Friday, July 24, 2015
July 24, 2015: Billboard #1s: “Tik Tok”
[75 years ago this week, Billboard magazine released its first chart of American popular music hits. So this week, I’ll AmericanStudy five #1 hits and their cultural and social contexts. Share your thoughts on these and any other pop hits, classic or contemporary, for a chart-topping crowd-sourced post!]
On a hit that’s as terrible ethically as it is artistically, and its one redeeming moment.
It seems crystal clear to me that the moment we utter a line like, “Music [or anything else] was so much better when I was young,” we have given in to the clichés of aging and have nothing left to do but to sit on our front porch and yell at neighborhood kids to get off our lawns. And in truth, many of the recent end-of-year #1 hits have been unique and strong songs by important young artists from whom I expect to hear a lot more in the years to come: I’d cite Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” (2011) and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s “Thrift Shop” (2013), to name only two. So too with the chart’s early years: for every Perry Como or Nat King Cole classic on the list there’s one by Percy Faith or Kitty Kallen, limited, gimmicky #1 hits that have been long forgotten. Which is to say, pop music is as full of treasure as well as trash as it’s ever been—but with all that said, the subject of today’s post, Ke$ha’s mammoth dance hit “Tik Tok” (2010), definitely falls at the latter end of the spectrum.
“Tik Tok” isn’t just terrible musically, although it is that—Ke$ha isn’t much of a singer (she more or less “raps” the majority of her songs, and yes, those scare quotes are entirely warranted); while she certainly can deliver a catchy hook, her songs tend to be extremely repetitive musically, internally as well as across her career to date, and “Tik Tok” is no exception. But far worse, to my mind, is the song’s (and even more the video’s) thoroughgoing embrace of a lifestyle so debauched and destructive that the singer waking up hungover (or perhaps still drunk) in a suburban bathtub and “brushing [her] teeth with a bottle of Jack” is one of the video’s and song’s more subdued moments. I’ve got nothing against debauchery per se, and indeed agree with the Beastie Boys that we’ve got to fight, for our right, to parrrrrr-ty. But from this first hit of hers through every other song and stage of her career to date, Ke$ha has made clear that excessive partying—partying so hard that you literally cannot remember the day before and thus have to enact it all over again today—is not an escape or release valve to complement the rest of our lives and responsibilities, but our sole purpose in life, a single-minded dedication to be embraced and celebrated.
Maybe it makes me more of that clichéd old geezer than I like to admit, but I just can’t go along with that ethos. Moreover, I have to agree with the themes of Sia’s far more nuanced party hit “Chandelier” (2014), which the Australian singer opens with the haunting lines, “Party girls don’t get hurt/Can’t feel anything, when will I learn?” I haven’t seen Ke$ha express even a fraction of that kind of self-reflection or thoughtfulness, but in the spirit of fairness, I will note that the bridge of “Tik Tok” changes the song’s dynamic slightly. “DJ, you build me up/You break me down/My heart it pounds/Yeah, you got me,” Ke$sha sings (indeed, actually sings) there, and for a moment it seems that her speaker recognizes both that there’s an emotional core to the music and experiences she’s seeking and that those purposes reflect gaps as well as needs in this lifestyle. But if she does reach for that more subtle gesture, it certainly doesn’t last—right after the bridge the music stops, Ke$ha raps “Now, the party don’t start ‘til I walk in,” and we’re right back where we were. Which is perhaps where we’ve always been with pop music—among the trash, seeking those moments of treasure.
Crowd-sourced chart this weekend,
PS. So one more time, what do you think? Other hits you’d highlight?