Kesha Rose Sebert (born March 1, 1987), known mononymously as Kesha ( , stylized as Ke$ha), is an American singer-songwriter and rapper. In 2005, at age 18, Kesha was signed to producer Dr. Luke's record label, Kemosabe Entertainment, and publishing company. Although an active musician since then, singing background vocals and writing songs for other artists, her breakthrough came in early 2009 after appearing on rapper Flo Rida's number-one single, "Right Round." Her debut album, Animal and her first extended play, Cannibal, were released in 2010. Kesha's irreverent music and image propelled her to immediate commercial success, with Animal debuting as the number-one album in the US. She also achieved two number-one singles, "Tik Tok" and "We R Who We R", and a string of top ten hits from the album and its re-release. At the same time, she continued to write songs for other artists, including "Till the World Ends" for pop singer Britney Spears. Warrior, her second studio album released in December 2012, spawned Kesha's eighth top-ten hit with "Die Young".
Influenced by various genres and artists, Kesha primarily draws inspiration from music of the 1980s; Madonna, Queen, and Beck have been cited as instrumental to her artistry. After experimenting with country, pop rock, and electronic music, Kesha stuck with the latter. Her "talky" rap technique, yodelling, and excessive auto-tune have become her trademark, and all three have led to scrutiny regarding her vocal talent. Thematically, her music generally revolves around party antics and binge drinking, although some tracks have been noted as odes to individuality. Philanthropically, Kesha has been involved with animal rights and LGBT activism. Since her debut, Kesha has been nominated for over 40 awards, winning upwards of 10. Among these awards, she won the MTV Europe Music Award for Best New Act in 2010 and several Billboard Awards. Kesha has sold 3 million albums and 30 million singles worldwide.
Kesha was born in Los Angeles, California on March 1, 1987. Her mother, Patricia Rose "Pebe" Sebert, is a singer-songwriter who co-wrote the 1978 single "Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You" with Hugh Moffatt for Joe Sun. Pebe, a single mother, struggled financially while supporting herself, Kesha, and her older brother Lagan; they relied on welfare payments and food stamps to get by. When Kesha was an infant, Pebe would often have to look after her onstage while performing. Kesha says she has no knowledge of her father's identity. However, a man who called himself her father approached Star Magazine in 2011 with pictures and letters, claiming them as proof that they had been in regular contact as father and daughter before she turned 19. Two of her maternal great grandparents were immigrants from Szentes, Hungary while her other maternal great grandmother was originally from Poland. Pebe moved the family to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1991 after securing a new publishing deal for her songwriting. Kesha's younger brother Louis was born shortly after. Pebe frequently brought Kesha and her brothers along to recording studios and encouraged Kesha to sing when she noticed Kesha's vocal talent. Kesha claimed that she did not fit in at school in the Brentwood suburb of Nashville, which she has called the "Bible Belt", explaining that her unconventional dress sense including homemade purple velvet pants and purple hair did not endear her to other students. She played the trumpet and later the saxophone in the marching band in school, and described herself in an interview with NPR as being a diligent student.
Kesha attended Franklin High School and Brentwood High School. In addition to taking songwriting classes, Kesha was also taught how to write songs by Pebe, and they would often write together when she returned home from high school. Kesha began recording demos which Pebe would give to people she knew. Kesha was also in a band with Lagan. Kesha and Pebe co-wrote the song "Stephen" together when Kesha was 16, Kesha then tracked down David Gamson, a producer that she admired, from Scritti Politti who agreed to produce the song. She dropped out of school at 17, after being convinced by Dr. Luke and Max Martin to return to Los Angeles to pursue a music career, and earned her GED after. Around this time, Pebe answered an ad by reality series, The Simple Life, looking for an "eccentric" family to host Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. The episode aired in 2005. Luke and Martin had received one of Kesha's demo from Samantha Cox, senior director of writer/publisher relations at Broadcast Music Incorporated, and were impressed. Two of the demos were described in a cover story for Billboard, the first "a gorgeously sung, self-penned country ballad" and the second "a gobsmackingly awful trip-hop track" where Kesha raps ad lib for a minute when she runs out of lyrics near the end. Dr. Luke stated in an interview for the story that it was the latter track that caught his attention, saying "[w]hen you're listening to 100 CDs, that kind of bravado and chutzpah stand out."
2005-09: Career beginnings
In 2005, at 18, Kesha was signed to Dr. Luke's label, Kemosabe Entertainment, and his music publishing company, Prescription Songs. Kesha later sang background vocals for Paris Hilton's single, "Nothing in This World". Dr. Luke became preoccupied with other incoming projects, having enjoyed success writing and producing for pop star Kelly Clarkson's album, Breakaway. Kesha then signed with David Sonenberg's management company, DAS Communications Inc., in 2006, hardly interacting with Dr. Luke after that. DAS was tasked with obtaining a major label record deal for Kesha in a year"s time in exchange for 20 percent of her music income, with her having the option of ending the relationship if they failed. She worked with several writers and producers while at the company and ended up co-writing Australian pop group The Veronicas' single, "This Love" with producer Toby Gad. While furthering her career in studio, Kesha earned her living as a waitress. She adopted the dollar sign in her name while struggling to get by as an ironic gesture.
