year.
Swift and Ke$ha are an interesting pair to find fortune and fame in the choppy waters of pop music. On the surface, it is hard to see why one would embrace the previous class of radio nobility while rejecting the modern equivalent.
This seems especially true of Swift, who finds the middle-ground between Crow and McLachlan in certain respects, combining quasi-country hooks with a diehard penchant for framing her songs around romance at all times. Even her voice splits the two, falling somewhere between the husky, untrained tones of the female rocker and the classically beautiful soprano so perfectly suited for dog shelter commercials.
For the three full-length albums that preceded “Red,” Swift was like an immeasurably more popular Jewel without the concern for lyrical variety. Her fourth album is an attempt at overcoming the constant comparisons to find some individual recognition to go along with the ridiculous sales numbers.
Strangely, that respect has not been hard to get from critics, which makes it a successful record in the objective senses: critical acclaim and sales numbers.
Artistically though, it reveals more flaws than it obscures, and if anything, she wears her influences more prominently on her sleeve whether it’s U2 on “State of Grace,” Mazzy Star on “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” or even Ke$ha on “I Knew You Were Trouble.” The impact of using these artists’ styles is somewhat dulled by how noticeable they are, like she listened to a single song from each and copied it note for note.
Versatility can be a valuable skill, and she handles the variety of genres capably on “Red,” but her only individual offering are the same played-out romantic story lines. They were probably cute at some point, and who am I to argue with the cash figures, but for me it’s another decidedly average best-seller.
Ke$ha is a different animal stylistically, but if you follow the progression of hip-hop’s influence on the mainstream consciousness and the general trend of chart-toppers, her arrival is just as predictable. With Swift mining the “girl next door” persona, the arena is wide open for an artist that embraces the less innocent teenage sensibilities, and Ke$ha has become pop’s resident “bad girl.” She’s found her niche in the sleazy, the depraved, and the momentary pleasure, which places her somewhere very far from unique in “rock” music’s sordid moral history.
“Warrior,” Ke$ha’s second full-length album, does not bring dog shelters or Lance Armstrong to mind, but its influences are no less obvious, and it’s been similarly successful by finding a style that perfectly complements its themes. If Swift is your companion in heartbreak, Ke$ha is your party-friend and her chosen persona is even farther from reality than romantic fairy tales.