Better Than: Frankly? Probably any other reason to go to Atlantic City, ever
“Ke$ha and Pitbull are playing Atlantic City over Memorial Day Weekend.” Is there any part of that sentence that isn’t perfect? No. No, I tell you. Here are a few reasons why.
But most of all, because Ke$ha, our RiFF RaFF-cornrowed goddess of DGAF, and Pitbull, elite-grade happy-hypeman robot supreme, are two sides of the same proudly obnoxious, deliriously successful American coin, and Atlantic City is the one place where we all can be truly happy together.
At this point, we lesser life-forms should know better than to underestimate Kesha Rose Sebert. Her pair of 2010 releases — full-length debut Animal and follow-up EP Cannibal — outraged and disgusted many a critic (and generally, any anti-popstar aficionado) for their manufactured, unladylike approach to dance-pop; her 2012 sophomore album, Warrior, by contrast, mollified many of them. At best, it shocked skeptics and made them believers; at the very least, it destroyed the notion that Ke$ha was anything less than a very smart artist who knows exactly what she’s doing and how she’s going to do it. The Ke$ha of 2013, in other words, can do whatever she wants, with whatever effort level she wants — letting whole lines in songs drop onstage because she feels like it, trailing behind her dancers’ choreography and laughing about it — and you know it’s not because she couldn’t, if it would serve her better.
How could any human person have anticipated that a woman who grinds with furries and sing-raps lines like “Come gimme some of that/ Yum, like a lollipop/ Baby don’t be scared,” would introduce “[her] favorite kind of ball — eyeballs!” and parade around a pack of dancers dressed as none other than eyeball-masked, 1980s avant-garde art collective the Residents? Who could’ve predicted that those same — now unmasked — dancers would later wave gargantuan Illuminati flags alongside the Stars and Stripes? Whether or not it’s intentional, Ke$ha and her team have tailored her show to appeal to the widest cross-section of fans imaginable, giving each demographic something to make inarticulate, gleeful noises at.
Still, if it’s been said a thousand times, it still wouldn’t be enough: Ke$ha is at her best when she embraces her white-trashiest chakra. Her delivery of songs like “Gold Trans Am” and label-rejected rare gem “Machine Gun Love,” is less anthemic than, say, “Warrior” or “Crazy Kids,” but those performances are the ones that set her apart from her top-40 contemporaries. Even in an intricately stitched, (probably) thousand-dollar bodice, even with couture rhinestones all over her face, she all but bursts into flames of fearlessness when indulging that down-South, backwaters tendency that so many have loathed from the get-go. It is revelatory, and it is glorious. (Relatedly, her Purple Rain-esque band’s destruction of a metal riff on “Tik Tok” is offensively good.)
Now here’s the thing about Pitbull that earlier versions of this writer would institutionalize herself for saying. Say what you will about Armando Pérez’s eerily absent charisma as he stalks the stage among his dancers; or about his more-or-less sing-along setlist, half of which was comprised of other artists’ songs that merely feature Pitbull; or about the parts of his rags-to-riches narrative that have been breached more eloquently, by vastly better artists — the guy makes his audience so innocuously happy (well, generally innocuous), it’s hard to hold much against him. He amalgamates songs of his contemporaries (Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party),” Black Eyed Peas’ “I’ve Got a Feeling,” Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” even the guitar riff from “Sweet Child o’ Mine”) as if demanding fun be had, whether it’s through his music or not. He crows, “ATLANTIC CITY!” and your heart practically explodes with the appropriateness of the situation at hand; he shouts, “HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND!” and you remember for a brief moment that you are not shopping at H&M but are, in fact, still in Atlantic City at the Golden Nugget casino actually watching songs like “Give Me Everything” play out in front of you, and also that Pitbull wants you to have a good Memorial Day weekend.
The dude may well turn out to be the world’s most advanced popstar android (there’s no way to tell whether those sunglasses are protecting fans against Scott Summers-status laser destruction (his Matrix-esque light show sure seemed to imply as much), but people lose their minds with joy at hologram performances in this era. A marginally talented crossover dance-rapper who shouts out his Afghanistan-bound nephew, and bridges cultural gaps (see: aforementioned blonde moms losing their minds for a solid 90 minutes) is hardly the worst thing international pop has going for it. Especially in Atlantic City.
That is the one thing you might not expect from a chintzy casino gig by people like Pitbull and Ke$ha: the sense that everyone in the wide myriad of attendees — well, apart from the dudes who got dragged out, bloody-faced, by their starched collars for fistfighting — simply had a no-holds-barred good time at a concert. It’s absurd that that kind of general appeal is a rarity, but as things are, one can’t help but treasure it.
Critical Bias: One of the people I came to Atlantic City with told me over dinner that my obsessive tweets about Warrior last winter were what forced her to reconsider Ke$ha.
Random Notebook Dump: Dudes walking out of the venue with Ke$ha’s glitter-confetti still stuck in their hair = <3
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 27, 2013