I don't get the insult, as the pop star clearly was appropriating a cultural archetype for purposes of costume fashion and wasn't projecting any message beyond that. It's stupid, because the ideas invoked with the costume are non-sequitur to the song. It's not a statement about anyone but the lame pop star.
Is it that such a headdress is a 'sacred' thing and therefore using it in a costume for a pop performance is 'blasphemous' or culturally insensitive?
I don't watch American Idol either. About all I know about Kesha is that she's some pop star. I may have seen her on Conan O'Brien's show once, but I immediately forgot her.
Whether people feel insulted or offended is their personal response. My claim is that the headdress is stereotypical regardless of how you feel about it. It contributes to the pervasive view that all Indians are equivalent to the Plains Indians of the 19th century. In short, that they're primitive people of the past.
The nature of headdresses
I wouldn't say a headdress is "sacred," exactly. More like "honored" or "revered" because of its feathers. A feather is an honor bestowed only on someone who has done something noteworthy. A headdress of feathers goes only on someone--usually a man--who has achieved great things. A young woman wearing a headdress as a stage prop mocks the whole concept.
So the nature of the headdress is an additional problem. The main problem is the wrongness of appropriating someone's culture and using it for no good reason. If Kesha had dressed as a sexy Indian maiden without the headdress, I think people would be just as upset. It's wrong because it's stereotypical...period.
If this still isn't clear, imagine someone dressing as a stereotypical African of the 19th century. Grass skirt, spear in hand, bone through the nose, etc. Would this strike you as offensive, or at least objectionable? The headdress is the same idea--a 150-year-old stereotype--and it's wrong for the same reason.
Kesha makes a statement
What's your counterargument...that Kesha is making a fashion statement? Okay, if you say so. She's making a fashion statement...in a racist or stereotypical way.
FYI, the choice isn't "fashion statement" or "racist stereotyping." It can be--and in this case is--both.
What she's really making a statement about is her view of Indians. The statement is she doesn't consider Indians to be full-fledged people worthy of dignity and respect. To her they're merely objects to exploit.
She may not have intended to make this statement. She may not even be aware she's making it. Many racists and stereotypers are oblivious to the messages they send. But they send the messages anyway.
How ignorant is she?
I doubt Kesha even realizes Indians still live. If she does, she probably thinks they're uncivilized people who dress in funny outfits and do funny dances. That they're like the Indians in old cartoons: wild, crazy, barely-human creatures. In other words, savages.
The usual counterargument is that she's "honoring" Indians for being great warriors. Really? The Zulus who fought half-naked with spears were great warriors also. Why don't we take off our clothes, put on black shoe polish, and "honor" them too?
I trust this analogy makes the problem obvious. Most Indians didn't wear headdresses 150 years ago and they definitely don't today. They're doctors, lawyers, and teachers, not dancing clowns. They prefer to be known for their intelligence, compassion, or wit, not for their killer instinct. Stereotyping them as spear-chucking savages is no honor.
The politics of stereotyping
I went into what people are saying when they dress up as stereotypical Indians in No Politics in Chasco's Stereotypes? That lesson applies here, too. Read and learn.
Still not convinced stereotypes carry a political message? I wrote a long essay explaining how Americans have used Native stereotypes for political purposes. Again, read and learn.
Below: Why didn't Kesha dress up like this and honor Africans? What would the reaction have been if she did?