Q&A: Ke$ha on Bringing 'Balls and Irreverence' to Pop

Singer's second album, 'Warrior,' balances hooky rap-pop with razor-sharp rockers

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Ke$ha performs on NBC's 'Today' Show in New York.
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Though Ke$ha's first album, Animal, was a glitter-coated gutter dance party, with the brash singer getting sleazy and leading throngs of revelers into the night, no guitars were invited. On her new full-length album, Warrior, rock music scores a place on the guest list: the LP's first single, "Die Young," has a strummed guitar front-and-center. The resulting album splits the difference between Ke$ha's signature brand of hooky rap-pop ("Come On," "Crazy Kids") and razor-sharp rockers ("Only Wanna Dance With You," a collaboration with the Strokes' Julian Casablancas and Fabrizio Moretti), with a few strikingly intimate moments (the piano-tinged "Wonderland," which features the Black Keys' Patrick Carney). Rolling Stone spoke with Ke$ha while she was promoting Warrior in the U.K., and she opened up about bringing imperfections into pop music, working with Iggy Pop and who on her tour has been playing the essential role of "Mr. Penis."

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How did you decide to evolve from Animal to Cannibal to Warrior?
On this record I wanted to maintain what I believe is who I am – wild, filthy-mouthed, very honest – but at the same time, address the changes in my life, and bring the music I listen to offstage together with the music I make. For me, that meant working with awesome collaborators. There was a strict no-guitar rule on Animal. I just had this vision of making everyone on the planet dance. I wanted to be the Dance Commander. On this record, I wanted to bring the music I listened to offstage – [Iggy Pop's] The Idiot, The Slider, Electric Warrior [both by T. Rex] – into my music, which is pop music.

Now, to some people, pop is a dirty word, or only a "guilty pleasure." But I fucking love pop music. I always have, and I will 'til the day I die, and I want to make pop records. But I love bringing [rock's] balls and irreverence to my music as much as I can. I once said that I wanted to make "cock pop." And there are moments of that on the record, but there are also the quintessential Ke$ha moments like "Come On" – rap-talking, shit-talking – and there are also moments that are unexpected, stripped-down and just me. As far as the people I collaborated with, I just wanted to take all my idols and make a record with them.

How did you hook up with Iggy? What was it like to work with him?
Being in the studio with him was one of the most incredible days of my life – definitely one of those "holy shit!" moments. I've been obsessed with him forever. I remember when my brother brought home his record on vinyl. And then I started reading about him, and I was like, "I fucking love him." I just started asking everyone I know, pretty much, if any of them knew Iggy Pop, and this time it paid off.

This has been a year when rock songs by the likes of fun. have crossed over to the pop charts. Do you see pop music embracing guitars more in 2013?
For me, bringing in rock was about making the perfect imperfect. When you're making songs electronically, it's easy to make them perfect – you can change things to the microsecond, move the drums down, Auto-Tune everything. I wanted to keep the electronic elements while making things a little bit imperfect, which makes it feel more organic. I wanted to capture real moments in time.

That reminds me of your collaboration with the Flaming Lips, which was so chaotic and balls-to-the-wall. On the EP that comes with Warrior, you cover the country track "Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You," and I kind of see you as a pop outlaw. There's an idea that pop is glossy and perfect, and you're like, "Fuck it, I'm gonna do what I want." And as a result you have this really strong connection with your fans.
I love my fans. And I love that you called me a pop outlaw. "Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You" was written by my mom [Pebe Sebert], and made famous by Dolly Parton. Johnny Cash also sang that, and Merle Haggard, and they've both been famous for being the outlaw, or the misfit.

Are you going to be touring anytime soon, and if you are, are you bringing back the penis suit?
The penis suit is one of my favorite moments onstage. You don't understand the people who have been in that suit. Very famous people have worn it. My mother has been in that suit, friends, ex-boyfriends, lovers – you name it, they've been in that suit. I can't imagine it going anywhere.