Ke$ha never had a chance to be considered a credible artist: The debauched tone of her first single, “Tik Tok,” led detractors to brand her as nothing more than a vapid party girl puking up last night’s glitter. This pigeonholing lingered even though subsequent tunes “We R Who We R” (cheerleader-pop with robotic grooves) and “Your Love Is My Drug” (Swedish pop with an ’80s chaser) proved her pop-star mettle and staying power.
Perhaps being consistently underestimated explains why Warrior, Ke$ha’s second album, occasionally feels vengeful. The title track is a surging call for revolution with zippered electro zaps and choppy digital effects, while the scathing “Thinking Of You” eviscerates a former crush (“Found out you were full of it / I’m over it, so suck my dick”) by alternating between harsh rock drums and a swaying pop chorus with trilling vocals. During “Crazy Kids,” meanwhile, Ke$ha establishes dual personalities: On the acoustic guitar-driven choruses, she’s sweet and melancholy as she reveals her insanity; on the electronic-dipped verses, she unloads snappy hip-hop boasts (“I’m no virgin or no Virgo / I’m crazy that’s my word, though”) to assert herself.
Of course, writing quality tunes is the best revenge on any haters. And although Warrior has no shortage of modern techno-pop songs espousing endless love and/or long, magical nights (“Wherever You Are,” “Die Young,” “C’Mon”), the album takes some bold musical risks. The soul-strut “Dirty Love” is a gloriously unhinged duet with Iggy Pop that finds Ke$ha unleashing her inner Broadway cabaret singer, while the gooey, ’70s-piano-pop ballad “Wonderland” survives (and even thrives) on the strength of her Nashville-esque vocal delivery. And if the guitar-heavy “Only Wanna Dance With You” resembles The Strokes’ peppy garage-rock, well, it’s because that band’s Julian Casablancas and Fab Moretti appear on the song.
Those who already loathe Ke$ha probably won’t find Warrior any more endearing than her past work. (Not that she’d care—if anything, the singer seems galvanized by polarized reactions.) But anyone up for giving her a second chance—or recognizing she has actual singing, writing, and performing talent—just might be pleasantly surprised.