The Residents have been famous for decades for dressing up in tuxes, tails, top hats, canes, and...giant eyeball heads. That unforgettably bizarre motif has seemingly been borrowed lock, stock, and iris for a big production number in Ke$ha's ongoing concerts.
When Ke$ha performed in the Residents' hometown, San Francisco, some of the group's local fans wondered if the decidedly uncommercial group had finally sold out, either for the money or as some sort of art project. Also, given that they've been on a 40th anniversary tour, the question arose: Could the Residents' sixtysomething members really be doing all that exhausting backup choreography?
Of course, the Residents have not deigned to seek employment as guest hoofers on Ke$ha's tour, and there was no authorization to use their trademark imagery, either.
Compare and contrast the two artists' stage shows:
Ke$ha "won't have a comment on this," one of her reps told us. But the Residents definitely have some thoughts. They don't do interviews — in fact, they're such fans of anonymity that they won't even allow their faces to be seen, which helps explain the eyeball costumes. But they did allow someone to speak for them.
"They don't know what to do," says Don Hardy, a filmmaker who's working with the group on a documentary, adding that there is a consensus that Ke$ha is "interfering with their intellectual property. Her people definitely didn't call in to say, 'Hey, can we use this?' They're debating what to do. One potential way to deal with it is to ask for a cease-and-desist and have attorneys sort it out. I think they'd rather see a different outcome, though. When you're a smaller group, what do you do? If you file suit, people say, 'Oh, it's the small guys trying to get in on something big.' It's a no-win situation."
There could be a kinder, gentler resolution. "It could be a five-minute conversation," Hardy says, "if Ke$ha will acknowledge that the look came from the Residents and that she's giving them a tip of the hat. Telling people, 'If you've been to my show, it's an homage' might encourage some of her fans to check out the Residents, and the bigger win would be that bit of recognition."
In case anyone might think the appropriation was coincidental, Hardy says that "even down to the color of the eyes, it's what the Residents have used all these years. It couldn't have just happened."
Ke$ha and dancers at the iHeartRadio Ultimate Pool Party in Miami on June 29 [John Parra/Getty Images]
"Residents fans are being negative to her, and that's unfortunate," Hardy says. "It'd be great to unite the two worlds somehow. There's a subversive streak to everything she's doing that seems different from a Katy Perry."
So the band's message to Ke$ha seems to be: Call us. The eyeball is in your court.
"Our culture is about putting celebrity ahead of art, and the Residents being the antithesis of that" — having literally refused to show their faces for 40 years and counting. So will Theory of Obscurity have the band that influenced Talking Heads finally going on-camera as talking heads? Hardly. "There won't be any big reveal," Hardy laughs.
But hey, if this did come down to lawyers, maybe fans would finally get to see what the Residents look like...in court.
- Arts & Entertainment