Friday, January 08, 2010

Ke$ha and white trash aesthetic

I don't have cable TV, so I was late to the game in being exposed to Ke$ha, the latest pop-tart-of-the-moment. (I'm sure that some would be tempted to give this title to Lady Gaga, but I have a feeling that Gaga's career will actually have some longevity and/or artistic relevance.) She's notable, thus far, for two things: providing the female vocals to Flo Rida's embarrassingly awful "Right Round" and her own painfully annoying debut single, "TiK ToK". Which you can see right here:

So when I saw this, my immediate reaction was that someone - or some company- has discovered that a white trash aesthetic is commercially viable. (I didn't realize that there's a 'white-girl rap' scene, which I suspect plays up this look.) And so the video struck me as hugely exploitative - some label found a trashy girl with whiny vocals and is mocking her while appearing to celebrate her. (As opposed to, say, Britney or LiLo, whose trashiness the label tried to hide.)

And then I looked Ke$ha up on Wikipedia and visited her website. She calls her style "garbage chic" and explains that the dollar sign in her name is ironic, and describes the album to Maxim as "a cross between Beastie Boys and a tranny with a hangover". (What that actually means, I'm not sure.) And the website with all the howling wolves and web 1.0 design quirks? That simultaneous celebration/revulsion for white trash culture is pretty much the calling card of more-clever-than-thou hipster humor. So it's not some evil corporation that's (wholly) appropriating the white trash aesthetic - it's Ke$ha herself.

A slightly related note: When I first started reading the sociocultural lit on white trash, I picked up the rather obviously titled White Trash. One of the rather interesting things that emerged from it was that none of the authors actually laid claim to the identification, nor did they really comment on their personal aversion to the topic - most of them said that they either were white trash or feared being white trash, but all of them distanced themselves from it to a large extent. (One article seems to be an exception, in which the author lauds country music, but it's also an exception in that she's possibly the only author in the collection that doesn't feel/fear that she was white trash.) It led me to remark to some friends, in a play on subaltern politics, that 'white trash can't speak' - that only reformed white trash can speak of white trash in an academically meaningful sense. Even in pop music, it seems, it can only be ironic.

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