Does glitter fuck up your stomach? 'Cause I ate a lot of it last night.
Kesha, formerly one of the biggest names in pop music is a well-known glitter aficionado, and I'm of the school of thought that you should rise to the occasion when an artist visits your home turf. You wear glitter gloss for Kesha, blonde wigs for Gaga, wide-brimmed "Formation" hats for Beyonce, and judging from a fan's outfit last night, it's only appropriate to wear a white, polka dotted faux-fur trench coat (no doubt acquired at a "Thrift Shop") when you're headed to a Macklemore concert.
But before I slathered glitter all over my arms and face, I had to find someone to come to this concert with me. Never has it been so difficult to find a plus one to go to a concert for free. My usual guest passed on the offer. Others were busy. For most, there was a simple, and very honest explanation for skipping out on a free show: No matter their feelings toward Kesha, no one wanted to sit through a Macklemore concert. Curious about the pervasiveness of that sentiment and briefly considering offering my ticket to a total stranger on the Internet, I took a glance at the concert's event page on Facebook, where I found people selling tickets that originally sold for $22 to $200 for as low as $15. Still, other tickets were going for a pathetic $3.55 on Ticketmaster's Verified Fan resale site as of early Saturday afternoon.
It's a curious state of affairs for an artist who just four years ago was a darling of critics and audiences alike, after his album The Heist broke out into the mainstream with zero backing from traditional gatekeepers and distributors: Everyone loves a David and Goliath narrative. But something changed; perhaps around the time that same album infamously beat out Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (along with offerings from Drake, Jay-Z, and Kanye West) for Best Rap Album at the 2014 Grammy Awards. In the run-up to the Black Lives Matter era, audiences began to reconsider whether they wanted a straight, cisgender, white male from Seattle to be the spokesperson for modern civil rights struggles through songs like "White Privilege" and "Same Love."
Macklemore has also contended with those tensions in his own music, but he's also (perhaps self-consciously) cultivated a goofy persona which he leaned into during his set at the AAA. Though there were serious moments where the rapper addressed his long battle with addiction, his performance was largely Macklemore the Meme: orange tophats, red fringe vests, and golden tickets under seats that bought fans prime viewing on an inflatable mattress on stage. There was also an onstage fan dance battle during "Dance Off," with the winner pulling out the Running Man, the Worm, and the Floss. Though the set was a needed reminder of the string of hits he's enjoyed ("Thrift Shop," "Downtown," Can't Hold Us," "Same Love"), Macklemore felt more like an opening act than a co-headliner, and rows of orange, empty seats could still be seen around the arena by the time he closed with "Glorious," off his latest album Gemini.
Curtains were still down on the 300-level section around the arena by the time Kesha emerged from her silver spaceship to center stage, but the rest of the arena filled out, and Kesha, one of the biggest pop acts of the 2010s, tricked thousands of people into going to a rock 'n' roll show in the year 2018, when only a handful of stewards of the formerly dominant genre are packing arenas. Kesha, whose past collaborators include Iggy Pop, the Eagles of Death Metal, and the Flaming Lips, reworked her dance-pop earworms into guitar-driven romps. On "Die Young," she sounded as if she was being backed by American Idiot-era Green Day, and "Timber" had more in common sonically with the Rolling Stones' "Country Honk" version of "Honky-Tonk Woman" than the 2013 version of the hit collaboration with Pitbull; a surprising move given her performance in the home of Mr. 305 himself.
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"My ass is out. My cape is on. I'm not fuckin' around," she declared after singing "Woman," off her 2017 album Rainbow, in which she first denoted her new musical direction. Strumming her acoustic guitar, "Bastards" was a set highlight and a welcome reminder that had she come around a few years later, Kesha could have easily made it in Nashville's underground, outlaw revival. She knows this too: Her follow-up song was a mostly acapella cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene," with only spare electric guitar backup.
Like her tourmate Macklemore, Kesha has had to crawl her way back onto arena stages after a precipitous public fall. "That song just reminds me of a time when I didn't know if I would be able to put out music again," she said after a triumphant and emotional rendition of her song "Praying," her only acknowledgement of her public legal battle with former producer Dr. Luke, whom Kesha has alleged repeatedly raped her and emotionally abused her during their years of collaboration. "I keep waiting for that song to be easy to sing, and it's not," she said, collecting herself for a few moments before launching into the closing song and the biggest hit of her career so far, her debut single "Tik Tok."
Though it was an odd pairing at first glance, Kesha and Macklemore's collaboration made more sense when the two teamed up on "Good Old Days." They sang about some struggles, like loading merch into vans and small clubs in former lives, but their stronger common bonds stem from unspoken struggles of survival: from addiction, abuse, assault, and from a music industry that turned its back on them in different ways. Their attempts at comebacks may garner mixed results, but as much as the public loves a David and Goliath story, they also love second chances.