Ninety-nine percent of the crazy stories Ke$ha spits out sound utterly ludicrous. One minute she’s telling you about the time she infamously threw up in Paris Hilton’s closet. The next, she’s extolling the remarkable virtues of glitter (which somehow cures her all-too-frequent hangovers) and the necklace with the placenta from her birth that she always wears (it supposedly amps up her psychic powers).
The most fascinating aspect of the 22-year-old singer’s stories, however, is that she dashes them off with such earnest verve, as if sneaking into Prince’s house — don’t worry, we’ll circle back there in a second — were totally normal. ”It’s all real!” says Ke$ha (rhymes with John Tesh-a) several times during an interview over drinks at a Manhattan restaurant. ”It’s all honest to a f—ing fault.”
Real or not, her over-the-top persona seems to be connecting. Last month, her No. 1 single, ”TiK ToK,” set a record for the most digital tracks sold in a seven-day period by a female artist, and it has moved more than 2.7 million downloads to date. Her album, Animal, recently knocked Susan Boyle’s blockbuster debut out of the No. 1 spot after a six-week reign. ”I feel kind of bad,” says Ke$ha of bumping Boyle, just before randomly challenging her to a mud-wrestling match. ”But it’s my turn. She had six weeks! That’s a really long time.”
The tale of how Kesha Rose Sebert transformed herself into budding superstar Ke$ha is, as you might guess, also quite a doozy. She was born in L.A. and grew up in Nashville, where her mother, country songwriter Pebe Sebert, penned tunes for Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, among others. When the self-avowed ”marching-band dork” was 17, she got a call from Dr. Luke, the man behind such pop anthems as ”Since U Been Gone” and ”I Kissed a Girl,” who had heard her demo. ”I thought her voice was distinctive, and I fell in love with her personality,” says the producer. ”She had the same sass and irreverence she has now.” Ke$ha decided to move to L.A., which meant turning down a scholarship to Barnard. At first, nothing came from the Dr. Luke deal, and she spent a couple of years doing backup vocals for the likes of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, while sometimes living out of a Lincoln Town Car she’d inherited from her grandfather. One day, Ke$ha claims, she paid a gardener $5 to let her into Prince’s L.A. mansion, where she left her demo (cleverly wrapped in a big purple bow). Prince never called.
Ke$ha was broke and struggling when she got her first break, an uncredited and unpaid spot as the female vocalist on Flo Rida’s early 2009 smash ”Right Round,” which Dr. Luke produced. When told that her guttural yell on the track sounds like a singing orgasm, she nearly wells up with happiness. ”That’s the best description I’ve heard of it in my life!” It was around this time that Ke$ha added the dollar sign to her name, a nod to the fact that she was on a No. 1 single, yet had no money to show for it. But while that guest spot didn’t earn her a cent, it did finally land her a record deal. She quickly cranked out more than 200 songs, 14 of which made the final album, including hard-living party anthems like ”Your Love Is My Drug” and ”Take It Off,” both of which are already charting. ”I wrote about me,” says Ke$ha, who cites early Madonna, Talking Heads, and the Beastie Boys as musical inspirations. ”I get flak because it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re a chick and you’re drinking.’ But I’m not sleeping around” — a point she emphasizes several times — ”and I’m not drinking and driving. I’m 22. I’ll go out with my friends and get rowdy as hell. I’m not sorry, and I will write about it. Because when you write a song, you have to be inspired by something — an experience, a relationship, a guy that won’t call you, a bitch that steals your car.” (Yes, she claims a ”bitch” really did steal her car.)
Ke$ha says ideas can come from anywhere. Asked to pick something in the restaurant she could write about, she doesn’t hesitate. ”Okay, well, there’s a s— ton of booze over there,” she says, zeroing in on the bar. Not surprisingly, she’s gotten some grief over her liquor-fueled lyrics, especially since many of her fans are years from the legal drinking age. ”I have to think about that when I see the little girls who are buying my record. But I’m not a babysitter. It’s their parents’ responsibility to take care of them. I’m not saying that every girl should brush their teeth with Jack Daniel’s,” she says, referencing a line in ”TiK ToK.” ”I hope my record is saying that you can be confident and sexy and you don’t have to wear a push-up bra and look like a whore and spend seven grand on a bag.”
She’s also dealing with constant comparisons to Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. ”I’ve gotten that because Lady Gaga doesn’t like pants and I don’t like pants,” she says. ”People find the need to compare, but I’m very different than both of them. But I think we’re all strong, edgy, sassy women.” Later, she elaborates. ”I’m just a sassy bitch with a big mouth. I just talk a lot of s—. To all the haters out there, come see my show!” Why? ”I do the muthaf—ing robot! Like, what other girl out there is gonna do the robot?”
Paris & Nicole
A 2005 episode of The Simple Life featured Ke$ha and her mom.
The tartlet’s Dr. Luke-written ”Lace and Leather” boats Ke$ha on backup.
A pre-stardom Ke$ha appears in the video for ”I Kissed a Girl.”
Ke$ha and her mother co-wrote the title track to Cyrus’ Time of Our Lives EP.