Things That Should Have Happened In Final Fantasy XIII

Final Fantasy XIII is a good game with a lot of flaws. Mostly, the only thing people talk about are it’s flaws. I still think it holds up as a fun experience and a well-made game. It’s a milestone in the visual capabilities of the series, but the muddy storytelling of director Motomu Toriyama is somewhat notorious for being completely incomprehensible. Whenever one plot-hole appears, Toriyama just distracts you from it by pulling out a new plot-hole, until finally you finish Lightning Returns and think, “Well I guess all those plotholes are filled now that the universe has been reborn. Oh well.” This is not excellent storytelling.

As such, here are some ideas that have brewed in my mind for a while, which I think would have vastly improved Final Fantasy XIII. Personally, I sometimes like to pretend that XIII-2 and Lightning Returns never happened, because the game itself does not set the story up for a sequel, and very little of what happens in the game is really referenced later in the series. XIII-2 and Lightning Returns revolve mostly around Etro and Yuel, but deal very little with the actual journey of the l’Cie in Final Fantasy XIII.

So on that note, I’m mostly going to be dealing with things I would have liked to have seen changed in the original game, though I will make some reference to how my changes my fit the sequels. This also means that I’m not going to spend too much time wondering about why in the world the developers chose to refer to an area in XIII-2 as “Archylte Steppe ???” This seems to imply that the time period in which this happens is either before the fall of Cocoon or after the whole timeline has been fixed, but dialogue from the hunters indicates that it happens after the fall of Cocoon, and that the people who bear the same tribal tattoos as Fang are not in fact from the same tribe as hunters but just Cocoon citizens who reacclamated to life on Pulse. I’m also not going to spend too much time grinding my teeth at the fact that XIII-2 spends a lot of it’s time redeveloping areas from the first game, but completely leaves out many of them like Eden, the Arks, most of Gran Pulse, Nautilus, Lake Bresha, the second half of the Sunleth Waterscape, the Gapra Whitehood, and so on and so forth. But as you can tell, I have my issues with XIII-2 as well, which for the record most people believe to be superior to Final Fantasy XIII, but personally I think that it trades addressing everything Final Fantasy XIII got wrong for sacrificing all the things that it got right.

Anyway.

In Defense of Jihl Nabaat

Jihl Nabaat is a criminally underutilized character in Final Fantasy XIII. Her treatment in the story is baffling: we go through the process of setting her up as a character, even including her in the flashback sequences, set her up as a perfect antagonist to Sazh and build up resentment toward her, and then even include the perfect moment to fight her, and… she’s killed off. No fanfare, nothing. No one even mentions that she’s dead. Barthandelus throws a Ruin spell at her and she’s gone, just like that.

Now, you might say that the fact that she is so important and is disposed of with such little interest by Barthandelus is precisely the point being made about how fal’Cie view humans as nothing more than tools. It does make an interesting parallel with Jihl, who herself sees other people as tools to further her own ends. But this is still bad storytelling. Barthandelus is the most cliche and uninteresting villain in the Final Fantasy series, and that’s in a series that includes such one-dimensional characters as Exdeath and Necron. Not only is he visually unappealing (I’ve seen him hilariously referred to as “the space pope”), but his dialogue and personality are incredibly one-dimensional and cliche. Also, his motives make no sense, but then, that’s a much larger problem within Final Fantasy XIII’s story.

Most of Final Fantasy XIII’s story can be boiled down to: “the fal’Cie want the main characters to destroy Cocoon by killing Orphan, so the main characters rage against their fate and defy their masters by… destroying Orphan and dropping Cocoon out of the sky exactly like they were told.” Even more confusing is why the fal’Cie bother to fight the l’Cie and try to kill them at every turn: Barthandelus is working tirelessly to make the l’Cie choose to kill Orphan and thereby destroy Cocoon, so why is he also directing the entirety of the Sanctum’s resources at murdering them? You could say it’s a test of their power, but then, why does he also personally attack them several times? Why did he bother fusing with Orphan? What exactly IS Orphan anyway?

But I digress. Jihl.

Jihl is an interesting character because of how comically evil she is. She’s sadistic and seems to take immense pleasure is causing pain to others, and yet at the same time we can clearly see that she isn’t all bad. Her first introduction is a brief scene of her smiling at Sazh during the fireworks flashback. Even when she’s actively trying to kill Sazh, she always states her reasons clearly, and even sometimes makes compelling arguments. She honors Dajh’s sacrifice and says she’s going to have his crystal made into a memorial in Eden, without ever revealing the fact that his father was a l’Cie, so that Dajh can be remembered with reverence by the citizens of Cocoon. The thing that actually makes her interesting is how intelligent and well-spoken she is, and how she seems to be capable of surprising compassion for someone who so enjoys toying with people. She talks down to Sazh about Pulse l’Cie being “undesirables,” but she also treats him with some amount of respect, choosing to allow him the chance to get revenge on Vanille rather than having her soldiers shoot them. Even when she strikes Sazh and knocks him out, she doesn’t do this until he becomes uncontrollable with rage.

