Kesha Rose, formerly known as Ke$ha, is a songwriter, singer and rapper. She got her breakthrough in 2009 when she was featured on Flo Rida’s single “Right Round”, and she has been on the music scene since then.
In January 2010, Kesha said about her sexuality, “I like people. I wouldn’t say I’m gay or straight – I don’t like labeling things anyway. I just like people.” She uploaded a video for It Gets Better – a movement to inspire LGBT youth that the bullying they receive will not last forever — to YouTube on October 5th, 2010. In the video she says:
To anybody who’s being bothered or abused or harassed or bullied, I just want to tell you that, um, it will get better. It will. No matter if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, however you are choosing to live is beautiful, and you have my full support and all of my love, and to be yourself, and it will get better. When people are mean for no reason it’s horrible, but I swear to God, it gets better, so please don’t ever give up. And, um, I love you guys.
Her message was well received and regarded as humble and inspirational. The same month, Kesha released her EP Cannibal. Kesha told Rolling Stone that she wrote the lead single from the EP, “We R Who We R”, after reading about teen suicides.
Hopefully it will be an anthem for weirdos — for real people. I was really affected by the suicides that have been happening, having been subject to very public hatred [myself]. I have absolutely no idea how these kids felt. What I’m going through is nothing compared to what they had to go through. Just know things do get better and you need to celebrate who you are. Every weird thing about you is beautiful and makes life interesting. Hopefully the song really captures that emotion of celebrating who you are. I just felt like people hate because they don’t understand or they’re jealous, It’s all coming from a very negative place and I really feel like people don’t need to pay attention to that.
Barry Walters from Spin magazine reviewed the EP and wrote: “Like most messes, Ke$ha is crazy with contradictions. On her chart-topping ‘We R Who We R’, she sends out pride vibes to bullied gays. On ‘Grow a Pear’, she emasculates a potential boyfriend: ‘I just can’t date a dude with a vag.'” The song Grow a Pear has been accused of being problematic, and I think it is problematic because the lyrics perpetuate strict gender. I think the song is criticising the man for being feminine, and I disagree with it.
You can listen to the song here.
Lyrics from the song that I will look at first are:
When we fell in love you made my heart drop / Then you had me thinking bout you nonstop / But you cry ’bout this and whine ’bout that/ When you grow a pear, you can call me back
Yeah I think you’re hot, I think you’re alright / But you’re acting like a chick all the time / You were cool and now you’re not just like that / When you grow a pear, you can call me back
Looking at the choruses, it seems that she preferred him when he was not emotional and sensitive, and considers him to lack manhood because of it. To Kesha, crying and whining is “acting like a chick” and not cool.
You were slipping and flipping / But here is the sit(uation): / I signed up for a man / But you are just a bitch
Her lyrics perpetuate restrictive gender roles because in society, it is acceptable for women to be emotional and sensitive like the man in the song. For men, it is looked down on to discuss feelings or cry or be sensitive. Men are expected to be tough and strong and protective. This is what Kesha expected of the man in the song. She found it sexy when he was sensitive (evident by the lyric “When I first met you / panties dropping”) but she had such an intolerance for him being feminine that she left him (“One day you asked if we could just talk / And that’s the reason why I’m walking), labelling him a “bitch”, an insult aimed at women.
The transphobia accusations of the lyrics (which can be considered hypocritical after Kesha said “I just like people” in regards to her sexuality) is because having a vagina doesn’t make you a woman, and having balls do not make you a man when it comes to gender. The lyrics that can be considered transphobic are:
- “I just can’t date a dude with a vag”
- “When you grow a pear, you can call me back”
- “And no, I don’t want to see your mangina”
The reason I don’t think these lyrics are transphobic is because they are not about a transman. They can be interpreted in a transphobic way, but Kesha was likely criticising a cisgender man for having feminine traits and not being traditionally masculine.
However, that is not to say Kesha has never done anything transphobic. In July 2010, Kesha said about transgender people:
Freaks are what make everything mildly more interesting in life but with trannies, they make me want to be a better woman. I see these men who have way better bodies than I do, more beautiful faces, better complexions, beautiful makeup, and they’re more fun than any person I’ve met in my life. They make me feel like I’m not a very good woman.
In this quote, Kesha mixes up transgender people and drag queens, which are not necessarily synonymous. Also, to call transgender people “freaks” who make things “mildly more interesting” is plain insulting. To call transgender people “trannies” is transphobic. It is a dehumanising and degrading slur because of how it has been used against transgender people, but I think Kesha was unaware of this. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t transphobic, but I think don’t think it can be used to label her a completely transphobic person.
In another interview that year, Kesha made the same mistake of equating transgender people with drag queens:
I am a huge fan of the transgender community. I am so not a proper, good female. I can’t dance in high heels and I’m just so not girly, but then I see these men with these banging bodies, dancing in heels, singing, and having so much fun with so much makeup on. That makes me honestly want to be a better woman. It is so fascinating that someone can commit their whole entire lifestyle to being such a fantastic woman when I’m such a bum about it.
She is perpetuating gender roles again by thinking women are supposed to be a certain way to be a “better woman”. Also in the interview, the interviewer says the music video for her song “Backstabber” (which came out in 2011) was said to be “cast almost entirely with transgender people.” In the video, the cast, besides Kesha, are drag queens.
In 2012, Kesha’s second album, Warrior, was released in November. Kesha told The Sun newspaper:
Something I kept hearing about was bullying and sexuality. I have a lot of gay and lesbian fans and they said how my music had helped them deal with bullying, so I wanted to write a record that’s about love and acceptance”, and that she wanted to inspire them to celebrate things about themselves.
Later that year, she was interviewed by Gaydar radio where she said about the single “Die Young”:
I’ve been very much inspired by a lot of my friends that are gay, or lesbians, transgender (…) The title Warrior is for my fans but it’s super relevant to my fans that have to deal with online scrutiny and hate and bullshit for just being themselves so that’s what that song was kind of even written about.
In the interview, she also said she has “a lot of gay, beautiful, beautiful men” as her dancers, but I found it troubling how she seems to treat gay men like a monolith and calls them “magical”.
In 2013, Kesha was interviewed by Seventeen Magazine. She told them, “I don’t love just men. I love people. It’s not about a gender. It’s just about the spirit that exudes from that other person you’re with”. She also said: “I’m all about standing up to gay/lesbian/transgender bullying”. It is possible that in the 2013 interview, she was aware of what actually makes someone transgender, rather than mistaking them for drag queens.
I think, especially because she has been bullied, that Kesha is being sincere when she says she supports the LGBT community and I don’t think she ever means to be against them, especially becuase she is part of the community as she is not heterosexual. I think she has problems with perpetuating gender roles, but not with being knowingly transphobic. I am not saying she is flawless and can do no wrong, but I think her transphobia comes from ignorance and not from a hateful place.