There’s more to Ke$ha than Jack Daniel’s mouthwash. Pop’s party animal is also a humanitarian, comparative religion whiz and one of your favorite rapper’s favorite rappers. Wrap your head around that
Story: Julianne Escobedo Shepherd
Photography: Sarah McColgan
Ke$ha is losing it.
Cradling a sole, gleaming high-top sneaker in Los Angeles’ most unassuming hole-in-the-wall sneaker shop, the bleach-blonde pop star is almost shrieking, because not only is the sneaker a flashy metallic shade of purple—it’s a reissued ’90s-style LA Gear Lights, which means that when she walks in it, the heel will light up like she is in her own perpetual “Billie Jean” video. Repeatedly hitting the shoe heel with her palm, mesmerized by its flash, she straight freaks: “Holy shit! Oh my God! Can I have them all?”
They are, indeed, incredible, and the disco light situation happens to work with the leggy singer’s outfit—in black trousers, glittery loafers, and smudged sparkly eye shadow, the 25-year-old is giving so much Michael Jackson, looking every bit the part of the pop sensation she is. More importantly, she looks like she’s had a full night’s rest: It’s a put together, subtle flip from the last-night’s-mascara appearance she’s presented in most of her videos, where her public persona is that of the debauched, somewhat trashy night owl on the prowl for booze and a one-night-stand (if he acts right). But in the middle of this shoe shop on Melrose, seemingly oblivious to the stragglers gawking at her, this is pure kid-like excitement, no liquor required. “I’m not frivolous, I never go shopping,” she says. “And I love cheap costume jewelry. An underlying theme [of my first album, Animal] was how you can be broke and still have fun. Money doesn’t determine whether I’m happy. But it’s really fun to get light-up shoes,” she giggles.
Ke$ha is like a kid in a candy shop—and after buying a few pairs in various colorways, she decides that she actually wants candy. When she leaves the sneaker store, though, paparazzi awaits—three photographers have somehow tracked her down (the cashier and Instagramming shoppers seem likely culprits) and now they're wielding their cameras in her face, back-peddling in front of her while her bodyguard, Mr. Black, tries to shield her. She’s friendly, though, and shoots a quick video for TMZ, flossing her shoes and telling the cameraman, “My shit lights up.”
Before the cash, the paps, and the light-up shoes, Ke$ha was just Kesha Rose Sebert from Nashville, Tenn., the daughter of a single mom, Pebe, who made her living as a country music songwriter. They were poor, but happy, and Kesha was a model student, spending her summers studying comparative religion in a gifted teen program at New York’s Columbia University, writing songs and absorbing all the music she could—Beastie Boys, Prince, Bob Dylan, the Flaming Lips. Still, she didn’t really fit in at school in the Bible Belt.