Kesha’s follow-up to 2017’s emotionally weighty, rock-leaning Rainbow started off as what she describes as a “psychedelic country record.” But a phone call from her brother sent her in another direction.
“He was like, ‘Why don’t you write some pop songs?’ ” she says. “ ‘You’re good at it, you like it.’ ”
She ended up writing 54 songs for the album, High Road, which is due in January — and some tracks feature a return to her original style, complete with rapping à la “Tik Tok” (the 2009 Kesha hit, to be clear, not the app). “What you call rapping,” she says, “I call talking shit.”
What was your response to that conversation with your brother?
I kind of felt like I didn’t have the right to be happy and write happy songs, and then “My Own Dance” was the first pop song I wrote. I was like, “Fine. I’ll go write a fucking pop song.” And then I was like, “Wait, this is superfun. Why am I keeping myself from the greatest pleasure of my life?” And I have to say, that song, and that conversation with my brother, put me on the path of finding probably the most severe happiness I’ve ever had my entire life.
Well, I’ve been through things that were not all pleasant, and we all know about them. I felt a little guilty about making dance-y songs, fun songs, and songs about going out and getting drunk with my friends. And then I realized I don’t have to live under a dark cloud forever. No one’s telling me to be happy. I earned my happiness, and it’s OK to be happy. And hopefully that’s inspiring to people. I’m a survivor of shit, but it doesn’t mean I have to be defined by what I’ve been through for the rest of my life.
What did it feel like to rap again in the studio?
I felt like it was not the right time to do that on Rainbow — I had a lot of really serious things to address on that record, and in my mind, part of the joy I didn’t deserve anymore was wrapped up in what you call rapping. I’ve never felt comfortable when people call me a rapper. It makes me laugh. But part of regaining my happiness was starting to talk a little shit. I’d work with people and they’d be like, “There she is. There’s that bitch.” I realized it was making me so happy, and then it’s hopefully going to make other people happy.
There’s also at least one really introspective ballad on the album, too, right?
The song “Father Daughter” was just me contemplating what life would be like if I’d had a father. So there’s wacky shit and moments that are super-introspective. Yeah, I feel like we’re finally at a place in music where you don’t just have to be one thing. Like, you can be all the things. You can be everything. You can be the infinite amount of things that people are.
How did Big Freedia end up on the first single, “Raising Hell”?
Well, Big Freedia came on the Kesha cruise, and that’s where we met. I’d never been on a cruise before, and I was a little terrified, because I just watched the Fyre Fest documentary. And the first night, Big Freedia played, and I was like, “Oh, this is going to be the best four days of my life.” And it was so much fucking fun. We got matching tattoos on our hands, and I got to know all her dancers. She pulled me up onstage. I have a fucked-up knee from when I tore my ACL, and she was like, “Sit on the dick!” And I was like, “I can’t sit on the dick. Only my right knee’s working.” And then by the end of it, we were both like, “We have to collaborate. This is too good.” And then we wrote “Raising Hell,” and I was like, “OK, if this is going to maybe be the first single, I really want Freedia on it.”
Earlier this year, you leaked the song “Rich, White, Straight Men,” probably the wildest-sounding thing you’ve ever recorded. Where did that come from?
I mean, have you heard about the world lately? [Laughs] My ideas are summed up in that song, which sounds like a carnival on a bad acid trip, which is kind of what the world is right now. Which is why I feel like people need some pure-pleasure, pop, fuck-off, fun, happy music — so here I am to deliver.
Your own lawsuit preceded the #MeToo movement. So what do you make of it?
Obviously I’m heartbroken that any kind of sexual abuse happens to any human being in the world. It shouldn’t have to be something that is a movement, and that makes me really sad. But I commend any person who has stood up and told their truth, because it’s really difficult.
What have you been listening to lately?
Right now, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Déjà Vu is on my record player. I love Lizzo and I love Billie Eilish — I’m obsessed with Lizzo. And this morning I was listening to the [Ric Ocasek-produced] second Suicide record. Ric Ocasek had a huge influence on me accepting that pop music is fucking cool.
It feels like there’s less pressure on you this time.
The vibe is so different. It’s so nice to feel so happy, when that felt inconceivable a couple of years ago. To be laying in the front yard, tanning my titties, talking to you, not crying — and I’m so excited about doing fun music. . . . But every time, though, I feel the pressure, just for my fans. I want them to love it!