“I came from a single-parent home, my mom had a nose ring and tattoos, and I’d make my own clothes,” she says. “People just thought I was a fucking freak.” She moved to Los Angeles when she was 17 at the behest of Dr. Luke, the pop machinist who’d heard her demos; she slept on his couch and added the dollar-sign to her name when she was still poor, as both an ironic joke and something to aspire to.
Back then, Ke$ha was writing songs for “anyone,” working in a coffee shop, and crashing studio sessions with Luke. That’s where she cut her lusty vocal for Flo Rida’s 2009 hit “Right Round,” where most people first heard her—but it wasn’t until the party anthem “Tik Tok” dropped later that year that the world got a true taste of the cowboy-booted bad girl. An electro-pop hybrid with a yodeling chorus and gleaming dance floor synth line, the song features the still-quoted line, “Before I leave, brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack, ’cause when I leave for the night I ain’t comin’ back,” which reads something like her mission statement. To top it off, Diddy called in a couple of ad-libs, establishing Ke$ha as party-hard royalty out the gate. She filmed the video at her friend’s flophouse in Echo Park, Calif., looking very hung-over with smeared eye makeup and general hot-mess steez. She’d written the song based on her experiences, and it solidified her public image as a wild child, whose booze- and boy- lust were defining qualities. And most of the raunchy fun, hybrid electronic pop-rap singles from Animal and her subsequent EP, Cannibal, supported as much.
But after two years of touring, a never-ending TMZ stream about her exploits (Ke$ha goes to the beach! Ke$ha wears booty shorts!), and a soul-cleansing “spirit journey” that included swimming with baby whales (more on that later), it’s clear the party-girl image has become tiresome, and Ke$ha’s ready to break free. “The first record was a celebration of partying and being young, but this record’s a better look at my personality. Whatever, I drink like a champion. But I can also do other stuff,” she laughs. “I have a sense of humor about my lyrics. I’m not a train wreck, I’m just having fun.” Dr. Luke, who executive produced her as-yet-untitled upcoming LP, agrees. “When Katy Perry put out ‘I Kissed a Girl,’ people [thought] she was a one-trick pony,” he says. “But when you put out another record that’s great, that answers all those questions. [Ke$ha] doesn’t need to do anything to let people know she’s more than just a party girl. The music will speak for itself.”
On the new album, Ke$ha builds on the style she’s known for—high-energy dance music of the pop variety, folding in her varied influences through an unlikely blend of punk rock (including collaborations with the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne and her idol Iggy Pop); actual yodeling; and coy, sassy white-girl rap, although she’s not entirely comfortable with declaring herself a rapper. “The first time someone called me a rapper, I started laughing,” she says. “I was shocked, and thought it was hilarious. But then, Andre 3000 was telling me how he thinks I’m a good rapper. And Wiz, who’s a good friend of mine, thinks I’m a good rapper? Snoop? It’s crazy and funny to me.” More important to her is that people know she’s a singer: Because of her copious use of Auto-Tune on earlier projects, she was accused of not being able to sing, and she’s toned down the effects. (She’s been absentmindedly singing all day—in the car, in the bathroom, walking down the street—and it sounds great.)