Kesha appeared in the video for her friend, pop singer Katy Perry's single "I Kissed a Girl", and sang background vocals for the Dr. Luke-produced song, "Lace and Leather" by pop singer Britney Spears in 2008. DAS soon attracted the attention of songwriter and A&R Kara DioGuardi, who wanted to sign Kesha to Warner Bros. Records. The deal fell through due to her existing contract with Dr. Luke's label. In September, she terminated her contract with DAS, reuniting with Dr. Luke. Kesha gained exposure in the mainstream media in early 2009 after appearing on rapper Flo Rida's number one single, "Right Round". The collaboration happened by accident; she had walked into a recording session for the song with Flo Rida and Dr. Luke. Flo Rida wanted a female voice for the song; Dr. Luke then suggested Kesha for the part. Flo Rida liked the end result so much that they did two more tracks. However, she is not credited for her feature on the US release of "Right Round" and did not collect any money for the part. She also refused to appear in the video, explaining to men's magazine Esquire that she wanted to make a name for herself on her own terms.
2009-11: Animal and Cannibal
After failing to negotiate with Lava Records and Atlantic Records in 2009, Kesha signed a multi-album deal with RCA Records through Dr. Luke's imprint. Having spent the previous six years working on material for her debut album, she began putting finishing touches to the album with Luke and Max Martin. For the album, she wrote 200 songs. The album was executive produced by Luke, who produced the majority of the songs with Martin, and producers Benny Blanco and Ammo. The album is primarily of the electropop genre with beats and synths, marking a shift in sound for Luke from then on from his signature pop-rock productions. Animal debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 when it was released in January 2010. It was certified platinum in the US and had sold two million albums worldwide by September. The lead single of the album, "Tik Tok", broke the record in the United States for the highest single week sales, selling 610,000 digital downloads, the highest ever by a female artist since tracking began in 2003. It spent nine weeks at number one and became the longest running number one by a female artist on her debut single since Debby Boone and "You Light Up My Life" in 1977. Subsequent singles from the album, "Blah Blah Blah", "Your Love Is My Drug" and "Take It Off" achieved similar commercial success each reaching the top ten in Australia, Canada, and the U.S. Kesha was also featured on two top ten singles by musician Taio Cruz and electro-pop duo 3OH!3.
Kesha's deliberately unpolished aesthetic and juvenile stage persona, which she described as her own personality "times ten", quickly made her a deeply polarizing figure. Some of her critics found her output to be unsophisticated, while others felt that she was manufactured and lacked credibility. Kesha's former managers from DAS Communications Inc. filed a lawsuit later that month, seeking $14 million from Kesha and $12 million from Luke for commissions on her RCA Records deal, alleging that she had extended the deadline for them to get her a major record label contract and squeezed them out of her career under pressure from Dr. Luke. Kesha launched her own lawsuit in October, citing the California-exclusive Talent Agencies Act and asking the California Labor Commissioner to declare her contract with DAS void because it had acted as an unlicensed talent agent while procuring work for her in California, where only licensed agents can do so. Kesha held a benefit concert on June 16, 2010 where all proceeds went to aid victims of the May 2010 Tennessee floods from her hometown Nashville. She raised close to $70,000 from the event. She was a supporting act on the summer North American leg of pop star Rihanna's Last Girl on Earth Tour and was awarded Best New Act at the 2010 MTV Europe Music Awards.
In November 2010, Animal was re-released with a companion extended play, Cannibal. The lead single taken from Cannibal, "We R Who We R" debuted at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. With two number ones and four top ten hits, Kesha was named Hot 100 Artist of 2010 by Billboard, with "Tik Tok" topping the year-end chart. The follow-up single from Cannibal, "Blow" charted in the top ten on the Hot 100. As of June 2011, she has accumulated almost 21 million digital single downloads in the US alone. In February 2011, Kesha embarked on her first headlining world tour, Get Sleazy. The tour was expanded with a summer leg due to the first leg selling out and spanned three continents. Kesha also co-wrote the song "Till the World Ends" for American popstar Britney Spears and she was featured on the remix of the song along with rapper Nicki Minaj.
Kesha was named rights group Humane Society's first global ambassador for animal rights, for which she is expected to bring attention to such practices as cosmetics testing on animals and shark finning. She also appeared alongside rock singer Iggy Pop in a campaign for PETA, protesting the clubbing of baby seals in Canada and later wrote on behalf of the organization to fast food chain McDonald's over the conditions of their slaughterhouses.
