Queen of the Lizards
In the Valley of the 14-Year-Old Hookers
"I’ll usually go out, have one fucking insane night, come home half-drunk, stumbling, and write down a few words. The next morning, I’ll wake up and be like, ‘Whoa, this story needs to be told.’” —Ke$ha, on her songwriting process, to Esquire magazine, August 2009
YouTube is home to a small but ardent group of conspiracy theorists who spend their spare time manipulating poor-quality video in order to “discover” which celebrities are actually lizard people in disguise. According to the teachings of 9/11 Truther and all-around world-class conspiracy nut job David Icke, an army of lizards that are wearing complex human-looking skin suits are controlling the course of human history. One can only detect their clever ruse by investigating grainy video footage and employing different filter effects until a brief flash of light originating from the pupil signifies the lizard pretender.
Icke-informed videos are named things like “Top 100 REPTILIAN SHAPESHIFTERS,” “UNDENIABLE PROOF OF REAL REPTILIAN!!!” and “Reptilians Exposed—You absolutely MUST watch! No.2.” You can lose entire afternoons by following links. In the comments of one such video that “outs” Vanilla Ice and Stranger editorial director Dan Savage, a commenter writes: “Watch Kesha’s video for ‘take it off’ watch it in 480p and look at her eyes around 25 seconds when she says, ‘The animal turns wild.’”
Here it is:
So. Based on the overwhelming evidence of a glimmer of light in the pupil of a person who is being filmed by a professional camera crew, as viewed on low-quality video, do I think that Ke$ha is secretly an evil sentient lizard being? Sure. Yeah. I do. I mean, why not? Right? She’s pretty, but her face is eminently forgettable: Give me a lineup of blond women in identical clothing, and I don’t think I could spot Ke$ha unless I was holding a photograph of Ke$ha in my hand. That’s kind of spooky, I guess. And she says things like this, in an April 2010 interview with Interview magazine, about her belief system:
None of it’s fabricated. Like, I have a belief that if I wear my placenta in a necklace, there’s a possibility of me gaining second sight—like being psychic. I would be wearing it whether or not I was in the public eye. I’m just honest about the things I believe in. For instance, I went yesterday to a past-life regressionist, and he told me that in my past life I was assassinated. I’m pretty sure that I was JFK in my past life.
Those are clearly the words of someone who wants to subvert the current Judeo-Christian paradigm to allow a pantheistic lizard mythology to take root. And so, with this evidence in hand, I expected to be surrounded by lizard people at Showbox Sodo on the night of the Ke$ha concert. But the bar is notably low-key. This is not some Belltown meat market. There are a few men walking around who look like exquisitely carved hunks of meat, smacking into people with their broad shoulders, turning, saying a confrontational “My bad,” and then strutting onward, making wide, frustrated circles around the perimeter of the room. But there’s no other angry or inhuman behavior to be seen.
There are two kinds of rooms you’ll find yourself in at these kinds of popular, sold-out pop-music events: a tit room and a leg room. A tit room is one in which the majority of women have preened and tended to their cleavage with gallons of moisturizer and hundreds of dollars of high-tech brassiere technology, and their clothing is less about modesty and more about providing a gilt frame for the breasts, pushing them forward into the crowd for homage and genuflection. Tit rooms are mean and nasty and overtly cruel.
Thankfully, Ke$ha has drawn a leg room, which is less aggressive and more polite than the mammary option. The women are all wearing expensive, pre-torn fishnets or glittery tights or patterned pantyhose, clomping to and fro on impractical shoes like drugged gazelles. The men are less prone to doing something stupid in front of a woman (and, therefore, her breasts) in a tit room; in a leg room, they’re more likely to wait, respectfully, for her to pass by and then stare quietly as she walks away. Several heavy-drinking females are wearing just underpants and very tall boots. A woman wearing fishnets and a tiny dress asks me to take a picture of her and her friend. Just before I snap the picture, she leans into her friend and says, “Look slutty!” I guess they succeed.
Ke$ha in Entertainment Weekly, January 2010, on people thinking that she runs around with the likes of Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie: “Oh, gross! I’m from the opposite of that. Do you think that those girls dig through the garbage for their clothes? That’s what I’m saying. And, you know, would they live in a house with 10 people that they’ve never met, you know? And would they be OK if they never came home for four days and just went to Vegas on a whim? Like, would they never wear high heels when they go out so they can run from the cops? Very different.”
There aren’t that many people up in the bar; this is an all-ages show, and almost everyone is on the floor, packed up tight against the stage. Down there, the demographic seems to be 14, female, and dressed as a prostitute from the 1980s (less Pretty Woman and more background character from Night Court). A small contingent of young gay men outdoes the teenage girls in the glitter department. A handful of young parents have brought children, ranging in age from about 3 to 12. This is a roomful of children. They mill about before the show, looking serious in their scant clothing and impractical footwear, the way children do at a birthday party before they realize that the euphoric, rapturous sensation that books promise them “fun” will feel like is really a lie.
This is a show for children.
The opening act, a grown man who calls himself Beardo, is for all intents and purposes a birthday party clown. He looks like a pedophile, with an exaggerated 1980s hairstyle (permy mullet with the sides shaved away, Kid ’N Play style, and a porny mustache) and a muscle T-shirt. He plays guitar over prerecorded backing tracks, and he says things like “Are you ready to rock?” with so many ironic quotation marks flapping around his words that it’s a miracle he’s even intelligible. He plays guitar with the overstated mien of a 6-year-old. He’s something to laugh at and forget, an insult comic eating himself to death for a crowd that’s too young to get the joke.
And then, Ke$ha.
