In The Ones of the ’10s, I’m reviewing every single that hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 2010s and working my way up into the present.
Kesha- “We R Who We R”
HIT #1: November 13, 2010
STAYED AT #1: 1 week
Very rarely do we get a hit song that deals directly with social issues. Even in an era like the ‘60s, an era often noted for its abundance of songs talking about what was happening in the world, many of these songs don’t make much of an impact on the pop charts. As music critic Chris Molanphy points out when a song comes along that protests or deals with major issues, the ones that perform better on the charts are the ones that touch on them in vague and watered down ways making them palatable to mainstream music listeners. With “We R Who We R,” Kesha attempted to make her own social anthem even though it’s not a whole lot different than from a lot of her work at this time.
After “TiK ToK” became the first #1 single of the ‘10s, Kesha became an instant hit machine with the next three singles released from her debut album, Animal, hitting the Top 10 continuing the drunk party girl image she had cultivated on “TiK ToK”: The 3OH!3 collaboration “Blah Blah Blah” peaked at #7. It’s a 1. “Your Love Is My Drug” peaked at #4. It’s a 3. “Take It Off” peaked at #8. It’s also a 4. She also scored another Top 10 hit being featured on the 3OH!3 song “My First Kiss” which peaked at #9. It’s a 1.
With “We R Who We R,” the lead-off single from her follow up EP Cannibal, Kesha was opting for a more serious social message than the mindless party anthems that she’d become known for in 2010. Kesha has stated “We R Who We R” was inspired by the then-recent news of gay teenagers killing themselves due to constant bullying over their sexual orientation leading her to write the song with her regular producers Dr. Luke and Benny Blanco alongside fellow producer Ammo and Jacob Kasher Hindlin.
In interviews at the time, Kesha has stated “We R Who We R” was meant as an empowerment not just for gay teenagers but for anyone who feels like they don’t belong in society, “I was really affected by the suicides that have been happening, having been subject to very public hatred [myself]. I have absolutely no idea how these kids felt. What I’m going through is nothing compared to what they had to go through. Just know things do get better and you need to celebrate who you are. Every weird thing about you is beautiful and makes life interesting. Hopefully the song really captures that emotion of celebrating who you are. I just felt like people hate because they don’t understand or they’re jealous, It’s all coming from a very negative place and I really feel like people don’t need to pay attention to that.”
The thing is “We R Who We R” is still a mindless party jam vaguely dressed in empowerment clothing. In the song, Kesha continues the sing-rapping formula that worked for her on “TiK ToK” where she raps the verses and sings on the non-verses often with AutoTune effects. This is completed with stuttering on the chorus which Dr. Luke has said was inspired by The Knack’s 1979 #1 smash “My Sharona,” “Tonight we’re going har har-har ha-ha-hard/Just like the world is our our-our our-our-ours/We’re tearin’ it apart part-part pa-pa-part.”
Lyrically, it’s not all that different. Kesha talks about going to a wild party at night where The only main difference is in its context. With “TiK ToK” it touched on Kesha’s pre-fame lifestyle of being broke and using partying as a major escape from the economic troubles of everyday life. “We R Who We R” on the other hand is Kesha getting for the party while using her newfound fame to brag about how awesome she and her partying friends are, “We running this town just like a club/And no, you don’t wanna mess with us/Got Jesus on my necklace-ace-ace.”
Right in the opening line, Kesha describes herself as “hot and dangerous” which by late 2010 was pretty much a true observation. Some lyrics point to the gay pride inspiration Kesha talked about but it’s all done in vague as hell lines such as “If you’re one of us, then roll with us/You know we’re superstars, we are who we are.” Also, for a song that’s meant to sympathize with gay teenagers, we get Kesha talking about going out with guys, “Dressin’ it down, hittin’ on dudes (hard).” If you didn’t know anything about its story then you’d think it was just another dirty party song Kesha was doing at the time which it mainly is.
This wouldn’t be a problem if the music and production were any good which it isn’t. It’s the same Dr. Luke style of a four-note synth melody and electropop production that doesn’t go anywhere. The AutoTune on Kesha’s voice becomes more annoying especially on the bridge where she goes, “DJ, turn it up-up-up-up-up-up-up” constantly with her voice getting pitch-shifted at the end on both the low and high ends.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make a celebratory song for people who are often denied that feeling at every other point in their lives. For the time, “We R Who We R” did what Kesha hoped it would do. Activist Dan Savage, who at the time had just created the anti-bullying It Gets Better campaign, praised the song and other songs like it. In 2011, Kesha teamed up with the Human Rights Campaign for a new t-shirt with the song’s title displayed for that year’s National Coming Out Day. So “We R Who We R” has managed to help lots of people. That’s good. It doesn’t mean I have to like the song.
The Cannibal EP would launch one more Top 10 single, “Blow” which would peak at #7 in 2011 (It’s a 6.). After that, she’d co-write Britney Spears’ #3 hit “Til The World Ends,” (It’s a 4. Britney Spears will eventually appear in this column) and release her second full-length album Warrior in 2012 which yielded the #2 hit “Die Young,” (It’s an 8.). She’ll be back in this column one more time but it won’t be on her own.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s The Key of Awesome’s parody of “We R Who We R”