Kesha: Warrior Goddess

When Kesha appeared at this year’s Billboard Awards it was always going to be an emotional event. Her horrendous fight with Sony and her abuser. The threats against her if she performed because they were worried she’d use it as a platform to speak out. I’m team Kesha. We warrior goddesses must stand together against this kind of vile bullying and the abuse that continues after someone is heroic enough to come out and talk about their experiences and demand justice. Justice that, unfortunately because of our fucked world, only very occasionally is granted. I stand with Kesha. It’s a symbolic standing cuz she has no idea of my existence, but I stand.

And she stood, on a stage, sang the most beautiful version of ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe’ you’ve ever heard (and that I play constantly). She stood with quiet dignity and used her voice – her singing voice – to move us. She did not speak about the case or the abuse or the bullying. She didn’t have to. We already knew about it. And by attempting to silence her once again the record company and her abuser only made us more aware of how important her appearance was.

It was a little while ago now that this happened. But she continues to fight in magnificent and creative ways. Every time I watch that video I am floored. I am writing about it because as much as the context of this performance and the sublime beauty of it, I am also always moved by how gorgeous she looks. A little rounder than usual, she is dressed in a white Manuel suit and she looks incredible.


The Nudie suit – heavily and campily embroidered suits, usually white or in bright colours, worn by people such as Dolly, Loretta Lynn, Gram Parsons, Johnny Cash, Keith Richards, Salvador Dali, and Bobby Redford in The Electric Horseman – is synonymous with Nudie Cohn.


But Manuel Cuevas (“The Rhinestone Rembrandt”) was producing similar garments and went to work with Nudie at his store and was responsible for most of the famous suits the stars wore. When he and Nudie parted ways, the clients mainly followed Manuel to his new store.


The Manuel suit that Kesha wore was amazing. We had a bigger woman wearing white for starters. The suit was decorated with rainbows and broken hearts and a stabbed heart and her cat, Mr. Peeps. The symbolism of betrayal and hope was there for all to see. She didn’t need words to spew on stage; she had a narrative on her suit.

On her Instagram she captioned a photo of the back of the suit with:

“the story is …my heart got stabbed. I was betrayed. I thought I was going to die. then I found my rainbow by following my intuition. (or third eye as I’ve interpreted it) and learned to trust myself. find my real voice. and learned to love unconditionally through my relationship with that little shit Mr. peeps. that’s my nudie story❤️”

A heart is not just broken by romantic pain. It is broken when those who are supposed to protect you yet fail to do so. It’s broken when people turn their backs on you. It’s broken when they don’t believe you. It is broken when you are accused of greed instead of simply seeking justice. It is broken when women sit with the accused and fail to side with a sister. It is broken when you are not only refused justice but then punished, prevented from doing the one thing that feeds your soul, the thing that means you can make a living and move on.

Kesha’s heart has been broken multiple times in multiple ways. Unfortunately, it’s not an unusual story.

Kesha standing on that stage looking fabulous in a suit that tells a story, singing a song that says you cannot count on those you hope will keep you safe and love you, was the most powerful move she could make given her shackled circumstances.

Her Instagram profile says ‘The truth shall set you free’. Oh, if only life were really like that. It then says ‘I am a rainbow’. The rainbow – a symbol of optimism and freedom – has been well-used by chanteuses, most famously Judy, of course. And also by our goddess, Mariah. Both women were tethered professionally – Judy to the studio system that would eventually fire her, Mariah to Tommy Mottola, her first husband who controlled her. Their relationship is reminiscent of Phil Spector and Ronnie Bennett. Significantly Ronnie released a solo album called She Talks To Rainbows.  Rainbows appear on many outfits that Kesha wears.


Other images of Kesha in Manuel suits are featured on her Instagram. In one photo we see her with Manuel himself, the back of her ‘magical suit’ depicting a booby angel, an anarchist sign, a hand flipping the bird.


