Kesha Rose Sebert (born March 1, 1987), known mononymously as Kesha (formerly stylized as Ke$ha), is an American singer, songwriter, and rapper. In 2005, at age 18, Kesha was signed to producer Dr. Luke's label Kemosabe Records. 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 music and image propelled her to immediate commercial success, with Animal debuting as the number-one album in the United States. She also achieved two number-one singles, "Tik Tok" and "We R Who We R", and a string of top-ten hits singles 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 Britney Spears. Warrior, her second studio album, was released in December 2012, spawning Kesha's eighth top-ten single with "Die Young". "Tik Tok" is among the best-selling digital singles in history, selling over 14 million units internationally.
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 music. After experimenting with country, pop rock, and electronic music, Kesha stuck with the latter. Thematically, her music generally revolves around escapism, partying, individuality, supernatural moments, rebellion, and grief. Kesha has been involved with animal rights and LGBT activism. Since her debut, Kesha has been nominated for over 50 awards, winning more than 13. Among these awards, she won the MTV Europe Music Award for Best New Act in 2010. As of February 2016, she has reportedly sold over 33 million records (albums, tracks, and ringtones) in the United States and 60 million records worldwide.
Kesha was born in Los Angeles, California. 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, made popular by country music legend Dolly Parton on her 1980 album Dolly, Dolly, Dolly. Pebe, a single mother, struggled financially while supporting herself, Kesha, and Kesha's 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 named Bob Chamberlain 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. Her mother is of German and Hungarian (from Szentes) descent. One of Kesha's great-grandfathers was Polish. She is also possibly of English and Romani descent.
Pebe moved the family to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1991 after securing a new publishing deal for her songwriting. Pebe frequently brought Kesha and her brothers along to recording studios and encouraged Kesha to sing when she noticed Kesha's vocal talent. Kesha attended Franklin High School and Brentwood High School, but claimed that she did not fit in, explaining that her unconventional style (e.g., 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. After attaining a near-perfect score on her SATs, she was offered a full scholarship at Barnard College, but instead chose to drop out before graduation to pursue her music career.
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 demos 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 "when you're listening to 100 CDs, that kind of bravado and chutzpah stand out."
Life and career
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. Kemosabe Records is owned by Sony Music Entertainment and is located in Los Angeles, California. Sony Music Entertainment partnered with Dr. Luke to create Kemosabe Records. Some artists that have signed with Kemosabe Records are Juicy J, Rock City, Zara Larsson, Lil Bibby and many others. 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. While struggling to get by, she began stylizing her name as Ke$ha, explaining the dollar sign as an ironic gesture.
Kesha appeared in the video for her friend Katy Perry's single "I Kissed a Girl", and sang background vocals for the Dr. Luke-produced song, "Lace and Leather" by 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 United States 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: Breakthrough with Animal
Main article: Animal (Kesha album)
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 United States 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. As of 2015, "Tik Tok" has sold about 15 million copies, becoming the second best-selling single in the digital history - being the most sold single in history by a female solo artist. 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 United States. 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. The case was settled in 2012 before the release of her second album. 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 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 United States 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. After meeting Kesha at the 2010 Grammy Awards and guesting at a number of her concerts, rock singer Alice Cooper asked her to write lyrics for and vocally perform as a devil character for their duet track, "What Baby Wants", on Cooper's album, Welcome 2 My Nightmare.
Kesha was named rights group Humane Society of the United States'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. Kesha received the Wyler Award presented by The Humane Society as a celebrity or public figure who increases awareness of animal issues via the media. She received the award March 23, 2013 at The 2013 Genesis Awards Benefit Gala. 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.
2012-present: Warrior, Lawsuit with Dr. Luke and other ventures
Main article: Warrior (Kesha album)
Kesha's second studio 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 The 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 album, they recorded the song "2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)" for the band's album, The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends. To coincide with the release of the album, Kesha released an illustrated autobiography, My Crazy Beautiful Life through Touchstone Books in November 2012. The first single taken from Warrior was "Die Young". 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. "C'Mon", the album's second single, underperformed commercially; only peaking at 27 on Billboard Hot 100 and ending her string of top ten hits on the chart. Despite this, "C'Mon" continued Kesha's streak of top ten hits (with nine) on the Mainstream Top 40 Pop Songs chart graphed by Billboard. In March 2013, Kesha announced the Warrior Tour, which will support the album. The North American leg was co-headlined with rapper Pitbull. Kesha's third single from Warrior, "Crazy Kids", was released in April 2013 and also under-performed, peaking at number 40 on the Hot 100, number 19 on Mainstream Top 40, yet did achieve massive success in South Korea and Belgium peaking at numbers 2, and 5 in those countries respectively. A TV series documentary, Kesha: My Crazy Beautiful Life began airing on MTV in April 2013.
In July 2013, The Flaming Lips announced that they hoped to release a full-length collaborative album with Kesha, called Lipsha, although it was eventually cancelled in the winter of the same year. Kesha sent a message to a fan expressing how it was out of her control and that she wanted to release the material, even for free, saying that she didn't care about the money. On October 7, 2013, Kesha and Pitbull released a collaboration, "Timber", produced by Luke, which was an international commercial success and became Kesha's third number-one and her eleventh top 10 single on the Hot 100 chart.
