Being a pop queen isn’t easy. Popular opinion says there can only be one at any given time, and the rest are dismissed as imitators. Every now and then, however, one of these dismissed imitators is able to carve out a distinct niche and become queen of their own domain.
This is exactly what Ke$ha has done. When she debuted in 2009, mine was one of many voices dismissing her as a Lady Gaga also-ran.
In hindsight, that accusation wasn’t fair then, and it certainly isn’t fair now. Ke$ha’s album “Warrior,” which came out last November, solidifies her own distinct style and is better than any pop album released since then.
The problem with breaking into your own niche is that you inevitably attract imitators of your own, whether they’re new artists or experienced veterans trying to stay relevant. If January is any indication, Ke$ha will have plenty of people riding her coattails in 2013, and the result so far is not pretty.
Two songs currently topping the charts, the will.i.am and Britney Spears collaboration “Scream & Shout” and Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child,” both sound like rejected Ke$ha demos inexplicably and unfortunately released as singles.
“Scream & Shout,” off of will.i.am’s upcoming album “#willpower” (which is actually what it’s called) is a prime example of how electro-pop, an intrinsically upbeat genre, can still manage to be boring. The lyrics about dancing, and “let[ting] it all out” fit the genre to a T, but the “minimalist” beat and production seem more lazy than intentional. The song is punctuated throughout by the refrain “bring the action,” but they never do. The song rides the same basic beat with almost no embellishment for almost five minutes.
Compared to the inventiveness and variety of Ke$ha’s tracks like “Warrior” and “Die Young,” “Scream & Shout” falls flat. To Britney’s credit, she is the highlight of the track, and by she, I mean the repeated “it’s Britney b****” sample from her 2007 track “Gimme More,” occasionally letting the listener pretend they’re listening to a different and much better song.
Meanwhile, Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child,” currently No. 5 on the Billboard Pop Charts, takes the electro-pop anthem formula and makes it as cheesy as possible. Whereas Ke$ha’s anthems (“We R Who We R,” “Die Young”) combine arena-ready beats with a fitting live-for-the-now attitude, Swedish House Mafia ruins similarly powerful and dance-ready beats with a corny and cliché message about overcoming heartbreak. The production is club-ready, but the lyrics are so sappy that dancing along feels awkward and unfitting.
Perhaps will.i.am and Swedish House Mafia will release something in 2013 that sets them apart. But for now they are stuck firmly in the shadow of the queen of electro-pop.