Another picture shows Kesha, head down, face covered by her hair. She is barefoot and wearing a Manuel suit decorated with dolphins, killer whales and spaceships. This is not a still image but actually a gif. When you click on it she repeatedly shakes her head. The caption reads ‘BOOGIE cuz Kesha and The Creepies are hitting the road!’

red nudie

This is her new band. She is getting around her ban to produce music by touring with a country/rock band covering her own hits and those that have inspired her. She cannot record outside of her abuser’s control but she can perform. Kesha and The Creepies are fierce, forceful, and their slogan is FUCK THE WORLD.


The image advertising the tour is reminiscent of The Cramps, featuring a tiger and Kesha looking as if she has ripped the heart out of someone with her teeth. Someone who probably deserved it. She has done what warrior goddesses do best when we are backed into a corner and kicked instead of helped: she is rising up, she is taking control as much as she can within her limitations, she is screaming, she is rage.


By Corinna ‘Mermaid’ Tomrley


When Debbie Harry confirmed that she is bisexual and had indeed had those rumoured affairs with women, queer girls’ hearts rejoiced across the land. Of course we don’t need confirmation that a star is queer to fancy them, or for them to even be queer, but it’s nice if they do come out, yes? ‘Women are more sensual’, cooed our Deb. Oh, my but we’re flushed… and damp…


Debbie Harry at 71 is as hot a goddess as she’s always been. Hotter. She is one of the superstars who is incomparable to anyone else (indeed Blondie were unlike anyone else) and who will always have a huge impact on the culture, no matter what she does.


He style, her attitude, her sexiness. Oh. Mah. Gawd. Debbie, we love you ❤

Debbie was punk and disco and old Hollywood and slut chic and believed she was the adopted child of Marilyn Monroe. She was pushed down your throat partially dressed hyper sexuality that if you dared touch uninvited she’d kick you in the teeth. Now she is advanced style fuck age appropriate in your face drop dead gorgeous goddess fierceness. Debbie Harry, we love you ❤

PicMonkey Collage

Fun fact: Debbie is one of a group of uber fabulous divas who are 70/71: Cher, Dolly, Liza all turned 70 this year and Bette Midler is also 70 (she’ll be 71 in December). So what was it about the years 1945 and 1946 that produced such queer icons, we wonder? Cuz also born then were Divine, John Waters, Goldie Hawn, Priscilla Presley, Jaclyn Smith, Susan Tyrell, Jocelyn Wildenstein, Susan Sarandon, Suzanne Sommers, Patty Duke…


Dolly pARTon at South Place Hotel

Think about the best thing that could happen. No, I mean, THINK REALLY HARD ABOUT THIS. Imagine a room – what’s in it? Some comfy sofas? Nice lighting? And what’s that all around you? Think about it now – what would be the most perfect thing in the world? We’re all thinking the same thing, right? Spooky eh? Because in our perfect imagined room we are surrounded by Dolly Parton art by some of the most creative Finnish artists and designers.

WELL YOU DON’T HAVE TO JUST DREAM IT – IT IS OUT THERE! You can find the exhibition Dolly pARTon at South Place Hotel in London but ONLY until Monday 30th June. So GO GO GO, or it WILL just be a dream!

So how did this happen?

Well, a group of Finland’s top artistic types decided to create a collection of works inspired by one of the most iconic and visually arresting pop culture goddesses of our times. And this isn’t just a celebration of Dolly – it is a deliberate confrontation of what is art, and not just in terms of the content, but the spaces this exhibition has, does and will inhabit. Starting at the Klaus K Hotel in Helsinki, guests were greeted in the lobby by a happy onslaught of Dolly depictions. South Place Hotel – quickly becoming renowned for its art and support of artists – took up the challenge of having a room full of pARTon in their chi-chi Le Chiffre games room. If you miss it in London, don’t worry – you can fly and catch it in its next home in Berlin at the 25 Hours Hotel.

I spoke to Sampo Marjomaa, creator of the piece ‘Plywoods Barbie’, one of the key players behind the exhibition and who also just happens to be a major Finnish TV star with his show Hauskat kotivideot, which reappropriates and recontextualises clips from America’s Home Videos. He said that he’d had criticism from the art world for holding an art show in hotels – ‘it’s SO commercial!’ was the common accusation.

