Turn up the lights in here, baby / extra bright, I want y’all to see this / turn up the lights in here, baby / you know what I need, want you to see everything / want you to see all of the lights – Kanye West, “All of the Lights”
Amidst the darkened sky of endless pop, visibly void of any specific stars; Ke$ha and Eminem emerged as groundskeepers sparking the scene from the floor – lighters up. This year we saw a party animal, a rehabilitated recovery, and a cultural cannibal unleashed; and behind the music we saw kindred kindling ignited, revealing both sides of the Bic: the disposable house-party-fueling flicker, and the timeless stadium torch.
This year Ke$ha served the purpose of the former, sparking the fire that fueled the gutter-grime-glitter sound lingering across basements and American airwaves like a tobacco smoky haze over the backseat of a golden Trans-Am. She opened the year with “Tik-Tok” and, by default of its January 1 release date, started the proverbial pop party with her entrance. Ke$ha was that frathouse staple – ready to spark the camel, willing to blaze the j, and able to pop the top off a Pabst at a seconds notice. She was the music that set the mood, the tunes that kept the backyard bacchanals alive, and – much like that flick-happy Bic with a flame as disposable as the fueled fun – she was out by the dawn, right before your parents get home. The Southern truckette raised Hell with tales of rogue revelry at rich kids’ parties, and was the exalted embodiment of too-drunk-to-function-but-lit-enough-to-keep-gunnin’.
Meanwhile, Eminem went from Slim Shady to stadium staple with his comeback album, Recovery. As much as it is a disposable spark, the Bic lighter represents the iconic glow of the masses at a vintage Americana live show. Where Ke$ha blazed as a trailer park queen, Em emerged, a torch-yielding psycho, somewhere from a dark corner ready to be seen. In 2010, Eminem battled back harder than Betty Ford off the heels of his past shadows, from the recoil of Encore‘s addiction, through the roughest patches of Relapse‘s rehabilitation, and emerged recovered. Mathers returned a Fire Marshall – showing with Hov at Detroit and Yankee Stadiums, producing a sound on-par with something like amphitheater-anthemic-battle-charge – and in so doing became as much a stadium staple as the Bic itself.
Together in tandem lies a tale of two Bics – from the basement sofa of a Nashville house party, to the seats of Detroit Stadium. Dr. Luke and Dr. Dre saw the social symptoms and prescribed the the cure for the cultural coma, producing the Forever Young Playlist: blue-collar beats for those who can’t afford the electric bill but still bring heat. Ke$ha and Eminem’s light sat as comfortably beneath the spoon of sonic addicts, as it did before aural slaves gathered like moths around a flame for the last chance at a triggered alarm to absolve the sounds and scenes of our sinful selves.
There’s just something so visceral about these two though… something so human, so human in the sense of unrefined rawness and sheer rock-bottom-of-the-cracker-barrel being. They are the face of the everyman, the everychick, the anyface you find at a white trash party with nothing but welcomed reckless abandon in the midst. They are middle-class meddling kids, with the delusionally guilt-ridden Uncle Sammy issues of a Tribeca trustfund baby but from the stance of a few true Americana crossover cases – not so much blackface, as they are unironically fist-pumping over bass and beneath the char of those closest to the Bic’s wick and flame.
Here we are at year’s end looking back on the two sparks that lit up the charts: Ke$ha returned as the matured cannibal – destroying that which nourished her original self – feasting on her former animal for futuristic fuel, and Eminem reclaimed the throne from the place of a recovered kingfiend. Now more than ever, no matter where it shined, the Bic was a mighty beautiful sight – truly the flame, a minute capture of that pure solar energy, more than just the spark, and more than just the perceived light – glowing alone and rekindling life, in the midst of the darkest night.