Really the thing that confuses me the most about the treatment of Jihl’s character is that it doesn’t make any sense from a storytelling perspective. They went through all this trouble to set Jihl up as a primary antagonist, she’s even in a fully animated FMV sequence, and then they kill her with no fanfare. In fact, it honestly feels like they purposely cut out a boss fight with Jihl for some reason. Right before Barthandelus kills her, Jihl leaps down onto the platform in front of the l’Cie and draws her weapon, and the party gets ready for a fight. There could have easily been a sub boss fight here with Jihl, and then the next scene of Barthandelus killing her could have gone on the same.

But this isn’t my biggest wish for Jihl. I think Jihl should have been the game’s main antagonist. Throughout the game we’re treated to metaphors about tools, about people being used by others to further their own ends. Barthandelus is the puppetmaster behind the actions of Lightning and her friends, but I think that the murder between Jihl and Barthandelus should have happened in reverse: I think that Jihl should have been the one to suddenly and inexplicably murder Barthandelus, before removing her glasses and reminding the party that “For every task, there’s a perfect tool.”

I wish that Jihl had turned out to be Orphan in disguise. We know from Barthandelus that fal’Cie have the ability to disguise themselves as humans, and we know that Orphan is ultimately the central power behind Cocoon. If Orphan is really the one at the center of this plan to use Cocoon to summon the Maker, why wouldn’t Orphan choose to disguise itself as a human and walk among them, monitoring the actions of Barthandelus by pretending to be his servant? How great would it be if Lightning and her allies stormed into Eden and Barthandelus appeared on the steps before them in the area where you fight the Adamantoise, and rambled on about how they’re nothing but puppets doing his bidding, and then from behind him came a blast and standing over his body, with her rod in hand, was Jihl, who reveals that she’s been using everyone from the beginning. The game even SETS THIS UP. She talks about using people as tools, doesn’t she? What better way for her to do that?

Jihl could transform into Orphan for the final boss fight, and the rest of the game could play out exactly as it did. If this idea seems too weird to you, let her be Eden instead. Eden is just another fal’Cie like Barthandelus who would have all the same reasons to keep a close eye on him, and the final confrontation could easily switch out Jihl for Barthandelus. After transforming into her fal’Cie form and being defeated, she could fuse with Orphan and become the final boss, the same way Barthandelus did. I mean, the weirdest thing about Barthandelus being the central antagonist is that we don’t know anything about him until he reveals himself on the Palamecia, meanwhile we’ve had the whole game to get to know Jihl.

I won’t delve too much further into this, but Final Fantasy XIII actually has a big problem with not utilizing it’s characters. Raines, Rygdia, Jihl, and Amodar all go mostly unnoticed, despite having thought and care put into their development.

Vanille’s Deepest Secret

Throughout most of Final Fantasy XIII, Vanille’s defining characteristic, apart from her optimistic bubbly personality, is that she’s a liar. She prances around smelling the flowers in an attempt to hide the dark secrets she possesses. Vanille is the fulcrum on which the entire story of Final Fantasy XIII revolves: she chose not to fulfill her focus and become Ragnarok, leaving Fang to do it on her own, resulting in Fang not being strong enough to do anything more than breach Cocoon’s shell. They should have both become C’ieth, but as she so often does in this universe, Etro felt pity for the two of them and intervened, allowing them to enter crystal statis anyway and placing them within the Pulse Vestige with Anima, to be kept safe until they reawakened.

There’s a lot about this story that just doesn’t add up. We’re never given much of a glimpse into what Vanille and Fang’s life was like on Pulse. We only get a few mentions of what life was like in Oerba, and the leftover photographs and housewares inside Vanille and Fang’s house, or her robot friend Bakhti (also known to me as The Cash Machine). There is one brief moment which shows Vanille living on Pulse, and it’s during the opening credits movie, but even then Cocoon still has a hole in it’s shell, so it’s possible that this scene is depicting Vanille on Pulse after returning with Lightning and the gang. Also, Etro becomes an important figure later in the Lightning Saga, but during Final Fantasy XIII she’s mostly left enigmatic, known only as “The Goddess,” and she seems to have a penchant for intruding on history at inopportune moments, resulting in more death or the corruption of the timeline. Why did Etro choose to intervene when she did? If Etro presumably knew that Fang couldn’t breach Cocoon on her own, why did she wait until after she’d tried and failed to intervene and put Vanille and Fang into crystal sleep? Also, we’re told that Fang slept in crystal for five hundred years alongside Vanille, but we never see Fang in crystal form, when Vanille awakens Fang is already asleep on the platform beneath her.

