It was my first pop concert. I went to see Ke$ha at the Champlain Valley Fair with a glittered-up posse: three girlfriends from college and Seven Days marketing and events manager Corey Grenier, who had braided her platinum hair into cornrows. I wore a skin-tight denim jumpsuit because … why not?
We were in it for the dancing and the silliness. I have a weakness for Ke$ha’s rowdy, raunchy songs, but Corey is a true pop-concert connoisseur. Her first concert, in fourth grade, was the Spice Girls. Since then she’s seen the Backstreet Boys (three times), *NSYNC (twice), Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.
So where did Ke$ha fall in Corey’s pantheon of pop princesses?
“It was the worst performance I’d ever been to,” she told me afterward. “It was a hot mess. And I don’t know why I expected anything more, because [a hot mess is] what she aims to be.”
It was easy to spot the Ke$ha fans at the fair. Mostly teen and tween girls, they were slathered in sparkles. We stopped for $4 corn dogs and watched two teen girls (sisters, perhaps?) sashay toward the grandstand in matching gold-lamé tube dresses.
After snarfing down our snacks, we funneled into what had been billed as the “golden circle” — actually the general-admission standing pit. The sun was still beaming when the opening act, Semi Precious Weapons, took the stage.
Near the beginning of their set, a young lady behind us casually barfed. I turned around shortly after the projectile landed. She gazed ahead unfazed, gently wiping chunks from her chin. We stepped away from the drama as a security guard escorted the girl away, leaving a small pool of vomit to fester on the grass.
Eventually SPW launched into what must be their signature song, “Drink,” which reminded us how very sober we were. If you want a drink in the Champlain Valley Fair grandstand, you have to leave the concert arena. So we escaped lead singer Justin Tranter’s enthusiastic twerking and pumped up for Ke$ha in the beer garden.
After all, we’re talking about a singer whose biggest hit kicks off with the following ode to debauchery: “Before I leave brush ma teeth with a bottle of Jack / cuz when I leave for the night I ain’t comin’ back.”
We pushed our way back into the golden circle just before Ke$ha’s set began. By then, the sun had set and the stage was filling up with beefy male backup dancers lunging around with long swords. Suddenly Ke$ha’s voice descended from on high. “We are the crazy people,” she said, before launching into a disconcertingly earnest lecture about self-acceptance.
She stepped onto the stage with a blinding light. I held up my hand to block it and just barely made out Ke$ha. She wore an uncomfortable-looking leotard covered in a mosaic of glass (or plastic?), glittery boots and nothing else. Her long blond hair looked and moved like a Barbie doll’s.
I don’t think of myself as old. I mean, I’m 30. But I was suddenly acutely aware of my awkward moves. And I felt a wave of embarrassment for Ke$ha, whose limited repertoire of dance moves included grinding her pelvis left or swirling it slowly right. I wondered why she chose to wear this high-cut leotard that looked like a Lady Gaga rip-off.
And the show went on.
Don’t get me wrong, it had its moments. Ke$ha upped her game in a song I’d never heard called “Gold Trans Am,” an oddly patriotic ode to roadside raunch that begins, “Wham bam, thank you, man.” A stagehand wheeled out a shoddy jungle gym — from which our golden pop star dangled — and the dancers, wearing ripped marching-band jackets, swarmed beneath her.
The number culminated when Ke$ha and her male minions strapped metal “chastity belts” around their groins and whipped out (surprise!) an arsenal of power tools, which they aimed at their crotches, grinding away, sparks flying.
That was the apex of clever choreography. After a few way-too-long costume changes — during which the backup band jammed aimlessly — the show devolved into pure laziness. Ke$ha and her dancers spent entire numbers whacking each other with pool toys and spitting various fluids (whipped cream, beer) onto unfortunate fans in the front rows.
Corey leaned over with her assessment: “Amateur hour.”
The rest of my notes — which I tapped into my phone — read like a dream-journal entry. There were men with eyeballs for heads; a miniature rainbow car; a tepid endorsement of gay marriage; a video of Ke$ha taking a bath with a horse-headed man; an announcement that she’s not pregnant; a guy in a tiger suit; and finally, at the bitter end, a half-assed kickline.
We ducked out before the encore and made a beeline for the bathroom, where we encountered paramedics strapping a young man to a gurney. We wondered why he was trying to take off his pants as they rushed him out under the bright lights of the fair.
I needed a deep-fried Oreo. Stat.