Overplayed Song of the Week: Ke$ha, ‘Die Young’

Weeks on Chart: 9
Peak: No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100, December 5, 2012
Current Radio Play: No. 6 on Z100’s playlist


It’s Ke$ha week here at Grantland, as it should be everywhere in America: Her new album, Warrior, has dropped to remarkably — and 100 percent accurate! — positive reviews, and her big single “Die Young” is knocking on the door of official Biggest Song Right Now status. (Only Rihanna’s “Diamonds” stands between it and the top spot on the Hot 100. Ke$ha, have you considered integrating more #TeamBreezy into your Instagram presence?) So, just to briefly summarize the review pool through line: Used to be you could get whole roomfuls of people riled up by defending the lilting lyricism of Ke$ha (ahem, “rat a tat tat on your dumb dumb drum / the beat so fat gonna make me come … over to your place”), but now “loving Ke$ha unabashedly” is the new “hating Ke$ha with great force,” and so if you want to be an effective contrarian/troll/spoilsport in all matters Ke$ha you’re gonna to have to tell people how you only like it when Ke$ha’s rapping. ANYWAY: “Die Young.” Produced by the magically prolific mentor/protégé team Dr. Luke and Benny Blanco, and co-written by fun.’s Nate Ruess and mf’ing Kesha Sebert herself, it’s a gleeful trumpeting of the party line. As in: party. Party like your death is imminent, but not of a terminal illness that would inhibit your party abilities. Matter of fact, you know what? Why don’t you just go ahead and party so hard that you die prematurely.

Production notes: Here’s Wikipedia, crushing it as always: “The song was written in 2011, after Ke$ha traveled the world. Before working on her second studio album, she went on a spiritual journey. Recalling experiences of feeding baby lions and swimming with great white sharks, Kesha said, “I got hypnotized, and I just really wanted this record to be really positive, really raw, really vulnerable and about the magic of life.” That makes perfect sense, as this song is basically the emotional equivalent of feeding a baby lion while riding on top of a great white shark. It starts off with the riff muted, like maybe you just woke up underwater and are swimming to the surface as hard as you can but then you kick through for air and take a giant breath and it’s bam, right into the chorus, only it’s just an acoustic guitar strum bit, so now it’s like you swam to shore and there’s a sick plane crash survivor party going on, because finally, finally, those sweet, sweet drums kick in. The tricky magic of “Die Young” is that it’s actually relatively pared-down, as far as lead singles from pop starlets who dress in Dumpster detritus go. The verses find Ke$ha doing her choppy talky thing, and the pre-chorus drops out everything but the strumming, and so when the swells do come — the “We’re gonna die young!” [clap clap clap] We’re gonna die young!” [clap clap clap] “Let’s make the most of the night like we’re gonna die young” [SYNTHS!!!] — they’re all the more epic.

In the video, Ke$ha, in a dramatic black veil, gets carried by handsome men into what looks like a rickety old barn that she and her friends immediately go about trashing and then doing choreography in. Once again, Wikipedia: “Playing the role of a cult leader, Ke$ha and her fictitious disciples raid a hamlet in rural Mexico, engaging in various forms of sexual debauchery … the video is a shout-out to the Illuminati.”

Lyrical notes: Straight up, the first time I heard this thing I was disappointed: “let’s make the most of the night like we’re gonna die young”? Total cop-out. I thought I could count on a Ke$ha song called “Die Young” to actually instruct young people to die. Now I’m on my 10 millionth listen, give or take, and I’ve come to appreciate what it is that Ke$ha has chosen to do with the “live fast, leave a pretty corpse” motif. And what Ke$ha has chosen to do with it is write a poem. “I hear your heart beat to the beat of the drums,” she tells us in the first line, introducing us to her deuteragonist. All we know is that he’s a guy, and that he’s taken, and that it’s tragic: “Oh what a shame that you came here with some oooooooonneee.” He’s got forbidden love written all over his face, and he’s got magic in his pants, and so, raging back against the dying of the night as best she can, Ke$ha takes the fellow into her arms and dances, free and clear and young and alive — if only for tonight.

Misc: Lastly, two asides. First: As strong as I feel about “Die Young,” truly, my heart lies with “C’mon,” the second single off Warrior. C’mon, c’mon, c’moooooon. It’s massive, and I hope it one day reaches “overplayed song of the week” status all on its own. Second: For the most part, we here in New York don’t drive, and therefore don’t have the benefit of stumbling across this stuff on the radio. Outside of, I guess, the Gap, the only way I’m hearing Ke$ha is if I do so completely out of my own volition. Just want you to know that about me.

Filed Under: Ke$Ha, On Repeat

Amos Barshad has written for New York Magazine, Spin, GQ, XXL, and the Arkansas Times. He is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ AmosBarshad