How exactly does this whole Focus thing work? We never learn which fal’Cie it was that gave Vanille and Fang their focus to destroy Cocoon, or why exactly that was the focus they were given. If the C’ieth stones are any indications, the majority of fal’Cie only made l’Cie to do trivial things like destroying particularly nasty monsters or C’ieth who refused to die. And, if Vanille and Fang failed in their Focus, why didn’t they turn into C’ieth? I know the answer is that Etro intervened, but how does that work exactly? Does the fal’Cie who gave the l’Cie a focus get to decide whether or not their thrall turns to crystal or into a C’ieth, and does the authority of one fal’Cie usurp the authority of another? Did they actually become C’ieth and then Etro intervened to turn them human again and put them in Crystal? Who woke them up? Why did they awaken from their crystal sleep when they did? What happens when the fal’Cie who makes you into a l’Cie dies? We know that Anima died right before making Lightning and her allies into l’Cie, but that didn’t stop their focus. If a l’Cie who completes their focus going into crystal stasis, who gets to wake them up and give them a new Focus if the old fal’Cie master dies?

Really, this is a rabbit hole of questions that can go on and on forever. Concerned with clear storytelling, Motomu Toriyama is not.

But again, I digress.

I think that it would be an interesting twist is Vanille herself is the Goddess of Death, Etro. We know that fal’Cie can take on human form, and surely a goddess would have that power. Now, there are holes in this idea: we know Etro is stuck in the unseen realm and can’t return because she was banished there by Bhunivelze, but still, there are a lot of things that would make more sense about Vanille if it turned out she herself was Etro. Vanille is the only party member with the ability to cast the Death spell, and though that does have some connections to her character, it is odd that of all the characters it would be Vanille with this devastating ability that works on almost every single enemy in the game, including the final boss. Vanille is seen making a sign with her fingers and offering prayers to the heavens many times, what if this were the sign of the Goddess? What if she were actually trying to work some kind of magic when she did that?

And why is Vanille narrating the story? From a development perspective, there are explanations: Vanille was initially conceived as the central character and was going to be the game’s primary protagonist, but after showing off Lightning in a promotional video and receiving positive feedback from fans, Lightning was made the central protagonist of the game. For the record I think this was a good move. But Vanille is narrating the entire story of the game, seemingly from within her crystal sleep in the pillar holding Cocoon. She and Fang even speak directly to Lightning and the others at the end after they’re freed from crystal. If Etro is the one who intervened and freed them from crystal, why couldn’t it have been Vanille who did it? Also, what exactly is the significance of becoming Ragnarok? It’s repeatedly stated that ONE of the l’Cie must become Ragnorok, but both times Fang attempts to do it on her own, she isn’t strong enough. Is this an ability they all inherently know? Vanille and Fang do it effortlessly in the end and it’s presumably because they’ve been down this road before and know what they’re doing, but is this is a power that can be used any time? As usual, not much is explained.

Vanille being Etro would continue to make sense as the series progressed. Vanille is somehow capable of seeing into Serah’s dream world and calling her out of it, and Serah’s dream world is within the Unseen Realm, Etro’s domain. During Lightning Returns, Vanille inexplicably has the ability to speak to the souls of the dead and guide them to the new world. No one ever even attempts to explain why she has this ability. Again, I know this pokes holes in the central plot of the three games, but still, I think it would have been a much more interesting twist to have Vanille turn out to be Etro herself, intervening physically as well as magically in the events of the world to try and stop the death of innocent people.

Vanille lies so frequently that she even comments she can’t remember which events are truth or lies anymore. She outright lies to Hope and tells him that he promised to come and see Gran Pulse with her. I actually like the idea that maybe if Vanille were Etro, she could see alternate timelines, and in one of those, Hope did promise to come and see Gran Pulse with her. Either way, Vanille spends much of her time lying to others, even if she does it with good intentions. If Vanille is such a capable liar, couldn’t she be lying about her identity too?

A Titanic Superboss

I’m not the only Final Fantasy XIII fan to be baffled by the development choice NOT to make Titan the game’s superboss. Instead the superbosses are the final C’ieth stone mission and the Long Gui. Titan is a very prominent figure on Gran Pulse: he’s always seen walking around just beyond the mountains, no matter where you are on the plains. There’s a series of C’ieth stone missions revolving around running a gauntlet for his amusement and showing off your strength to him. He creates mist that causes power C’ieth to appear, and he even speaks briefly to the party. We also know that he’s a fal’Cie, and the characters in Final Fantasy XIII never met a fal’Cie they didn’t want to kill. It just seems obvious that Titan would be the game’s optional superboss. It even seems to imply that he would be, considering several of the C’ieth stone missions are done specifically at his behest, or in his area of the world. It would make sense that fighting him is the ultimate prize for completing these missions.

