When describing Ke$ha‘s new single “Die Young” back in July, producer Benny Blanco labelled it “old hippie rock”. And just a few days ago, Rihanna also described her own new single “Diamonds” as “hippie”. If a few guitar riffs and LSD metaphors make “Die Young” and “Diamonds” old-school “hippie” rock records, then yes — Ke$ha and Rihanna have single-handedly brought back Woodstock. Otherwise, both songs are typically catchy and highly-accessible radio fodder, as is to be expected from two of the world’s biggest pop superstars.
Dumpster diva Ke$ha and Bajan beauty RiRi are both aiming for huge Hot 100 hits with their respective singles, but the pair have gone about it in completely different ways. Ke$ha’s played it safe, putting her trademark free-spirited spin on Flo-rida’s “Good Feeling”, and injecting a bit of contemporary pop-rock flavor from co-writer Nate Ruess, frontman of band-of-the-moment Fun. “Die Young” still sounds like a hard-partying feel-good fist-pumping Ke$ha tune, but it’s a Ke$ha tune that you’ve heard before. It’s a little disconcerting to realize that it actually took three different producers –Dr. Luke, Benny Blanco, and Cirkut– just to come up with a sequel to a Flo-rida hit.
Considering that it’s been a year-and-a-half since Ke$ha’s last single “Blow” was released, it’s hardly a surprise that she took the Katy Perry approach to her comeback. Katy too spent an ample amount of time away before returning to the charts with the unoriginal-but-enjoyable “California Gurls”, which wasn’t much more than a cover of Ke$ha’s then-trendsetting “TiK ToK”. The song took Katy to the top of the Hot 100, reintroducing the candy-coated songstress to the masses before she blindsided us with the astonishing “Teenage Dream” — easily one of the best pop songs of the past five years.
On the other end of the spectrum is Rihanna, who left exactly 20-days between the release of “Diamonds” and her previous single “Cockiness (Love It)”. That makes it imperative that Rihanna not only change the color of her wig to usher in her next album era, but also completely reinvent her sound. She does this with the help of singer-turned-songwriter-to-the-stars Sia, who began her commercial crossover two years ago by working on Christina Aguilera’s Bionic, and is now just inches away from becoming the next Kara Dioguardi or Linda Perry. On “Diamonds”, Rihanna mimics Sia at almost every turn, morphing to match the Aussie star’s unique vocal style. Shockingly, Sia’s voice can actually still be heard clearly on the track, like Rihanna was too distracted by an impending date with Drake to completely finish recording over Sia’s demo vocals.
Ultimately, both “Die Young” and “Diamonds” offer little in the way of originality. “Die Young” sounds like Ke$ha singing a Flo-rida song, and “Diamonds” sounds like Sia singing a Lana Del Rey remix. Ke$ha at least still sounds like herself though, even if “Die Young” is technically more derivative than “Diamonds”.
In the end, the real winner of the pop diva battle royale is none other than Christina Aguilera. She’s the only one out of Rihanna, Ke$ha, and Taylor Swift who actually managed to drop a lead single that can’t be compared to someone or something else.
Let us not forget who owns the throne.
Die Young: 3.5/5 – Diamonds: 3.5/5