Kesha, Dunkaroos, and Immortality.
I Love Music. Walk Away From Love. Love Hurts. These were a few of the songs on the Billboard Top 40 in 1976, when my father was the exact age I am now. Precisely 35 years later, top charting songs include Pink’s emotionally penetrating track, Fuckin’ Perfect, Enrique’s heartwarming love ballad, Tonight (I’m Fuckin’ You), and of course Cee-Lo Green’s hauntingly poignant anthem, Fuck You.
So we’ve ushered in a new musical culture, one where F-bombs are the new L-bombs. The songs of my father’s youth generally had a distinct message. They encouraged people to let it be, go your own way, and love the one you’re with. This is a slightly different message than the soundtrack of my young adulthood, which insists that I raise my glass, get retarded, and superman dat ‘ho. Above all, the majority of contemporary pop songs urge –no, demand¬- that I a) go to the club, b) get my hands up, and c) get my booty low. I’m good at two of those three.
The bulk of contemporary pop songs are produced for a club environment, which means they have a strong baseline for dancers to ride. This isn’t anything new; it’s been going on since the 70’s. But over the last few years the Top 40 has seen a dramatic shift in their theme. Pop songs still feature a beat designed for going to the club and dancing, but now their lyrics are literally about going to the club and dancing.
Normally, I wouldn’t take lessons on being cool from a 42-year-old mother of two who cries during American Idol eliminations. But when Jennifer Lopez says “if you’re an animal, get on the floor” in her latest #1 single On the Floor, I feel compelled to follow orders, being a mammal and all. It seems like every artist is now inundating me with instructions for the club. If it isn’t a 42-year-old ordering me to “dance the night away,” it’s a 10-year-old insisting that I “keep the party jumping” by whipping my hair back and forth approximately 127 times until I’m cool or in a neck brace.
It’s obvious that pop songs are written for the club scene, but the reason why isn’t so clear. It’s not like pop songs are about clubs because that’s where they get the most airtime. In fact, 99% of the time you hear club songs, you aren’t actually at a club. If the lyrical content of these tracks were more proportional to the activities and places in which we listen to them, there’d be a whole lot more songs about suppressing suicidal thoughts on a treadmill. The reason pop songs are mostly about clubs is because going to clubs (and listening to songs about them) makes you live forever.
Growing up, there were two sentences that infused my soul with irrepressible rage. “We’re out of Dunkaroos” was one. The other was “you’re too young to do that.” When I was nine, my teacher asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and my response was “older.” Every kid and teenager wants to be older because being young sucks. You can’t stay up late, you have no expendable income to afford things like Dunkaroos and nunchucks, and for roughly one year your face hovers at the exact height of fat adult butts. Being older is all you want until that magical 21st birthday, and then just like that, you now spend the rest of your life wishing you were younger.
The extreme lengths some adults will endure to look and feel younger is well documented. But many people overlook the fact that this aversion to growing old isn’t reserved exclusively for those developing wrinkles and gray hair. Every twentysomething reaches a point when they start to question just how young they are. Random body aches and pains become a little sharper, memories of high school and college become a little fuzzier. We used to pin posters of athletes to our wall, now we pin save-the-dates to our fridge. Suddenly, getting paid is more important than getting laid. These changes, while minor, make us hyperaware that we are driving on the exit ramp of youth, that we’re closer to being a father than a freshman. So how do we celebrate and embrace youth, this precious and fleeting resource? How do we feel young while forgetting that we are getting older literally every second? The answer, according to the wise sage Ke$ha, is simple. We go to the club and fight ‘till we see the sunlight.
Clubs are the only place in society that is filled with exclusively young adults. Colleges are mostly young, but the average age gets inflated by professors, administrators, football transfers, etc. Walk into a club, though, and you’ll notice that every single person there is young: the bartenders, the DJ, the bouncers, and of course the clientele. It’s the only place you can go and be guaranteed not to run into a single person who uses AOL for their primary email address. It’s a place to drink, dance, feel sexy, feel young, and listen to music of a genre and volume that old people hate. There are no reminders of what you will become, only reminders of what you are. The club isn’t a time machine –it won’t make you any younger –but it is a virtual stasis chamber, a place that halts any pestering thoughts of aging. Pop songs written for and about clubs can momentarily transport you to this magical place, even if you’re sitting in traffic or sweating on a treadmill, running two torturous miles to nowhere.