Oh, boy, Ke$ha.
First, there’s a lot of smoke. A lot of smoke: Thick whorls tentacling out everywhere in the darkness. And then she appears, wearing glasses that are made entirely out of lights, in the darkness. All you can see is her eyes, buried inside those glowing frames, and the flap of her glossy lips and then a smear of glitter floating somewhere underneath it. People always wonder if Ke$ha is as stupid as she sounds in interviews, but I think this is proof that she’s not. If she’s so stupid, why does she begin her show by doing an impression of the cover of The Great Gatsby?
If Beardo was a perverted clown at a child’s birthday party, then Ke$ha is performing an elementary-school Christmas pageant of the damned. All the costumes and stage elements are meant to look like they were dragged out of a Dumpster a few moments before they appear onstage; when not in use, Ke$ha’s microphone rests in the hand of a female-mannequin arm propped up in the center of the stage. Her backup dancers are dressed like B-movie extras from a 1984 film about a postapocalyptic society, with tall, pointy Mohawks and leather bracelets and fake-punk couture. For much of the show, they’re all just chasing each other around the stage like a low-rent Hard Day’s Night. For “Dinosaur,” a song about being hit on by a creepy old man, one of the dancers puts on a giant plastic dinosaur head and Ke$ha batters the dinosaur with several blunt instruments, running around and laughing and smacking into the few people onstage who are actually playing musical instruments. In keeping with the retirement-home theme, there’s a brief dance sequence involving walkers and mimed anal sex.
I just like playing with makeup and clothes—so I really don’t feel like there are rules, and if there are rules, then I think it’s up to you to break them. That’s why I’m wearing blue lipstick right now, because most people would probably say it’s not a good color for your lips, but I’m here to show them that it is.
—Ke$ha to Seventeen magazine on her personal style, October 2010.
Ke$ha keeps disappearing and returning in puffs of smoke, like she’s Batman. Her costume changes are few. She wears a velvet swimsuit with a glittery skeleton glued onto it, but spends most of the show covered up in a grimy white T-shirt with a large American flag emblazoned on the front. The junky aesthetic prevails. For one of the party songs—who can keep track of which song is which when 90 percent of the songs are about parties?—someone brings out a ratty rolling cooler that has been covered with stickers and filth. During “Grow a Pear,” a man in a pear costume dances around with a man in a penis costume. “Mr. Penis!” Ke$ha chirps, and hugs the eight-foot schlong as the children roar with approval. “I think I need more glitter on my tits, don’t you?” she says near the end of the show, and her dancers surround her and bukkake her with silver glitter until you can practically hear the grit on the stage. A ratty Santa with a razor-blade-gargling voice spends the latter half of the show being the master of ceremonies.
But there’s evidence of real money being spent, too. Ke$ha and two dancers fire cannonsful of golden glitter at the audience on several occasions (I will find traces of golden glitter in strange places three or four days after the concert). The biggest production number occurs during “Cannibal.” Ke$ha crucifies a male backup dancer on a giant V in the center of the stage, cuts out his heart, and dines on it, dribbling blood down her face as the 14-year-old hookers scream for more. Then the backup dancers spin the crucified man around in a circle, nibbling at his flesh until there’s nothing left but a skeleton. (During “Cannibal,” a man is carrying a young blond woman around the crowd by her armpits. Her placid smile and dull, watery eyes indicate she’s on something: Her legs are rubbery, flopping around like they don’t have any bones in them. The pair passes in front of me, and he nearly drops her. She looks at me, smiles, reaches out, and digs her fingernails into my chest on the left side. My heart doesn’t prove as easily detached as the man onstage, and so she gives me a Buddha smile and then collapses to the concrete floor. Bouncers immediately guide her away.)
The music is terrible, of course. You’ve heard Ke$ha. It’s one step above humming to yourself in terms of complexity: da-da-da-DA-da, da-da-DA-da-DA-da-DA for four minutes before everyone’s attention span collapses and some other simple beat is necessary. But that’s all this crowd needs. You’d think they’d never been to a concert before; come to think of it, considering the median age, many of them probably haven’t been to a concert before. Ke$ha keeps shouting: “I love you, Seattle!” and “You guys are crazy!” and “Do you want to tear the motherfucking roof off this place?” and the crowd goes berserk at each stale exhortation.
But somewhere around the closing number, “We R Who We R,” where Ke$ha, Mister Rogers–like, tells the audience, “I hope that song inspires you to be yourself, unapologetically, always,” and the two-part encore, where she and the backup dancers sing “TiK ToK” while dressed as enormous tropical birds, and she bashes a piñata full of condoms into the audience during a cover of “Fight for the Right (to Party)” while wearing the Washington State flag as a superhero cape, it occurs to me: This woman is going to rule a media empire one day. She must be a lizard-alien beast; I could parse the symbols and themes out of this show for decades and still not get to the real meaning of it all. It’s like a coded alien manifesto, with too much density for human brains to understand.
In the men’s room after the show, one of the meat men is walking around in tight circles, punching stall doors and walls. He’s rapping freestyle about how he wants to kill faggots. His brain has been broken by Ke$ha. He walks out of the men’s room, kicks the door open again, and then walks away. An old mustachioed man shakes his head and says, “That guy’s going to be sucking a lot of dick before the night is through.” Outside, hordes of teenagers dressed as TV prostitutes walk down First Avenue, raving about the trashy princess they’ve just seen. If they walk all the way downtown, they’ll pass the flotilla of empty storefronts that make up Pioneer Square and the homeless people sleeping under abandoned overpasses. They’re the first generation of Americans who are almost guaranteed to do worse than the generation before.