But alas, nothing. And even stranger is the fact that never appears in the Lightning Saga. Atomos actually reappears in Lightning Returns, sleeping in the Dead Dunes. This conflicts with the widespread notion in Nova Chrysallia that Pandemonium is the only living fal’Cie, because Atomos is clearly still alive and hasn’t become a crystal, but nonetheless, there he is. If Atomos survived, why didn’t Titan? Especially when massive juggernatus like Atlas seem to mirror his design. Surely he’d have been involved somewhere within the side-story of these huge creatures? Is the Atlas included in the second game a re-skinned version of a planned Titan superboss that never made the final cut?

Really, every time I see him on the Archylte Steppe, it’s like the game is just rubbing my face in the fact that he isn’t available to challenge.

Where The Hell Is Everybody?

Everyone, including Vanille and Fang who are natives and presumably understand a lot of it’s history, wonder where the hell all the people on Gran Pulse disappeared to. It’s brought up a few times with confusion, and then never addressed again. We know that the War of Transgression took a huge toll on both Pulse and Cocoon, but Gran Pulse is literally the entire planet, and there doesn’t seem to be one surviving human anywhere. We even see the ruins of Paddra, which indicate that it was a very modern, technologically advanced city, because it’s ruins include cars and traffic lights. The world is filled with C’ieth stones, and it’s never addressed whether or not these C’ieth stones are the remains of the humans who lived on Pulse after the war.

Did the war take such a massive toll on human life that only a few survived, and then those few all eventually became C’ieth? Why is there not a single l’Cie on Pulse who fulfilled their focus and turned to crystal? We never learn the answers to these things. Even weirder is the fact that in Final Fantasy XIII-2, Hope and the Academy set up shop in the ruins of Paddra and launch an investigation into it’s history, but they only bother researching it’s ANCIENT history, learning about the Seeress who led the city. They never bother trying to learn what it actually was that leveled the city and left ruins behind.

Three games and still the plot-holes left in Final Fantasy XIII are never addressed, we’re just given new plot-holes to contemplate.

Let’s Go Back!

It is standard in any RPG that once you reach a certain point in the game, you have the ability to revisit previous locations and unlock new secrets. Now sure, most of the previous locations in Final Fantasy XIII are straight corridors, but even so, I wouldn’t mind going down those corridors again if they contained new challenges, opportunities and treasure. One of the most glaring problems with Final Fantasy XIII is the lack of opportunities to make money, well why not have some C’ieth stone missions scattered throughout the areas you’ve already passed through? It wouldn’t be very difficult to just replace the PSICOM soldiers with some of the monsters from Pulse and throw in some C’ieth along the way. I know, it wouldn’t make much sense that there were C’ieth all over the place on Cocoon, but it the fal’Cie had no problem turning the Cavalry into Sacrifices, surely they could be persuaded to do it elsewhere on Cocoon. It would also be a great way to earn more money. In Final Fantasy XIII, literally your only source of income at the end of the game is to farm Sacrifices for Perfume or farm Adamantoise and their kids for Gold Nuggets and Platinum Ingots. Even if you LIKE fighting an endless parade of Adamantoise, this is still lazy development. As usual with Final Fantasy XIII, they don’t utilize their resources.  Even if stomping back through the Vile Peaks and fighting new monsters wouldn’t be incredibly fun, it would at least be more fun than fighting the same monsters on the Archylte Steppe over and over again to grind for Crystarium Points while you prepare for C’ieth stone missions. Slap some Perfumes or Incentive Chips onto the monsters in previous locations and put them on a higher level and bam, you’re ready to roll.

And there you have it. These questions have been rolling around in my head for a long time, and there are always more. But for some reason, despite all the glaring flaws in Final Fantasy XIII, I keep coming back to it. Some detractors would call that “a dog returning to it’s vomit,” I call it being in a codependent and possibly abusive relationship with Square Enix.

Why I Love Kesha

My relationship to Kesha is a curious one. She appeared at a weird time in my life.

On the surface, Kesha seems to be everything I hate about pop music: trite unoriginal pop songs with simple melodies and attention-grabbing hooks but otherwise little substance, cliche or vapid childlike lyrics, shallow subject matter that deals only with partying, sex, vague relationship woes, and verse-rap bragging peppered in between overly-synthesized and overproduced electro pop that is substantive enough to be entertaining but not enough to be unique, and lackluster vocals that are autotuned to the point that no one could have seriously thought the artist was ever really a decent vocalist to begin with in the first place.