The music industry has recognized this phenomenon, and pop artists tailor their songs to take advantage of this link between clubs and immortality. Jay-Z topped the 2010 charts with Young Forever, a dyslexic cover of the 1984 hit Forever Young. In Teenage Dream, Katy Perry boldly claims “we can dance until we die,” before paradoxically adding, “we’ll be young forever.” And then there’s the chorus of We R Who We R, where Ke$ha seems convinced that “we’ll be forever young” in a song that proves she should have paid more attention in the subjects of spelling and biology.
Ke$ha’s consistent presence at the top of the charts continues to mystify some people, and by “some people” I mean my parents. After all, she’s lacking in two major qualities of successful pop stars. She’s not sexy, and she doesn’t have much musical talent, considering her singing voice sounds like the demented lovechild of a valley girl and C-3PO. But all her songs are designed for the club scene, and somehow they’re pretty damn great. Now, before we get any further, let me make something clear: I’m not saying Ke$ha is “great” in the same way artists like the Beatles are great. John Lennon wrote profound lyrics like, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans,” while Ke$ha lines are little more obtuse (“I threw up in the closet and I don’t care.”) So let’s keep things in perspective. After all, Paul McCartney signs his name with a “Sir,” and Ke$ha signs her with a dollar symbol. Still, when it comes to making you feel immortal, Ke$ha’s mad beats have the Beatles beat. She’s botox for your soul.
Ke$ha is the queen of the club scene because her songs are instruction manuals on how to party and feel young. When she’s not providing a detailed account of the way she dominates the club, she’s giving direct orders to her kingdom of partygoers. She adamantly insists that you “dance till your pants come off!” She incessantly shouts “D.J, turn it up!” because she’s Ke$ha and the D.J is her bitch. Her party demands don’t always make sense (“grab your gamma ray!”) and they aren’t always practical (“piss in a bottle of Dom Perignon!”), but they don’t have to be realistic as long as she delivers them with such conviction. She’s 100% sure about how one should act at a club, and that automatically vaults her above 99% of the people actually at the club. Ke$ha knows that she’s the world’s leading authority on club behavior, and she’s not afraid to exploit it without subtlety. Hell, her latest remix album is entitled “I Am the Dance Commander and I Command You to Dance.” Ke$ha prefers her records full of imperatives and her closets full of puke.
I follow Ke$ha’s orders because I’m scared of her. I know it’s surprising that a former college football player who wears sleeveless shirts at the gym would be afraid of a pop star that wears fishnets. But seriously, can you blame me? Ke$ha looks like she would lock me into a bathroom and force me to snort heaps of cocaine laced with cyanide and glitter.
Ke$ha tells me to go to clubs, so I go to clubs. After all, rejecting that scene would be like rejecting my youth. The problem, of course, is that simply going to the club isn’t enough. You have to dominate the shit out of the club, and that’s a skill I haven’t yet developed. I can’t dance, and $12 drinks are tough for someone who makes his living by writing about Dunkaroos. All I know is that it’s hard to get krunk in corduroy pants. Luckily, I have Ke$ha to guide me, my personal sherpa to the top of Mount Awesome.
I’ve been tempted to follow all of Ke$ha’s orders in her most popular hit Tik Tok, to see if the literal translation of her lyrics leads to a figurative fountain of youth. The thing is, her blue print for the ultimate club experience isn’t very appealing. I’ve never “brushed my teeth with a bottle of Jack,” but I have had the unpleasant experience of making out with a drunk girl chewing mint gum, which I’m guessing is a similar taste. But it doesn’t matter if her lyrics are repulsive or unrealistic. These instructions are just a means to an end, and that end is immortality. That’s why this new generation of club music is here to stay: Artists like Ke$ha have teamed up with clubs to momentarily mask our primal fear that our youth has an expiration date.
Tik tok on the clock, but the party don’t stop.