The knee-jerk reaction is to say that Ke$ha’s breakout success is yet another reason to dislike Katy Perry, whose indefensible commercial stats paved the way for the brattiness and on-purpose stupidity of the newcomer’s “Tik Tok.” Ke$ha’s sound owes more to Perry than to somewhat more substantive bad girls like Lily Allen or Lady Sovereign, and there’s no denying the Jersey Shore trashiness that informs nearly every song on Animal, her full-length debut. But the extent to which this perspective—a particularly of-the-moment brand of aggressive banality, hedonism, and superficiality—permeates the record makes Animal a surprising, if slight, subversion of pop music’s typical gender politics. In and of itself, that angle isn’t revolutionary or profound in any way, but it does suggest the possibility that Ke$ha might have something more interesting to say.
There’s a tradeoff to the choice of “vapid” as an aesthetic, though, and it accounts for why Animal ultimately does nothing with the handful of ideas that it drunkenly stumbled upon. With her equally pitiable attempts at both singing and rapping Auto-Tuned to such an extent that she barely sounds human, Ke$ha is a faceless, anonymous pre-fabrication of a pop star. There’s no there there: Whether she’s comparing herself to a “crackhead” on “Your Love Is My Drug” or boasting about “pissing in the Dom Pérignon” on “Party at a Rich Dude’s House,” the lack of presence in her performances doesn’t suggest the likes of aloof pop stars like Rihanna or Perry so much as some kind of American Psycho-style depersonalization.
Moreover, Ke$ha (and it’s worth mentioning that she’s credited as a co-writer on all of these songs, making her as culpable for the record’s shortcomings as any of her high-profile collaborators) doesn’t even have the tenacity to follow through on her posturing. She pulls her punches on would-be serious tracks like “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes,” which attempt to touch on the consequences on the singer’s favorite pastimes but only come across as insincere. Just about the only thing Ke$ha makes convincing on Animal is that the current crop of party girls are every bit as soulless as they let on.