I get that. I get the problems with Kesha. I get the reasons that people don’t like her. The above paragraph might lead you to believe I can’t stand her, but curiously nothing could be farther from the truth.

I started out hating her for all of the reasons mentioned above. Like everyone else on planet Earth in 2009, I too was subjected to endless repetitions of her breakout single Tik Tok on the radio, and like everyone else I was annoyed by it’s vapidity but secretly just a little bit entertained by it. But really, I genuinely didn’t like her. She sounded plain trashy. She clearly looked like a hot mess. Her aesthetic has always been “rave girl who hasn’t showered in several weeks and rolled around in garbage and glitter.”

But the truth is, Kesha is not what she appears to be. And the weird thing about is, she isn’t the OPPOSITE of what she appears to be either. She makes frivolous pop music, and she MEANS to do it, she means what she’s saying. She WANTS to be a pop star, and she isn’t making pop music ironically to try and expose the flaws in the medium. The pop music she’s making is genuine.

There are a group of listeners who consider Kesha to be another drop in the bucket, overly-autotuned pop singer cranking out tunes mostly made by producers, with little talent for songwriting or for singing. This is not the case. Kesha isn’t vapid or dumb. She’s incredibly intelligent, she has a genius IQ and received nearly perfect SAT scores. She’s driven and passionate and knows what she’s doing. However, don’t let that lead you to believe that Kesha is in fact an architect and student of Victorian literature whose lifelong art project has been to deconstruct the mythos of the pop star by playing one, laughing pretentiously in her study at night over a glass of sherry at plebeian pop fans who’ve bought into her charade.

The thing that makes Kesha unique among a slew of pop stars is the fact that she’s entirely authentic.

She comes from a humble background. In a life story that seems almost too perfectly fitting with her dirty rave girl aesthetic to be true, Kesha’s mother got incredibly drunk at a party and doesn’t remember the hookup that led to her becoming pregnant, and nine months later gave birth to Kesha Rose Sebert without the slightest idea (or worry) about who the father was. Kesha was raised by her single mother, a wonderful hippie songwriter called Pebe, and together with her brothers the family seems to have lived in an open, accepting home environment. Kesha definitely has hippie elements in her personality, and she speaks with a gentle slur that makes it sound like she’s always intoxicated, and a Californian accent that immediately calls to mind the movie Heather. I think. I’ve never seen Heather. Moving on.

Kesha moved to Nashville to become a musician, and spent many years writing her first album Animal. She made a lot of friends in the business, including fellow newcomer Katy Perry, and her first major role in the pop world wasn’t in her own song but as an extra in Katy Perry’s I Kissed A Girl music video. Go watch the video and near the end there are several sexy blonde girls sitting around a pool with Katy, and there she is, she even has her own close up shot for a moment. Kesha also wrote songs for many other musicians while working on her first album. The first song to put her on the map was Flo Rida’s “Right Round,” a simplistic and artless reworking of the classic song You Spin Me Round by Dead Or Alive into a sugary pop-rap tune with almost no substance whatsoever. When Flo Rida was working on the song, he decided he wanted to try out having a female vocalist on the chorus, and Kesha was working nearby in the same studio, so she was pulled in and recorded some vocals for the chorus. Because of some legalities, or the absence thereof, when Right Round became a worldwide smash hit, Kesha received absolutely no royalties for the song, and continued to live the life of a starving artist scraping to get by, while her voice was playing on every radio in the country and she remained unknown and unpaid.

This is where the infamous dollar sign in her name comes from. Her name is almost always stylized as Ke$ha, leading to some cute jokes in which people pronounce her name Kee Dollar Sign Hah, but it was conceived as a joke about the irony of the circumstance Kesha found herself in: everyone would assume she was rich, being in a worldwide hit single, but she got cheated out of any share of the money. As time would tell, she was cheated out of a lot by the music industry and the shady characters therein, and I’ll come back to that in a bit.

So, enter me. A ninenteen year old gay kid living in the south, struggling desperately to deal with a tumultuous life, and just coming out of a rather powerful bout of Christian zeal. I spent about a year of my life completely devoting my time and energy to being a Christian, and I took it very seriously, and I even achieved some small level of peace, but ultimately I realized it was a coping mechanism, and this time when I came out of Christianity I left it behind for good.

I was fairly aimless at the time. I’d hated school my whole life, and I’d graduated a year earlier. I did not want to go to college because I just hated school and didn’t want to experience any more of it, but I didn’t want to work either, both because I hate the tedium of boring and strenuous minimum wage jobs, and because I’ve been dealing with debilitating anxiety since I was sixteen, complete with rolling panic attacks that for all intents and purposes never really end or begin, but just go on forever. I wasn’t medicated whatsoever at the time, and I was struggling with severe agoraphobia that was developing in my life.

