A dear friend of mine is getting baptized this Sunday, and as a rebirthday present I wrote her this piece. Please don’t take it seriously. It is a reminder, if you will, that people can find signs of God everywhere–and a warning that even literary critics can be intellectually dishonest.
It is a little-known fact that Ke$ha’s song “Tik Tok” is actually an allegory of baptism. The whole song is suffused with an extremely deep understanding of that sacrament. I’d like to walk you through my thoughts in this little exercise in superior literary criticism; by the end I’m sure you’ll see that this song should probably be played during baptisms, as a declaration to the world of how the new Christian intends to live out his or her faith.
The first verse, of course, begins with a recognition of the state of the soul before baptism. Ke$ha wakes up feeling “like P Diddy”—that is, she suddenly realizes that she is in a state of sin. She immediately decides to leave her old life of iniquity forever, and makes a firm commitment to “never come back” once she has left for the “city”—clearly the New Jerusalem that is mentioned in Revelations. Before she leaves, she “brushes her teeth with a bottle of Jack”. This is an allegory of taking Communion, since both Jack Daniels and the wine of the Eucharist are alcoholic. In order to leave her old life of sin, she must wash herself (that is, her teeth) clean in the blood of the Lamb.
The next verse is an amalgam of allusions to the Gospels, all dealing with the purification that Christ offers us. “Getting a pedicure” refers to Jesus washing his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, while the “clothes” that are being tried on are the wedding garments that the guests wear in the parable of the bridegroom. There is some scholarly disagreement on the interpretation of the last line, “trying to get a little bit tipsy”; some respected academics argue that this, too, is a reference to the Eucharist. I myself believe that it is more plausibly a reference to the extreme joy of the wedding banquet of the Lamb described in Revelation.
The chorus has a strong eschatological component. Ke$ha admits that, although she has been purified by baptism, the adventure of Christian life is just beginning. She will not stop her “fight” against the forces of darkness until she sees the “sunlight” of Christ’s return. Although each tick of the clock inevitably brings her closer to Judgment Day and God’s final construction of his Kingdom, she will not for an instant stop working into that kingdom herself through the constant rejoicing and “partying” that new life in God brings us.
In the next verse, Ke$ha joyfully affirms the confidence she has in Christ, even through the hard circumstances of life. She has not a care in the world because she has plenty of “beer”—again, this is an allegory for the Eucharistic wine and the cleansing blood of Christ. She has no money—she has given it to the poor, as Christ commanded—but she’s already in the place where Christ has sent her, and she doesn’t have to be concerned about what she will eat or wear. Although people all around are attracted to the great joy that she has in God, she, like Christ, will focus on helping those who “look like Mick Jagger”—that is, the ugliest souls most in need of the Good News.
The next two verses go into more detail about what kind of obstacles Christians face in their life in this world. Ke$ha continues her delicately layered series of allegories based on alcohol with yet another referent; this time, she refers back to Proverbs and the personification of Folly as a prostitute who throws parties and makes people drunk on iniquity. Ke$ha is admitting that there will be people around her who are not following the path of wisdom—who may, in fact, be engaging in destructive lifestyles. However, she will “smack them” if they get too drunk—that is, she will tell the people around her about the good news of Christ to wake them up to their error. The reference to the “police” is clearly meant to signify the forces of the Enemy who exert their power on the world. Ke$ha will not stop her life of joyful Christian living until she is “kicked out”—that is, she dies—or she is forcibly made to stop by the Devil. However, her irreverent use of the word “po-po” expresses the contempt she feels toward anyone who even thinks he can divide her from her God.
The DJ in the bridge represents God. At this point, the song changes from being a bold, public affirmation of faith into being an intimate moment of worship. Ke$ha recognizes that the most basic fact in her life is God’s complete control over her. It doesn’t matter whether he “builds her up” or “breaks her down”; in either case, he has her, heart and soul, and she will lift her hands up in worship. She invites everyone listening to her to do the same, to sing praises to God. Finally, with a musical wink, she reminds us—the party in heaven, the party when the lost sheep is brought back into the fold and the prodigal son returns, won’t start until she, the lost sheep, walks in.
Appendix: Tik Tok LyricsWake up in the morning feeling like P Diddy Grab my glasses, I’m out the door, I’m gonna hit this city Before I leave, brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack ‘Cause when I leave for the night, I ain’t coming back I’m talking pedicure on our toes, toes Trying on all our clothes, clothes Boys blowing up our phones, phones Drop-topping, playing our favorite CDs Pulling up to the parties Trying to get a little bit tipsy Don’t stop, make it pop DJ, blow my speakers up Tonight, I’mma fight ‘Til we see the sunlight Tick tock on the clock But the party don’t stop, no Ain’t got a care in world, but got plenty of beer Ain’t got no money in my pocket, but I’m already here And now, the dudes are lining up cause they hear we got swagger But we kick em to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger I’m talking about everybody getting crunk, crunk Boys tryin’ to touch my junk, junk Gonna smack him if he getting too drunk, drunk Now, now, we go until they kick us out, out Or the police shut us down, down Police shut us down, down Po-po shut us DJ, you build me up You break me down My heart, it pounds Yeah, you got me With my hands up You got me now You got that sound Yeah, you got me With my hands up Put your hands up Put your hands up Now, the party don’t start ’til I walk in