And though the album is as life affirming as ever, there’s a tinge of sadness. Lead single “Die Young” is about living for the moment, making “the most of the night like we’re gonna die young.” On the will.i.am co-written “Crazy Kids”—which yodeling, acoustic guitar, and heavy booty bass, and strangely works—she says, “Haters gonna hate/And this is all we got and then it’s gone/So call us the crazy ones/We gonna keep on dancing till the dawn.”
“I’ve really just been doing a lot of thinking about life,” Ke$ha says, looking somberly at the stacks of shoeboxes at her feet in the sneaker shop. “The first record, people tore me a new asshole, and were fucking steady on my balls, and tried to make me feel like I was such a piece of shit. I did some soul-searching, and realized nothing I’m doing is negative, it’s actually super positive. You can change peoples’ mood in a three-and-a-half minute song. So why not spread positive energy and be funny? Let [the haters] be miserable. Anyone who wants to have a good time, let’s fucking do this.”
As if to prove a point: She pulls her leg out from under her to reveal one of her most recent tattoos on her bare foot, the word fun scrawled in her own handwriting. “I had a birthday party downtown with a tattoo artist, free booze, and a photo booth. And it was the funnest party ever. Everyone I love was there. I ended the night jumping on a mini-trampoline. So I got the tattoo artist like, ‘I need you to commemorate this night with the word fun on my feet.’ He was like, ‘Really?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah. Do it.’”
For all Ke$ha’s spontaneity, for all her love of the moment, for all her endless enthusiasm for the night, straight up, she’s a little bit of a hippie. She admits it. “Not like the patchouli kind of hippie, but the kind where you love everybody,” she says. It’s her sense of love and empathy that inspired Ke$ha’s “spirit journey,” which she embarked upon in September 2011, just after she was named the Humane Society’s first-ever Global Ambassador for the animals. Influenced by her family—her brother’s in the Peace Corps in Honduras—and wanting to fully understand what that meant, she took a long break from work, didn’t tell anyone where she was going, and traveled to Galápagos Islands, Australia, and South Africa to raise her own awareness of animal rights. “I went swimming with whales in the middle of nowhere, it was like naked boat ladies swimming with baby whales for a week,” she says. “Then I was rehabilitating baby lions who were like pissing in my tent, and I was feeding them with a bottle, because their parents orphaned them and they’re trying to rehabilitate these other lions that were kept in captivity.”
Her face softens when she remembers it, and she kind of glows, not at all like the up-all-night Ke$ha of past red carpets. She gets the same look on her face later, backstage in a dressing room at Staples Center waiting to prerecord a skit for the VMAs when she talks about her fans—who she’s appropriately christened her Animals. “It can’t be said enough: be yourself, love each other. I’ve had to deal with scrutiny [in Nashville] that probably isn’t even comparable to the kind of scrutiny people from a place like that face being gay or lesbian. A lot of my fans struggle with that, and it breaks my heart that people haven’t found out how to be nice to each other.”
Coincidentally, her VMA skit is built off the idea that Ke$ha is the farthest thing from a contemplative, spiritual, all-loving hippie type: The gag is, she’s costumed in a ballerina bun and yoga pants, surrounded by candles, trying to relax for the evening, supposedly hilarious and incongruous to her party style. But if Ke$ha represents anything, it’s exactly that you can be both, or many things, or anything. “If I tried to pretend to be something I wasn’t, people would have smelled bullshit a long time ago,” she says. “I would've gotten eaten alive if I tried to be a heel-wearing little princess. It’s just not who I am. I’ve had people try to make me act right, but it’s just not gonna happen. I just can’t not say inappropriate things.”
Later, Ke$ha will be at pole-dancing club and frequent haunt Jumbo’s Clown Room, knocking back tequilas and handing out stacks of dollar bills so a trio of ladies can make it rain on the not-quite-naked dancers. For now, though, she’s concentrating on Mr. Peep$, the tiny cat she adopted from a sketchy Russian dude one night outside of a strip club. The slender Siamese is racing around the pristine black carpet, sniffing in nooks and crevices, attacking anything smaller than a loaf of bread. He’s adorable and spry, with a standard catlike level of cojones, misbehaving and charming everybody around because of it. He also happens to be dressed in full costume: a yellow-orange pullover hoodie with a mane that makes him look like a cartoon lion. Ke$ha coos at his adorable black-and-tan face in a high-pitched, sort of alien-singer chirp and gushes, “He’s really kind of bad, but he’s just so, so sweet.”
Ever hear what they say about pets becoming just like their owners?