I was in a relationship that was both abusive and incredibly unsatisfying. I was entirely aimless, I was sad, I was lonely, I was horny, and I was frustrated in every possible way. Spiritually, sexually, emotionally, and mentally, I was frustrated to a breaking point. But I’d never had any suicidal tendencies (yet, that would come later) and never self-harmed, so I had no outlet, no real way to truly break down.

My boyfriend and I took a trip to Virginia and spent the night at some friends’ house. These friends happened to be another gay couple, and they threw a party which involved two more gay couples. One of those couples left once the drinks started flowing, leading to there being a grand total of six of us in the house. We got drunk, we got horny, and I, having never actually been drunk before, was eager to use the “oh it’s my first time being intoxicated” excuse to put as many dicks in my mouth as I could before everyone started to say no.

Does that sound a little rapey? It probably does. I can’t say I was in a good state of mind.

At any rate, there was a lot of sexual activity that night between just about everyone, pairing off for a few minutes with one another at different points. The radio was on, and Kesha’s hit single Tik Tok was booming through the house and I put my tongue into several orifices of several guys, and then spent the night in a cuddle sandwich with my boyfriend and one of the others who had broken away from the pack and basically let us fondle him the entire night.

All in all, it was pretty fun.

The next morning I had something of a hangover, which is honestly quite rare for me.

On the way home, Tik Tok was playing on the radio.

I don’t know why, I don’t understand it, but suddenly, I just got it. I enjoyed it. I had fun with that song. It was great. I didn’t want to stop listening to it.

Now, I know it sounds more like a joke than a real story: I never really liked Kesha until I participated in a drunken six-way gay orgy with some delightfully Virginian, slightly trashy gay guys. But it happens to be true.

When I got home the following day I honestly felt like I was still drunk. I sat in my bedroom, my head swimming, and looked up Kesha on iTunes, listened to the samples from Animal and read some of the reviews. I was disheartened. The reviewers were all mostly saying the same thing: the music was samey and average, the lyrics were so juvenile they sounded like they were ripped from the diary of a sixth grader dealing with boyfriend drama for the first time, and her singing voice was terrible and autotuned to the point of ludicrousness. I agreed with all of these assessments and quickly decided that Tik Tok was in fact a guilty pleasure, and that in general I still disliked Kesha.

But I couldn’t quite get that song out of my head.

My dysfunctional relationship progressed, as did my anxiety. I dove headlong into a Tori Amos phase from which I have never resurfaced, and mostly forgot about Kesha. I did torrent Animal at one point and gave it another cursory listen but I wasn’t terribly impressed. I fell in love with Imogen Heap, Florecne and the Machine, and many others, and continued to keep Kesha mostly out of my mind. When I finally broke up with the aforementioned boyfriend it happened to be right at the same time that my agoraphobia and anxiety had gotten so bad that I’d developed the curious symptom of alternating between sharp pains on the entire life side of my body or being completely numb in the same places. I was finally put on medication, and like magic, my panic attacks just disappeared. I was riding the first wave of stimulants I’d ever experienced, since I’d never done any kind of drugs before, and I was riding high on the antidepressants which elevated my mood and let me have gloriously peaceful and undisturbed sleep at regular intervals, and the relief and freedom of being done with an abusive relationship and having the freedom to love and to fuck whoever I wanted, provided I could find someone.

It was then that Kesha returned.

I don’t exactly remember what caused it. I just remember being high on my antidepressants, feeling adventurous and excited about going to gay clubs and finally getting my young adult life started, and I went back to those downloaded audio files from Animal, and turned them on, and I became completely hooked.

I listened to Animal front to back, non-stop, for several weeks. I didn’t listen to almost anything else. I fell absolutely in love with the music and started to learn a little more about Kesha. I still understood a lot of the complaints: some of the lyrics were trite, but there were also a lot of hidden gems that you wouldn’t have guessed existed. Tik Tok and Take It Off were big hits all about partying, but other songs on the album lamented the darker aspects of being a party girl, of trying to find solace in living in the moment and enjoying the night as much as possible because it’s all you truly have. Hungover, Blind, Animal, and Dancing With Tears In My Eyes are all very emotional songs about the loss of love and the difficulty of trying to live day to day in a haze of partying. There’s a longing in these songs for something, an emptiness, and a willingness to be up front about the good and the bad, to be unapologetic about sex and fun and relationships, to call things like the way they are.

