YEAR IN MUSIC: The dream of money amid exploding blondes and other bombshells in 2010
Ke$ha lacks little in the provocation department. "Now that I'm famous/ You're up my anus/ Now I'm gonna eat you, fool!" she whinnies in the title track of her Cannibal EP (RCA), the disappointing rejoinder to her debut, Animal (RCA). It's as throwaway as a Mr. T punchline, but the rhymes also plug into the fear and loathing inspired by Kesha Sebert, who has gone from a hick-from-the-sticks, baby celeb-in-waiting to Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie in The Simple Life to an icon worthy of YouTube parodies and frothing hater commenting. Sure, she looks a hot mess, as personified by her trash-talkin', fall-outta-the-sack, smashed-dolly turns with "Tik Tok" and "Your Love Is My Drug." Her image seems to define "hot mess": picture hipster Barbie gone wild — and drunk on old Lil' Kim raps — and then dragged over miles of rough road. Yet the criticism Ke$ha catches — Rolling Stone described her debut as "repulsive, obnoxious, and ridiculously catchy" — reads more like easy misogyny, and at moments bourgie envy, of the type that's so often aimed at the highly visible village slut.
Streaming the archetypal ho to Swift's less-sullied like-a-virgin, Cannibal nevertheless feels like leftovers, doubtless culled from the hundreds of songs Ke$ha is said to have written in the years leading up to Animal. The girl isn't above slapping the glib "man-gina" tag on a dismissible male in "Grow a Pear." But even this brief EP has a few insinuating tracks: the jokey "Blow," with its silly-giggly allusions to — ooh, naughty — backdoor fun, crackin' hoedowns, and "letting the crazy out"; baby-house hit "We R Who We R," a going-out-hard anthem infinitely preferable to the Black-Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling"; and the sassy proclamation of slatternly white-trash, um, identity, "Sleazy." The latter two tunes' adenoidal raps are reminiscent of both Ke$ha's spiritual cool aunt, Peaches, and even her very remote agent-provocateur relation M.I.A.
"I was happy being the retarded cousin of rap," M.I.A. told Billboard this year. "Now I'm the retarded cousin of singing." Likewise, who isn't tired of complaints about Maya Arulpragasam's ragged performances and bumpy raps — she makes a virtue of the rugged and raw with Maya (Interscope/XL), easily the most musically compelling recording by any of the aforementioned divas (with production by Blaqstarr, Rusko, Switch, Diplo, and Sleigh Bells' Derek E. Miller, among others). The iPhone and Google shout-outs; dark, grating, and metallic samples; and a gory, not-altogether-successful Romaine Gavras video for the hardcore-inspired "Born Free" add up to what might be considered her most American album.
Maya is an intriguingly self-titled reassertion of identity, made amid growing fame and privilege — all things she was somewhat absurdly criticized for by Lynn Hirschberg in her "Trufflegate"-spurring cover story in the May 25 issue of The New York Times Magazine, a piece that takes M.I.A. to task for her frank — and ironic — comments, castigates her as both politically naive and artistically manipulative and offers up several head-scratching, what-year-is-this observations like "the record business in 2010 demands touring to ensure record sales" and "the oddity of using a garment linked to mercenaries to convey a very different message seemed to elude Maya."