Some fans of SF’s The Residents are up in arms about a video that surfaced after a Shoreline Amphitheater performance on Friday.
The 17-second video shows 22-year-old pop singer Kesha Sebert (Ke$ha) performing her song “Blah Blah Blah” with six backup dancers dressed in The Residents’ iconic imagery of tuxedo wearing eyeball heads, complete with top hats.
The Residents first debuted that look with the release of their Eskimo album in 1979.
After about two decades, the group retired the outfits for live performances, but still uses the image as a logo of sorts, with merchandising on their recent Wonder of Weird tour leaning heavily on that unmistakable icon.
The video was sent to The Residents’ facebook page by Chris Mathew on Sunday, and has since inspired a spirited debate over Ke$ha’s use of such imagery.
Some fans think it’s an outrage, including Sara Creamcheese Brandau. “I’m not a naturally litigious person but if you can sue her you really should. Unless you guys are, honored by this tribute? Alright, I gotta throw up,” Brandau posted.
Others, like John H. Felix, don’t see a problem. “Fans of a band who have been maniacally appropriating pop culture for their own needs complain about musician appropriating band for her own needs, film at 11,” Felix posted.
Rick Gawel said, “She's using the eyeballs and tuxes, so what? If it were Primus, who are huge Residents fans and have played with them, people would probably be OK with it.”
Chris Mathew, who shot the video, said he thinks Ke$sha is a Residents' fan herself. “If I had to guess, Ke$ha’s secretly a fan of their [The Residents] stuff… the way she introduced everything, it sounded like she was trying to shoehorn eyeballs into the equation. And then, viola! Residents dancers,” Mathew said.
“They were so accurate that, for a second, I thought it was really The Residents onstage and this was just their latest stunt. But then they started moving wayyyy too young-like for that to be the case.”
The Residents recently celebrated 40 years of releasing music, films and multimedia projects, and throughout their storied career, they have remained anonymous, always performing in disguise, and have been known to pull pranks and use misdirection and mistruths to keep the public guessing.
This isn’t the first time Ke$ha and The Residents were mentioned in the same breath.
On April 25, The Residents’ facebook page posted a screen shot from Ke$ha’s MTV reality tv show showing the pop star sporting a “Duck Stab!” t-shirt from the group’s 1978 album, with a caption that read, “Let’s get this woman interviewed for the documentary!”
A documentary film called “Theory of Obscurity: a film about The Residents” is in production now about the group (FULL DISCLOSURE: I am helping to produce and shoot this film), and a better shot of Ke$ha’s song was posted on the film’s facebook page which much more clearly shows the eyeball dancers as seen from the front row of Nikon Theater in New York.
On the Theory of Obscurity facebook page, the debate raged on, with more people suggesting lawsuit. Mark Favro said, “Devo sued McDonalds for ripping off their Red Hat design that was on a Happy Meal toy so The Residents can and should sue sue sue!”
On the other hand, Neal Burgess countered, “Wow, a lot of holier than thou hate coming from the nerds… I didn’t realize the Residents had any kind of trademark on their now retired costumes, aren’t they in the process of selling the eyeballs? Maybe Kesha bought 5 of those Ultimate Boxed Sets.”
Burgess brings up an interesting point. At Christmas last year, The Residents released a video with their singer, Randy Rose, standing next to a refrigerator full of every release The Residents have put out in the last 40 years. Included in the deal was one of the original eyeball heads. They were calling it the “Ultimate Box Set” and a U.B.S. could be yours for $100,000.
However, something I’ve yet to see anyone bring up is the offer at the end of the U.B.S. video, where Randy holds up a “1 of a Kind” item in a small black box covered with question marks.
Perhaps Ke$ha drove up in an armored car and dumped $5,000,000 in Randy’s garage.
Stranger things have happened in the world of The Residents.