Ke$ha walks into Dr. Luke's home studio in Malibu carrying a Siamese kitten. She flips down her lower lip to reveal her latest tattoo – it says SUCK IT! – and tells the producer that a Russian man thrust the kitten upon her at a low-rent strip club where she went after a photo shoot for her second full-length album, due out later this year. There was only one stripper on duty, she says, and the manager asked her if she wanted to get onstage herself. Dr. Luke considers this story: "Are you sure it wasn't someone's house?"
Ke$ha and Dr. Luke have been working since the spring on the follow-up to her platinum 2010 debut, Animal, and the same year's Cannibal EP. "I want it to be a mix of what works on the radio and what I listen to in my spare time," she says. "I'm on a steady diet of T. Rex and Iggy Pop."
To demonstrate, Dr. Luke cues up a new song called "Die Young." Over a huge electrosynth beat, Ke$ha sings, "I hear your heart beat to the beat of the drums... Oh, what a shame that you came here with someone." Ke$ha nods happily as she listens, the kitten sleeping at her feet. "That sounds fucking good," she decides.
Dr. Luke cues up a few more of the 17 incomplete songs they have so far – all stomping, ultracatchy dance tracks. "Supernatural" was inspired by a road trip that Ke$ha says included a sensual experience with a ghost. "Last Goodbye," influenced by Neil Young's 1974 tune "For the Turnstiles," features the lyric "When I was broke, you bought me shoes."
Potential guests on the disc include the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne and Iggy Pop himself. For a session with Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, Ke$ha returned to her hometown of Nashville. "I'm a wild Southern bitch," she says. "Racing around in my gold Trans Am, blasting Skynyrd in my bikini – it just works there."
Ke$ha relocates to a bedroom so Dr. Luke can keep working. "The first two records talked more about partying, which is a great, magical part of life," she says after practically leaping onto a mattress full of fluffy white pillows. "But some songs on the new record are more personal and vulnerable. And you can hear more of the music I listen to when I'm lying in my bed. I'm not claiming that it's a rock record – but as long as it's fucking good, you can call it whatever you want."
Asked what people get wrong about her, Ke$ha squeezes a pillow. "About 90 percent of the time, I don't give a fuck," she says. "But I give many fucks about this album. Some people weren't sure if I could sing. On this record, I said, 'Let's leave the tricks to a minimum and let me wail.'"
"Crazy Kids" is this album's version of her 2010 smash "We R Who We R." The phrase "crazy kid" is also a contender for Ke$ha's next tattoo, on her knuckles. "I have so many terrible tattoos," she says. "Giving prison tattoos is, like, my favorite thing." Visible on her feet are the homemade words fun and YEAH. So what else is in consideration for the knuckles?
Ke$ha considers. "'Live hard,'" she says. "Or 'Wild fuck.'" Then she comes up with a motto to live by: "'Don't suck.'"
This story is from the August 2nd, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.