Kesha's second full length album, Warrior was released on November 30, 2012. She began writing for the album while on her own headlining tour in 2011. The album featured productions from her main collaborators Dr. Luke and Max Martin, as well as a song by Wayne Coyne, the lead singer of the alternative band Flaming Lips. Coyne had reached out to Kesha for a collaboration after hearing that she was a fan of the band. Besides working on Kesha's albu, they recorded the song "2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)" for the band's album, The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends. The first single taken from Warrior was "Die Young". Instrumentally, it was compared to Flo Rida's "Good Feeling" while lyrically, it was compared to "Teenage Dream" by Katy Perry. The song debuted at number thirteen on Billboard Hot 100 and eventually peaked at number 2. The song also charted across Europe and the Anglosphere and reached the top ten in Australia, Canada, and Belgium.
In November 2012, Kesha released an illustrated memoir, My Crazy Beautiful Life. It was written by Kesha and the memoir was published and distributed by Touchstone Books.
Kesha co-wrote every song on her first two albums and considers herself a songwriter primarily, writing for artists including Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus. She possesses a "strong, sneering vibrato", with a distinct yodel-like quality to her voice; she employs actual yodeling on the songs, "Tik Tok" and "Cannibal". Having previously done country, pop rock, and hard electro, she had a clear idea of the electropop sound that she wanted for her debut album. The genre was popular at the time, with many of her peers releasing similar output as well. Both of her albums are of the genre with catchy hooks and synthesized productions recalling Nintendo-era video game music, also incorporating elements from other genres. "Party at a Rich Dude's House" and "C U Next Tuesday" have 1980s derived backing, while "Stephen" begins with "Kansas-style vocal harmonies". While her vocals on the albums were heavily processed with auto-tune, often to produce rapid stuttering or over-pitch corrected vocal effects, leading to questions on vocal talent, she expressed confidence in her abilities. Kesha also uses a trademark talky "white-girl" rapping style with exaggerated discordant phrasing and enunciation. Her vocal technique has led her to be credited as a rapper, a topic she disagreed with until fellow rappers Andre 3000, Wiz Khalifa, and Snoop Dogg endorsed her. On the subject, she said: "The first time someone called me a rapper, I started laughing. I was shocked, and thought it was hilarious. It's crazy and funny to me." The New York Times said Kesha: "threatens to become the most influential female rapper of the day, or at least the most popular. Pretending Kesha isn't a rapper is no longer feasible." Most of her lyrics chronicle her relationships and partying; the lighthearted subject matter of the latter and her unfiltered language saw many critics criticizing her for releasing frivolous and crass music. Jonah Weiner of Slate, however, stated that her jarring lyrics allowed her songs to become more memorable. In "Blah Blah Blah" and "Boots and Boys", she objectifies men to poke fun at how male fronted rock bands and rappers can get away with objectifying women and not vice versa. The title track to her debut, "Animal", is more aspirational and is intended to inspire people to embrace their individuality. Much more experimental than Animal, her second album, Warrior, contains dubstep elements and explores erotic experiences Kesha encountered with ghosts on the song, "Supernatural". Overall, Kesha said the theme of Warrior is magic.
Kesha's musical influences consist of hip-hop, punk rock, 1980s pop, dance music and classic country. David Jeffries of Allmusic referred to Kesha's genre as "crunkcore" when noting her guest spot on the 3OH!3 album, Streets of Gold. Her country influences of Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash come from her mother's country songwriting, while her older brother exposed her to hip-hop and punk bands, Fugazi, Dinosaur Jr. and the Beastie Boys. She has additionally cited Beck, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, Aaron Neville, Britney Spears, Bob Dylan, The Damned, Velvet Underground, Blondie and graffiti artist, Banksy as influences. She credits her straightforward story-based lyrics to her love for the honest storytelling style of country music, while the title track from her debut album was created with music from alternative rock bands Flaming Lips and Arcade Fire in mind. She singled out the Beastie Boys as a major influence, telling Newsweek that she had always wanted to be like them and aspired to make "youthful, irreverent anthems" as well. She called her debut album, Animal an homage to the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill and credited the creation of the rap driven "Tik Tok" to her love for the Beastie Boys' rap music. For her first headlining tour, Kesha wanted to emulate the stage theatrics of Iggy Pop's performances. She listed Pop's The Idiot as well as Led Zeppelin and AC/DC as inspirations for her second studio album, Warrior, intended to feature 1970s rock inspired music. Warrior, to this effect, includes a collaboration with Pop himself.
She draws inspiration from classic films as well. Her stage makeup is characterized by dramatic glitter makeup at her right eye, inspired by A Clockwork Orange. The video for "Your Love is My Drug" features animated sequences inspired by the Beatles' film, Yellow Submarine, while the Get Sleazy tour was described as having a "post-apocalyptic Mad Max vibe."
Main article: Kesha discography
Get Sleazy Tour (2011)
Rihanna - Last Girl on Earth Tour (North American dates) (2010)