TERRY GROSS, HOST:
The 25 year old pop star Ke$ha has had a number of big pop hits in recent years, including the songs "Tick Tock" and "We Are Who We Are." While she has a mass following, her music has frequently been criticized by some critics and listeners as lightweight and over produced. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of Ke$ha's new second album "Warrior."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE INTO THE LIGHT")
KE$HA: (singing) I know I'm not perfect. I know I've got issues. I know that I've got a sordid past and bad tattoos. I'm not a model. I am not a saint. I'm sorry, but I am just not sorry 'cause I swear and 'cause I drink...
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Ke$ha uses a dollar-sign instead of an "s" in the middle of her stage name. It's one of those gestures that is meant to bait her detractors - suggesting before anyone else does that she's only in it for the money.
It turns out, though, that like pop stars ranging from Madonna on back to Chuck Berry, Ke$ha wants it both ways: mass-audience success and artistic acknowledgment. For Ke$ha, that's what her album title "Warrior" means: She's fighting a war on multiple fronts.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIE YOUNG")
KE$HA: (singing) I hear your heartbeat to the beat of the drums. Oh, what a shame that you came here with someone. So while you're here in my arms, let's make the most of the night like we're going to die young. We're going to die young. We're going to die young. Let's make the most of the night like we're going to die young.
TUCKER: To continue the war metaphor Ke$ha introduces on "Warrior," sometimes combatants die on the battlefield. That song, called "Die Young," is all about living as though you might not be here tomorrow. Ke$ha's idea of conducting war is, to be sure, pretty frivolous; this song and others here are party anthems.
But they're party anthems with a special urgency - you can hear Ke$ha, in the way she sings and the way the songs are arranged, attempting both valiantly and confidently to convince a listener that she's not going anywhere. That she's neither so party-crazy that she's going to burn out, or that she's not so auto tuned or overproduced that she's going to be consigned to novelty-act status.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WONDERLAND")
KE$HA: (singing) I was just a young kid with time to waste. Living out of my car. Those were the days. We were all the wild ones, the wasted youth. Other than a dream, had nothing to lose. Ain't it funny how time flies, fades into gold. Now I want to do a drive-by but I can't find the road. Back to wondering where it all began. Everything was so simple then, living life like our last weekend.
(singing) Wish I could find my way back to Wonderland.
TUCKER: Ke$ha was raised in Nashville and Los Angeles. Her mother has worked as a songwriter whose output includes a hit for Dolly Parton, "Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You." Ke$ha herself seems to have been listening to country music in putting together "Warrior" - particularly Taylor Swift's diaristic compositions.
The confessional impulse comes to the fore in a song called "Wonderland" and another one, "Thinking of You." But because "Warrior" is positioned as Ke$ha's move toward semi-legitimacy, she wants to cover many genres. And so she collaborates with a couple of members of The Strokes in the rock-ish song "Only Wanna Dance With You" and seems giddily proud to introduce her duet partner on this song, "Dirty Love." Why, it's punk pioneer Iggy Pop.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIRTY LOVE")
KE$HA: (singing) Whoa-oa-oa-oa. It's Iggy Pop!
IGGY POP: Yeah!
KE$HA: (singing) Who-oa-oa-oa.
POP: And Ke$ha.
KE$HA: (singing) Whoa-oa-oa-oa. All right! Get up!
KE$HA: (Singing) Don't want your money. I got my own. You're not my daddy. Baby, I'm full grown. Don't complicate it. Don't tell me lies. I'm not your girlfriend. I ain't never gonna be, or your wife. Oh, oh, oh. I just want your dirty love. Oh, oh, oh, I just want your dirty love. All I need is to get in between your sheets. Oh, oh, oh, I just want your dirty love.
(singing) I just want your dirty love. I just want your dirty love. I just want your dirty love.
POP: (singing) Cockroaches do it in garbage cans. Rug merchants do it in Afghanistan. Santorum did it in a V-neck sweater. Pornos produce it but wild child can do it better.
TUCKER: At various, regular points throughout "Warrior," Ke$ha keeps asserting that she wants to, quote "get wasted," and that she "doesn't care." But the intensity of her singing - and the intensity of the beats she's created with a number of producers, most prominently Dr. Luke - stands as a musical rebuke to such hedonistic sentiments.
Unlike a lot of hipsters who try hard to make it seem as though they're doing nothing, Ke$ha is actually trying very hard. She'd never admit it, but she wants your approval. Which renders the attempts to craft a terrific album while insisting it's a throwaway makes "Warrior" seem all the more impressive.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed Ke$ha's new album "Warrior." You can download podcasts of our show on our website freshair.npr.org and you can follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com.