Words have definitions and they have usages. In general, a word’s definition and its usage overlap, though sometimes — for example, peruse, literally, non-plussed — there has been slippage, and they no longer quite do. While we do not have a particular pony in this race (the race being, you know, whether incorrect usage indicates the “death” or “robust life” of the English language), as objective observers we are obligated to point out that one word has arrived at the juncture at which its usage and its definition are parting ways. “Hard-core” is the word in question, and Ke$ha’s new video “Take It Off” is the juncture. Two roads are diverging in a wood, and “hard-core” has to choose whether to take the one Ke$ha traveled by.
“Take It Off,” Ke$ha’s most impressive contribution thus far to the Auto-Tune discography, is about a “A place downtown / Where the freaks all come around / It’s a hole in the wall / It’s a dirty free-for-all.” This place is supposed to be hard-core, which we know because Ke$ha growls and grunts about it at the lower end of her range, some minor chords are deployed, and the lyrics (sung to the tune of “There’s a place in France”) tell us so: “There’s a place I know / If you’re looking for a show / Where they go hard-core / And there’s glitter on the floor.” Of course, one of hard-core’s leading definitions is “an activity, location, or lifestyle wholly anathema to glitter,” so even before the video for “Take It Off,” Ke$ha was nudging “hard-core” in a new direction.
In the video, she all but shoves it, making the case that glitter is the essence of hard-core-ness. It begins with Ke$ha and some young men and women strutting around a seedy motel in a desert landscape, jumping over burned-out cars while wearing Mad Max–ish garb as an indication that they are either having the “dirty free-for-all” mentioned in the song’s lyrics, or have somehow talked JCPenney into featuring them in a grittier than usual ad campaign. Ke$ha is really savoring the term “hard-core,” enunciating it forcefully. Then, at the 1:36 mark, glitter makes its first appearance, as gold sand billowing off a man’s shoulders. Twenty seconds later, the video goes glitter mad, with a sort of multicolored, screen-saver-esque explosion of the stuff. After this, the whole thing degenerates into an extended homage to the food-fight scene from Hook, if it were conducted in a drained swimming pool and with glitter, not colorful Play Doh. In other words, this video is “hard-core” only if hard-core has come to mean itself and its opposite. Possibly it has.