Ke$hology At 100: A Review of the Field
Stanislaw Kaslowski, Emory University
Presented at the Southern Ke$hology Association's Annual Conference
June 1, 2110
year, Ke$hologists around the country will gather for their
respective annual conferences. But this year is a special one for the
field. The year 2110 marks our discipline's unofficial 100th
an august occasion is understandably seen as cause for celebration.
The SKA has spared no expense for the centennial, contracting with
the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to perform songs from the albums
during the conference. Ke$hologists rightly take pride in the field's
all is not well in our discipline. Across countless fault lines,
Ke$hologists on one side bicker with Ke$hologists on the other.
Conflicts over methodology and the appropriate scope of Ke$hology in
century rage in our finest journals. And so it is both appropriate
and necessary at this time of pride and jubilation to ask difficult
questions of our field.
Is Ke$hology primed for another century of vigorous
scholarship? Or is our discipline destined to whither and die like
such formerly respected academic fields as Gagalogy, Bieberomics and
Before we can look forward, however, we must look back,
and the Southern Ke$hology Association's annual conference is the
perfect occasion for such a retrospective. When SKA approached me
about writing a history of our field's early years for this
conference, I jumped at the opportunity. I have devoted my life to
the academic study of Kesha Rose Sebert, aka Ke$ha. I studied under
the famed Ke$hologist James Harvin at the University of North
Carolina. And I believe now, more than ever, the field needs
introspection if it is to survive.
The Beginning: 2010-2020
first recognized, accredited department of Ke$hology opened at the
University of California-Berkeley in the fall semester of 2012. But
Ke$hologists trace the beginning of their field to the Fall 2010
issue of the Journal
It was there that a historian and classicist named
Henry Murphy published “Brush My Teeth With a Bottle of Tolerance:
Pro-LGBT Messages in Kesha's 'We R Who We R.'” Professor Murphy's
paper was inspired by Ke$ha's statement that her single was meant to
be a reaction to the tragic string of suicides among gay teenagers
the previous spring.
Looking back at Murphy piece now, we are struck by its
lack of methodological sophistication and sloppy theory building.
Murphy was a newcomer to musical analysis, and there was obviously no
independent Ke$hology field at the time. The author instead relied on
his knowledge of history and classical studies to subject “We R Who
We R” to rigorous textual analysis.
Murphy's article would never pass muster in modern academic
publications such as Ke$hology
Review, Ke$hology Quarterly or
American Journal of Ke$ha Studies,
the author blazed a trail future Ke$hologists would proudly walk.
Murphy's most stunningly insightful analysis came in this passage,
made famous by contemporary news reports:
concerns prevent a quotation of the full chorus of 'We R Who We R'.
However, the most important lines are: 'Just like the world is
ours/We're tearin' it apart.../We're dancing like we're dumb/Our
bodies go numb...'
“Ke$ha is here using her encyclopedic knowledge of classic literature (specifically, Euripides' play The Bacchae) to simultaneously defend gay teens and issue an ominous threat to the world's homophobes. In the Euripides play, the wine God Dionysus turns a blasphemous King's mother and sister into mindless savages. In a fit of blood rage, they rip the king limb from limb.
“Ke$ha wants to channel that same energy and blood thirstiness into the fight against homophobia in modern America. The artist is well-aware that her threats of violence are protected by the Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio, and has no fear of legal action. In the chorus, Ke$ha uses 'tearin' it apart' in two ways. The first, and most obvious, in in reference to the world (which is 'ours'); she intends to travel the world, Terminator-like, in an unrelenting search for the homphobes who torment gay teens. But what happens once Ke$ha finds these people?
