Bop Or Not: Kesha’s “Woman”
(We’re all adults here, but this song features swearing, so do not play the embedded video if you are offended by swearing. Also, don’t play this if you’re at work and surrounded by the kinds of button-down squares who are offended by swearing.)
Making music strikes me as the hardest of the things, mostly because I’m entirely unable to even keep the beat while drumming on my steering wheel while stuck in traffic. “Meanwhile, these people are doing it for an ENTIRE SONG!” I react breathlessly. I roll down my window and, while pointing wildly at the radio, scream at the people next to me, “THE WHOLE ENTIRE SONG!”
Sometimes, one-hit wonders get dismissed as being lacking, as if only having made a single song that enters the cultural consciousness long enough to be remembered forever is some sort of failure. Maybe so; maybe substantive musical achievement require artists to turn a song into songs, songs into an album, an album into albums, weeks into months, months into years, years into decades. But I’m still sitting there in traffic, screaming at the car next to me.
Kesha isn’t a one-hit wonder. She’s had her own huge successes -- including “TiK ToK” a song that might be held against her as much as it is celebrated -- but has spent the last few years embroiled in ugly back-and-forth lawsuits with Dr. Luke, her producer, and a man she has repeatedly accused of abuse, both sexual and emotional. Such scandalous news, fairly or otherwise, can often serve to push Kesha’s considerable talent into the background.
It would seem as though she has had just about enough that.
She has spent the last several weeks releasing new music, all of it seems aimed, directly or otherwise, at Dr. Luke and their all-consuming controversy. She released a haunting track called “Praying” on which she simultaneously declares her independence and asserts that the world will have forgotten her unnamed foe by the time she’s through. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to imagine who that foe might be. That track isn’t what we’re here for though. We’re here for “Woman.”
Let’s start with Kesha herself. She’s belting it, and it isn’t hard to see shades of heavy-hitters* like Aretha Franklin’s “Think” or Loretta Lynn’s “Mad Mrs. Leroy Brown” in her aggressive delivery. It is easy to focus on something like, “I’m a motherfucking woman/baby alright/I don’t need a man/to be holding me too tight…” -- and in fact, some dorkus is almost certainly going to, inevitably pointing out that the singers who came before Kesha didn’t rely on such profanity -- but “Driving around town, in my Cadillac, girls in the front, boys in the back,” gets the job done too. And speaking of those boys: they’re sitting in the back of that big Cadillac, and they only move when Kesha says so. That’s a nice bit of visual storytelling.
But the song is bigger than Kesha’s delivery. It is also a tribute to who she surrounds herself with. In this case, she’s got not only Saundra Williams with her in the front seat, but the Dap-King Horns in the back. Both Williams and the horn section are from Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, a group of performers that knew damned well how to back the hell out of their lead-singer.* The same thing is happening here, as Williams and those horns go real big, packing an enormous trailing punch on Kesha’s booming thrust.
So here’s the thing: a Bop is a song that has one dancing in their seat, but stops short of getting somebody up and out of their seat. Kesha’s “Woman” isn’t that. Kesha’s “Woman” moves a person, straight through a brickwall if there’s one nearby. Kesha’s “Woman” is a capital-B Banger.
*Speaking of heavy-hitters, Kesha got Dolly Parton to guest on her new album. Dolly Parton doesn’t do anything for anybody that she doesn’t want to. She’s as close to American musical royalty as it is possible to be. That she believed in appearing with Kesha ought to be enough for anybody.
**Rest In Peace, Sharon Jones.
***I couldn’t figure out anywhere else to stick this, so here is Kesha covering “The House Of The Rising Sun” with The Roots. Please ignore the implied presence of Jimmy Fallon.