Kesha Opens Up About Her New Music and Perspective—”I Feel Like a Little Kid on Christmas Morning”

It’s no secret that the pop star Kesha has been in the news of late and for some pretty dark subject matter, unfortunately. But from darkness can come light, from sadness can come redemption and new surging power. And take note world: Kesha is in her redemptive era. (It’s a beautiful thing to see.)

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With the release in May of her latest LP, Gag Order, the sublime pop offering she created with the help of music icon Rick Rubin, Kesha is reclaiming herself in a way that is both blissful and honest. As you can read below, the songwriter and performer feels like she’s herself again for the first time in maybe decades.

[RELATED: 5 Famous Music Artists Who, It’s Worth Remembering, Are Stellar Songwriters First and Foremost]

Bask in the joy of Kesha’s rejuvenated spirit, below.

American Songwriter: When did you first find music as a young person?

Kesha: Well, I remember hearing stories about when I was a baby, how I wouldn’t talk, I would just sing. So, I think it’s kind of been omnipresent in the entirety of my life. I think it’s just something that’s a part of me. Growing up around my mom, who is a songwriter, I just was always around her and I think it became like a very defining feature of who I am in my DNA, you know? So, there was never a moment when I chose to make music, it was always there. Then when I started going to school and having, like, crushes or friendship and I didn’t know what to do with my emotions, my mom would always say, “Write a song about it.” So, that became my coping mechanism for life.

AS: My parents were academics, professors. But they didn’t necessarily guide me into that career path. What was it like for you to have a mom who could help you in the music business in that way?

Kesha: Well, I think it was obviously very helpful, because I would be doing my homework at the studio. Like, I would go sit in the drum booth while they would be writing lyrics by the console and would be tracking vocals. I think that it was—obviously we are an amalgamation of everything we’ve ever gone through or seen or heard or tasted or felt, so I think that being a part of her life, obviously impacted my life. And it just came naturally to me. As far as the professional side of things, we still write songs together. Like, all the time. So, it also is a way for me and my family members—because we all make music, some professionally, some not, but we all make it—it’s a way for us to bond.

AS: How did you get good at making music? How did you level up? Because if I was put in a studio at a young age, I don’t know if I would have become an acclaimed artist. Were there tricks or tips you absorbed along the way?

Kesha: I mean, I think it’s—of course I’m sure things absorbed, even if it was subconsciously. But, you know, something that I absorbed very full on from the beginning was—I have a lot of emotions. I’m a very emotional person. So, how can I turn something that is painful into something that is beautiful? And after when I turn it into something that is beautiful, how can I help other people? That clicked very early on, maybe when I was, like, in my teens, like 16, 17, 18, I started realizing that my experiences could somehow help other people in this very magical way.

And how to, like, uplevel? That’s just—I think you, no matter what it is, even if it’s a creative endeavor, I’ve seen people get good at doing something just by doing it over and over. So, I think a big part of my success has been the—I won’t give up, I’m very stubborn. I just have to keep going. You know, I’ve been through a lot of stuff in my life but I just refuse to have that be the end of the story.

AS: That’s really great. It reminds me of that quote from, I think, Steve Harvey, “If you’re going through hell, why would you stop?”

Kesha: Yeah, absolutely, 100%.

AS: That really comes through on your record. It’s a great pop record and there’s a lot of depth to it, too. But it also has these life lessons, right? These affirmations about if you are going through abuse, or whatever it is you’re going through, there are mechanisms for salvation.

Kesha: Yeah.

AS: To that end, what was the genesis, the origins of Gag Order? You obviously led a complex life of late and there was the pandemic. There’s also this sense on it that love conquers all. So, what would you like to say about the origins of the album?

Kesha: Yeah. Well, I think there was a lot of music and lot of great music—it just kind of chose me. Like, the spirit of it chose me. And I feel like I’m behaving more as a conduit for these songs than sitting down and writing them. I feel like I can’t take all the credit. I feel like something almost supernatural happened with this album.

AS: Wow!

Kesha: The origin story was, you know, I’m a seeker. I’ve always been a seeker, spiritually. And I had a night that kind of changed my life. I feel like it was some sort of combination of an ego death and a spiritual awakening. That was born from severe anxiety and I felt like my brain was—you know when things are under so much pressure they break, they break open. And I feel like something happened to my brain and I kind of realized like I felt like I’d gotten in touch with some sort of higher cosmic energy. Because it felt like the universe was having an intervention with me in terms of the way I was thinking.