My little sister joined me on this adventure and loved listening to Kesha with me, and was actually nice enough to buy me a physical copy of Animal with some money she’d been given, which I still have. Later on, when Kesha started to release singles for Animal’s companion EP Cannibal, I downloaded them all as they were released and ordered a copy of the two combined into one two-disc album (Animal + Cannibal) that came with a cute little “K$” temporary tattoo which I intended to put on my cheek at my first concert, and which I have still never used but remains in the case. When I attended my first real concert last year, the Dresden Dolls at Coney Island, I was sad when I realized I’d forgotten to bring along my Kesha tattoo for my first concert. But at least I still remembered. That’s something.

The companion EP Cannibal was a great nine-track romp that fit the atmosphere of Animal perfectly while managing to expand on it. The songs were still about partying and having fun authentically and unapologetically, but there was a song called The Harold Song which absolutely broke my heart and still continues to be one of my favorite songs. It’s a beautiful and melancholy song about the loss of love that really affected me at the time because I was dealing with a terrible breakup, and this song was a companion in that pain and darkness for me. At first I thought that Cannibal deliberately mirrored the songs on Animal (Grow A Pear has a chorus very similar to Tik Tok, elements of Tik Tok are incorporated into Cannibal, Animal itself is included as the last song in remixed form, and many other songs seem to borrow elements of songs directly from Animal), and I’m still not sure if it was done intentionally or if the song structures were just all very similar and working from the same pop framework.

Kesha is honest and authentic, and I think that that’s what makes her special. I think this is also the reason that people like Kanye West, but I just can’t bring myself to think that guy is anything but a self-absorbed douche. Kesha delivers pop cliches with a slight wink because she knows it’s cliche, but she’s doing it authentically. And she isn’t a bad vocalist either. The thing that confused me the most about Animal was the fact that Kesha’s voice is very unnecessarily autotuned in many of the songs.

Kesha is an incredibly prolific songwriter, and there are literally more than a hundred demos for Animal that never made it onto the album. One song, a completely acoustic breakup song called Goodbye, is a really great glimpse into an unfiltered Kesha with all of the pop trapping stripped away: her voice is soulful and unique, and her intonation is similar to Alanis Morissette. Her vocal ability is surprising, it doesn’t completely blow you away, but it’s not at all what you’d expect after hearing so much autotune and vocal effects on her album. She also released another EP between Cannibal and her second album Warrior called Deconstructed, which contains simplified emotional mixes of several of her songs, including The Harold Song, with her vocal ability really put on full display.

I still don’t really understand why she chose to allow herself to be autotuned so much when she didn’t really need it, although considering the dynamic between herself and her producer Dr. Luke that came to light later, it’s not difficult to imagine that maybe he made the decision for her. I don’t really know.

And with that we come to Dr. Luke. Kesha came forward and filed a lawsuit against Dr. Luke for raping her, and for abusing her. I don’t really know if there was physical abuse, and I’m not going to look it up. The thing is, I’ve purposely avoided learning the details of this lawsuit. Kesha’s entire career came to a halt because under her contract she was unable to release any music unless she dropped the lawsuit against Dr. Luke, and he vehemently denied ever having abused her, despite many other women in the music industry coming forward to say they’d suffered abuse at his hands as well. Honestly, my heart was just too broken for Kesha to read the details. I couldn’t handle it. I was having a hard enough time holding my own life together, and to know that someone who I had come to greatly admire and respect had been hurt so badly, and who was being treated unfairly by an unfeeling system, it was too hard. It’s why I still don’t know all the details. I do know that eventually Kesha was forced to drop the lawsuit so she could continue to make music, but I still don’t know many more details. I know that during her absence she appeared at a few live events, and at one of them gave an incredible performance of When It Happens To You by Lady Gaga, a song about surviving rape.

Kesha also briefly had her own reality show which I watched the majority of online and greatly enjoyed. It really showed her beautiful personality, and the general carefree and honest way in which she lives her life. It made me smile to watch it, and it gave me hope.

I used to have this poster on my wall, and alongside the topless poster of Lady Gaga, I imagine that anyone looking at my room was probably really confused about my sexuality

Kesha inspires me. Her strength, her dignity, her willingness to create. There was a moment during Kesha’s reality show where her little brother was attempting to write a song, and she was giving him writing advice. The advice was this: “You have to be willing to let yourself suck.” As a musician and a writer, this has been one of the most important pieces of advice I’ve ever absorbed. What she meant was that when you start out at anything, you’re not going to be incredible. With drawing, composing music, or writing, you start out as a novice, and even your best, most polished efforts, are still going to be less than perfect. You’ll probably experience a few flashes of incredible creativity and accidentally stumble upon expressing yourself honestly and with style, but you have to be willing to let yourself create something that is less than perfect. Kesha’s hundreds of demos are a testament to that. Many of those songs are not that great, but they’re all honest and authentic, and that’s the thing about Kesha that I admire so much.