“This is the second meaning of 'tearin' it apart.' Upon finding a homophobe, Ke$ha and her posse will become as the maenads of Greek mythology, eviscerating the evil man in a shower of blood and gore. After destroying the victim, the Kae$ads will dance the dance of death, their movements a "numb" and "dumb" simulacrum of human locomotion, their brains and souls drained of humanity by Dionysus' influence. Many observers will look on, and yea, they will tremble.”
analysis inspired academics around the country and garnered the
attention of the modern media. The paper even made its way to Ke$ha
herself, who was quoted in Rolling
saying, “That's bullshit. It's just...I have no words. I have no
idea where this guy got all that. I don't want to kill anyone.” Her
comments revealed the yawning abyss standing between artists and the
actual meaning of their works, and betrayed the reality that creators
know less about their creations than a qualified literary critic. As
a heroic academic once told a middling science fiction writer he
allowed to sit in on a class, “Just because you wrote it, what
makes you think you have the slightest idea what it's about?”
words were later engraved over the Ke$hology Department building at
wasn't long before researchers at music departments around the
country revealed the true meanings of other Ke$ha songs. The bulk of
the work, however, originated at Cal-Berkeley, where a professor
explained how Ke$ha's hit single “Tik Tok” demolished the
discursive superstructure of Keynesian economics (Black 2011).
University of California administrators announced in February 2012
that they would open the nation's first Department of Ke$hology that
fall, evicting the Physics Department from its building to make room,
reaction around the country was ferocious. Institutions from across
the political spectrum weighed in on the decision. The
New York Times
claimed in an editorial that the proposed department represented “the
worst kind of pseudo-academic pop nonsense.” The
called it a “staggering waste of taxpayer money.” The
Wall Street Journal said
“We must invade Iran.”
2015, when Ke$ha released her album Stop,
were more than 30 Ke$hology departments in universities across the
country. The first track off that album, “This. Means. Nothing.,”
made the career of a young graduate student at Penn University, Felix
dissertation, “Prude: The Evolution of Ke$ha's Sexual Identity,”
(2015) was a methodical, 200-page examination of the lyrics, “This
don't mean nothing, this song ain't worth dung/Don't want to change
the world, clean the air, save the whales/Just want to bump uglies
with a guy who's hung.”
cogently argued that the singer's use of the colloquial phrase “bump
uglies” betrayed a conception of sex as a fundamentally
unattractive act. But it was chapter four, in which Demps drew the
now-obvious parallel between Ke$ha's lyrics and the Clown's line
“Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage” from Shakespeare's
demonstrated Ke$ha's belief in the fundamentally absurd, “clownish”
nature of the phallic shape and won the author his McArthur Genius
was still resistance to the new field. When Dartmouth's Ke$hology
Department erected a statue of the singer in front of its building in
2018, commentators howled in protest. The student newspaper called
the statue “utterly ridiculous.” The
Christian Science Monitor railed
against “this monument to stupidity and reckless hedonism.” The
Weekly Standard said
“We must invade Iran.”
the tide of history could not be turned aside. This persecution
brought the still-growing core of Ke$hologists closer together,
helped them form a bond of brotherhood. Graduate students at
universities without departments discussed their passion in secret.
Ke$hologists came together in hellish, unsanitary conditions in order
to avoid detection. The very first national conference of
Ke$hologists was held at a Holiday
later told tales of the woefully inadequate buffet provided by hotel
Discussion and Conclusion
From such humble roots did one of academia's most august fields
spring. Over the years, Ke$hology has evolved from a qualitative,
content analysis-driven field to a discipline that includes countless
theories and methodologies. The feminist theory wave of the 2030's
(see Pouncey 2031, Haden 2033, Moody 2035 for examples) rocked the
field. The statistical revolution of the 2050's helped transform
Ke$hology into a rigorous scientific discipline. When they introduced
multiple linear regression analysis to the Ke$hology journals in the
face of intense resistance, authors like Nelson (2051) and Hernandez
(2059) ensured the discipline would survive and thrive.
Ke$hology is at a crossroads. For more than a decade we have been
bickering over the legitimacy of analyzing Ke$ha's music videos as
well as song lyrics. The statistical revolution has left many
qualitative analysts feeling under appreciated and under published.
These problems and many others rack our field and threaten its
While we listen to the strings of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's violin section play through the chorus of “Blah, Blah, Blah,” we should turn our thoughts to the future and to our fellow Ke$hologists.