And is not the art world and are not galleries commercial? I asked. ‘Exactly!’ Sampo exclaimed.

So Parton is not only a wonderful muse for this stunning exhibition – like the lady herself, Art Dolly is a fuck you to art hierarchies of high and low, good and bad. Exactly The Ethel Mermaids manifesto, I told Sampo. No wonder we loved this show so much.

But it’s more than just a political statement. This show is viscerally arresting. Comprising 8 pieces by 8 different artists, every artwork is amazing. Every single one. How often does that happen? I cannot remember ever thinking that about an art exhibition.

Mari Kasurinen's My Little Dolly
Mari Kasurinen’s My Little Dolly

The one artist I’d heard of before was Mari Kasurinen, who you will also probably know from her incredibly prolific art collection, My Little Pop Icons: gorgeously sculpted ponies resembling some of pop cult’s favourites – including Gaga, Lagerfeld, Warhol, and fictional characters like Poison Ivy, Chewbacca, Edward Scissorhands. So I was very excited to see her ‘My Little Dolly Parton’. Pictures of the sculptures cannot do justice to the artworks or the impact of seeing them in person. I expected to enjoy Dolly Pony – I didn’t expect to have an emotional reaction. The sculptured ponies are bigger than you’d think, they have presence. And there was something about the scruffy ‘do, the extra long luxurious tail and the disturbingly expressive eyes of the thing that just got me. I revisited that pony several times last night.

Suvi Aarnio’s Fandom Imagined

Suvi Aarnio’s textile piece ‘Fandom Imagined’ evokes that other icon of country music, the Nudie suit, as well as a religious triptych with the exquisitely embroidered Dolly posed like the Holy Mother. Fandom of Christian iconology meets that of The Goddess Parton. The side panels of the triptych are mirrors, reflecting her beauty and also bringing to mind an old fashioned dressing table where Dolly might apply layer upon layer upon layer of makeup. For me, Aarnio’s work – which bears the Dolly quote ‘There’s a heart beneath the boobs and a brain beneath the wig’ – is a sister piece to Sami Viljanto’s ‘Dolly Surround System’. A painted glass Parton, you are invited to look at it both in its stunning technicolour and through a red gel viewer, which transforms her boobs into a perfect heart.

Sami Viljanto’s ‘Dolly Surround System’
Sami Viljanto’s ‘Dolly Surround System’

Experiencing these two artworks, I not only considered the ‘fake on top, soul beneath’ Dolly message but also the heartbreaking fact that this incredibly beautiful, classically pretty woman has never thought she was attractive. Part of Dolly’s charm is the trash and the flash and that she embraces ‘too much’ when it comes to paint, wigs and costume. We love her for it. But she has admitted that this is covering what she sees as a lack. And this is also, of course, the reason for her multiple cosmetic surgeries over the years: the boob jobs to enhance and lift her already massive breasts, the face work, the dieting that keeps her teeny tiny. Dolly Parton is at once a glorious celebration and a mood of melancholy and pathos. And isn’t that so country music?

Sampo Marjomaa’s piece ‘Plywoods Barbie’ (see invite above), painted on knotted wood, is the only artwork that gives us contemporary Dolly. I noted this to the artist and he agreed: ‘most people concentrate on the nostalgic image of Dolly Parton’. At once rustic and plastic, in this piece – depicting her in her currently favoured pale, custard yellow – we have the surgeried Dolly smiling at us (well, as best as she can) hand on hip, emoting that solid Dolly attitude of sass, fun and challenge. We can only hope to rise to it and please her. You so want to please Dolly.

In her 1994 autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business, Dolly revealed that as she gets sent such an enormous amount of fan art she has had to dedicate a room in Dollywood to it, a room she gloriously refers to as ‘The Arts and Craps Room’. Again with the play with high and low. When I sent her my own Dolly art – Little Tiny Tassle Top – a couple of years ago, I hoped and prayed that it would end up in the Arts and Craps gallery. My life’s ambition is to become curator of that wonderous space in the Smokie Mountains. One day.

That said – let it be known – the Dolly pARTon exhibition is all art and no craps in sight.

Corinna Tomrley 2014