If you were young in the late aughts and early 2010s, you were dancing to Kesha.
Her hit songs—”TiK ToK” and “Your Love is My Drug”—were the party hits of the era, and for a while TiK ToK was the best-selling digital single in history.
But then, Kesha went silent.
The once omnipresent pop star all but disappeared from the music industry. She struggled with an eating disorder and fought a years-long legal battle with her former producer, Dr. Luke, in which she alleged physical, sexual and emotional abuse. He later countersued her for defamation. (Dr. Luke denied all allegations and the two settled the defamation lawsuit earlier this year.)
Now, she’s back with a new album—Gag Order—and a new tour launching this fall. And while Kesha and I didn’t specifically discuss her legal troubles, she does open up about what she’s learned in her time away from the industry, and how she’s changed her attitude about fame, happiness, and true artistic success.
Tune in every Thursday, and join us as we continue to explore the minds that shape our world. You can listen to the full episode in the player above, but here are a handful of excerpts from our conversation, which have been condensed and edited for clarity.
On how her first impression has shaped her career:
I always remember being like, people can find out I can sing my ass off later. Wow, was that a mistake. I didn’t realize that the first impression will literally last forever.
Things like brushing my teeth with whiskey. It’s like, these are all funny things. It’s funny. I grew up on the Beastie Boys, and that was a huge inspiration, so I was like, OK, I can just have fun with this. It’s fun.
But I didn’t realize that if I did that, it was going to be the lasting impression of the entirety of my career. People are just gonna be so locked into the fact that, today at 36, do I brush my teeth with Jack Daniels? I get that question. All the time. Needless to say, I don’t.
Well, it did happen one time in my twenties, so in fairness it happened.
On what true artistic success means to her:
I’ve had some of the biggest commercial success an artist could ever have, and it is always so satisfying to have that. Success to me now means feeling free, and the art is where I put my secrets. The last album I just made certainly did not do as well as “TiK ToK,” but I feel so free.
That to me, that is success now. ‘Cause it’s totally impossible to always be the biggest artist of all time. At some point, somebody new or somebody old or whatever is gonna come along and be the moment. And to just chase being the moment forever, sounds really sad.
On how she reinvented herself:
Everyone knows Madonna’s the queen of reinvention. I would see her, and I was like, wow. It’s, like, necessary to reinvent. But I didn’t realize how it was gonna feel, myself. And then when the reinvention kind of happened, it’s uncomfortable.
It’s uncomfortable to not lean on what you know people like. And also what has worked before. But if you have some of the biggest songs in the world and still feel empty inside, you know you gotta look at something. You know you have to readjust.
Because I always felt like I was chasing this thing. You know, if I put out a record and it’s successful, et cetera, et cetera, then I’ll be happy. And then when I got there, and not only was I not happy, I felt like I was holding so many secrets, and who I really am, away from people like, I don’t know, I feel just, like, so gross.
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