You have to be willing to let yourself suck. You have to be willing to create whatever is in your heart, and sometimes it’s not going to be great, but you have to be willing to do it. Lady Gaga has said something somewhat similar, which is “You have to respect your vomit.” She was referring to one of her songs, and about how the lyrics come in a rush, and she just word vomits them out, and that she then chooses to respect her vomit, respect those words for being authentic and in the moment. This proverb doesn’t inspire me quite as much but it’s worth mentioning in conjunction with Kesha’s advice from above.

And so, in a surprising twist, I ended up loving an artist who I thought represented everything I hated about manufactured pop music. While, yes, the element of pop manufacturing is there, Kesha’s honesty and brazen authenticity still shines through, and even though some of her songs are a bit cliche, her music is a surprise. Her personality is a surprise. Everything about her is a surprise, if you assume that the dirty glitter party girl you see on the cover is as shallow as her surroundings suggest. I don’t know how much irony she injects into her style, but Kesha is a worthwhile person and a worthwhile musician. She’s an activist for animal rights, she loves the gay community and has immense appreciation for her fans, and she approaches life with the kind and passive attitude of a hippie but the fortitude of a revolutionary. Her voice is real and true, even though there’s sometimes a layer of autotune.

Opposing Islam

I’m so tired, so very tired, of being told I’m ignorant, racist and bigoted for speaking up against Islam. We’ve reached a point now where when you point out that the central doctrines of Islam include making war on infidels, mutilating children, subjugating women, and murdering apostates, people scramble to say “No, no, that’s just a few EXTREMISTS, #NotAllMuslims are like that!” Well yeah, I never said all Muslims are like that, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore the clear call to violence inherent in the religion that causes people to murder others. There’s literally a gay holocaust being carried out in Chechnya right now, and the leader of the country said he will, quote, “wipe out the gay community by Ramadan,” but everyone is pretending like Islam has NOTHING to do with it.
I know that there are good Muslims in the world. There are also good Christians in the world. But that doesn’t erase the calls to violence, slavery and subjugation that are present in the Quran. I try to speak out against women wearing burqas because they’re commanded to keep their flesh covered so that they won’t tempt men, and people tell me that I’m being bigoted, and then somehow have the nerve to do such mental gymnastics as to say that burqas are actually LIBERATING garments and tokens of feminism. I try and say that we should be taking seriously the homophobia present in Islam that contributed to gay people being put into concentration camps in Chechnya, and people tell me I’m just being racist, that I’m ignorant and don’t understand that Islam is a religion of peace.
And the weirdest thing is that the people arguing with me are NEVER Muslims. Not one Muslim has come up to me and told me I’m wrong, it’s always non-Muslims who are being offended on behalf of Muslims, because it’s become politically correct to defend Islam. Well I’m not playing that game. Religion kills people, religions poisons people, it stops conversation and free inquiry, and if the only thing I can do is to stand up and talk about it, or even shout about it, then that’s what I’ll do. But Islam is a philosophy, not an ethnicity. So it doesn’t make me racist to call out Islam for it’s very real prescriptions to violence, misogyny, homophobia and subjugation.
A man will murder someone and shout “I’m doing this in the name of Islam!” and people will all respond “Well clearly that guy wasn’t a REAL Muslim, he’s misinterpreting Islam.” No, take him at his word! He’s doing what he was told to by Islam. And it’s the same thing when Christians lynch black people or murder gay people, and then say they’re doing it because it’s what the Bible says. People respond by saying “Well they’re misunderstanding the Bible, they’re not TRUE Christians.” No, take them at their word, they’re doing it BECAUSE of what the Bible says to do! It’s the same with Islam.
Protecting people from profiling and hate speech is important, I understand. We don’t want to create a culture in which all Muslim PEOPLE are treated as reprobates. And I don’t want that either. And I don’t think that of Muslim PEOPLE. But I do think that Islam itself as a philosophy is abbhorent. And to even say that out loud now results in me being labeled Islamophobic. Maybe I am Islamophobic. The word itself would imply fear of Islam. I am afraid of Islam! I’m afraid for the world. And it isn’t just Islam that I’m afraid of, I’m afraid of Christianity too, and any religion that tells it’s followers to kill and enslave others. But if I speak out against it, people roll their eyes and say “No, that’s just the actions of a few extremists.” Yeah, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s there IN their religious texts. You can say gay men aren’t being killed in Chechnya because of Islam but because of homophobia. But the homophobia comes about BECAUSE of religion. And if we’re going to have an honest dialogue about the murder of gay people, we have to be willing to call out the philosophies that lead to it.
So yeah. I’m tired of being called a bigot because I see something terrible happening and I call it out and say that it’s wrong. And I know that the blog and Facebook feed of one American white boy isn’t going to fix the world, end homophobia, or stop religion from murdering people, but I can’t just sit here and be silent when people are dying.