AS: Do you feel like a different artist or person today? Does this fee like a BC/AD moment for you? How has this album and making it changed you?

Kesha: I think it’s changed me immensely. Absolutely I think it’s a BC/AD moment. I think Rainbow was a BC/AD moment. And [this album was also] my spiritual BC/AD moment in terms of trusting myself, trusting my intuition, trusting my gut and also realizing that, you know, that [realization] coupled with the pandemic, I really realized I don’t have control over anything. I think I used to think it was up to me to make all the things in my life happen. And now I realize I’m just an observer. Like, I’m a historian of emotions.

AS: That’s a great phrase. On the new album, you sing about being “scared of myself” and of “everyone else.” So, how did fear and perhaps even the shedding of fear influence the record’s beginnings?

Kesha: I think with surrender. And I feel like I felt like I was holding on so tight to everything I possibly could around me for some semblance of feeling okay and I just had to let go of everything. And just really admit that I am really powerless in all of this. And living in a state of anxiety or fear just because there’s an injustice going on, that doesn’t necessarily help or fix anything. And I would just go in circles about how to correct the injustices I see around me and I realized I was living in this anxiety realm and it was becoming paralyzing to live in a mental state of severe anxiety. It’s really not healthy.

AS: Thank you for being so candid, Kesha. How about Rick Rubin? He helped produce the record and he has a long, rich history bridging genres and bringing the best out of many bands. How did he cultivate the album and its songs? Did he help you feel more comfortable being yourself and experimenting?

Kesha: He did and I think more than anything Rick felt like a very safe container to dump all of my madness into. Like when you dump out your purse or you dump out a drawer that just is your random shit drawer. You dump it into a big bowl and then you start sorting through it. He was like the safe space and safe container for me to do that.

AS: Was there a moment between you two that crystallized that idea for you?

Kesha: There are many. It was just an everyday [thing]. Every moment with him was really eye-opening. I would say the first example that comes to mind was when I first went to go work with him—he’s only the second executive producer I’ve ever worked with in my life on an album. And I had come into that process being really nervous and having a lot of anxiety about how that was going to look. How that was going to go. So, for the first three weeks, we didn’t get—I mean, we got some work done. But more so, he would just have me come in and we would meditate together and we would talk until I felt like I was at a place to start actually working.

But it took me, you know, three weeks to be able to get to that point. He was so patient. And then he also, more so than just being this very safe place for me, he also has impeccable taste. Like, unmatched taste. A good opinion to rely on when you’re sorting through the chaos of your mind. Someone who is incredibly safe but also artistically unmatched taste. So, I could trust him.

AS: Sounds like therapy appointments I’ve had in my life.

Kesha: Yeah, absolutely.

AS: One more question about Gag Order. I really love the song “Hate Me Harder.” What is it like for you to sing that?

Kesha: Oh my god! It’s fun! I feel like a bad bitch. Because I’ve been through so much at this point. I’m fucking bulletproof! Like, all the petty shit that used to really affect me is laughable now. And I feel like that’s a really powerful place to be in. I feel really strong, I feel really connected and I feel like a force to be reckoned with right now.

AS: I’m excited to see what comes next. It feels like the world is your oyster and you’ve found your lane. So, how about the future? What’s on your mind personally or professionally? Do you feel hopeful, cleansed, consumed, insecure, secure?

Kesha: Personally and professionally, I’m just really excited. I feel like I haven’t been professionally in the position I’m in right now since I was 17-years-old. And I’m just really excited about the future. I feel a freedom that has been such a foreign feeling to me for the first time in a really, really long time.

AS: That’s really great. I’m happy for you! I know what that relief can feel like. And I know how hard it is to find. And how we even sort of put it off for ourselves thinking that a different future is what we’re supposed to have. It’s just great to hear the relief and joy in your voice. So, congratulations.

Kesha: Oh my god! Thank you! I feel so—I feel like a little kid on, like, Christmas morning. That’s kind of how I feel. I don’t know what I’m about to unwrap for myself but, like, I’m excited to close the door on a very painful chapter and I feel like I’m finally in the new chapter that I’ve been waiting for for a really long time.

AS: That’s empowering and exciting. Okay, last question, what do you love most about music—especially right now?

Kesha: What do I love most about music? I feel like music is magical. And I like being a part of a magic for other people when they listen to my music. And I also love being transformed by the magic that other people created.

Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

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