In January 2014, Kesha checked into rehab, following this she chose to use her birth name in favor of her previous moniker, using a normal "s" instead of the symbol "$". In June 2014, Kesha claimed a seat as an Expert in ABC's Rising Star alongside Brad Paisley and Ludacris.
In October 2014, Kesha sued producer Dr. Luke for alleged sexual assault and battery, sexual harassment, gender violence, emotional abuse, and violation of California business practices which had occurred over 10 years working together. The lawsuit went on for about a year before Kesha sought a preliminary injunction to release her from Kemosabe Records. On February 19, 2016, New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich ruled against Kesha's request.
On June 13, 2015, Kesha headlined LA! Pride 2015 Presented by Christopher Street West in West Hollywood, California. On August 4, 2015, Kesha signed with SESAC Inc., along with another 40,000 songwriters affiliated with the organization, including Bob Dylan and Charli XCX. Kesha guest starred in the second season of the U.S. television series Jane the Virgin, which aired on October 12, 2015. The singer played Annabelle, Jane's hostile neighbor. As of August 2015, Kesha has released little information about her upcoming third studio album. In her August 2014 Teen Vogue cover interview, Kesha revealed she had recorded 14 new songs while in rehab. On November 2, 2014, a new song written by Kesha titled "Lover", reportedly from Kesha's upcoming third studio album, was uploaded to Schpilkas' SoundCloud, who produced the track alongside Spookey Ruben. The track was later included on Ruben's album "Welsh Rarebits". On June 10, 2015, Kesha posted a photo to Instagram that supposedly teased the title of her new upcoming single "Child of the Moon", but the photo has since been removed. Kesha also spoke about the song in her Teen Vogue interview, saying that it had a "Stevie Nicks-witchy vibe". In December 2015, Kesha revealed that she had formed a country music- and classic rock-influenced band called Yeast Infection and performed a live show with the band in Nashville on December 23.
Musical style and image
Kesha wrote or 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 electro, she had a clear idea of the synthpop 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 often compared to pop singer Dev by music critics, creating misunderstandings among the fans of the two. "Party at a Rich Dude's House" and "C U Next Tuesday" have 1980s derived backing, while "Stephen" begins with "Kansas-style vocal harmonies". With the lyrics, "Oh my Nicolas Cage, you're so old / you're prehistoric/ you're like a dinosaur/ D-I-N-O-S-A-you are a dinosaur", "Dinosaur" follows a verse-chorus formula, reminiscent of "Girlfriend" (2007) by Avril Lavigne and "Hollaback Girl" (2005) by Gwen Stefani; the song uses the overt symbolism of dinosaurs, carnivory, and other primitive motifs to tell the story of an older man who preys on younger women. According to Kesha, the song is based on true events. While her vocals on Animal 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, showing some of her vocal talent in the ballads "Animal" and "Hungover" on the album.
Kesha's second studio album Warrior used considerably less autotune, although it still showed in a number of songs. The album's piano and guitar-driven ballads such as "Love Into The Light", "Wonderland" and "Past Lives" display Kesha's vocal ability. 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 Andr 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." "Crazy Kids" and "C'Mon" took greater shifts into "party rap". 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 & 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.
Critics praised Warrior for its rock music influences, despite the album being deeply rooted in technopop. Applauding the album's rock sound, Rolling Stone called the album Kesha's rock manifesto. Rock icons The Flaming Lips, Iggy Pop, and Alice Cooper have collaborated with Kesha, endorsing her as a rock singer. Cooper told Billboard, "I immediately looked at her and went, 'This girl is not a pop diva. She's a rock singer.' She would much rather be the female Robert Plant than the next Britney Spears." The A.V. Club noted that Warrior proved Kesha a capable vocalist and songwriter. Kesha's longtime collaborator and producer, Dr. Luke, said working with the singer is "pure fun", acknowledging her proneness for finding good hooks despite her occasionally vapid lyricism.
Kesha's musical influences consist of hip hop, punk rock, crunkcore, glam rock, 1980s pop, dance music and classic country. 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, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, Elton John, Aaron Neville, Britney Spears, Bob Dylan, The Damned, The 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 The 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 The Beatles' film, Yellow Submarine, while the Get Sleazy tour was described as having a "post-apocalyptic Mad Max vibe."
Kesha is a vegetarian and an ordained minister, having been ordained online. She is bisexual and has performed legal commitment ceremonies for both gay and heterosexual couples.
On January 3, 2014, Kesha checked into Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, the rehab facility in Lemont, Illinois, for eating disorder treatment. Kesha's mother Pebe Sebert confirmed that the eating disorder Kesha was suffering with is bulimia nervosa and that she had been struggling with it since she was signed. She also alleged that Dr. Luke was partly the cause of Kesha's eating disorder, saying that Luke had allegedly told her to lose weight after he signed her, comparing the shape of her body to a refrigerator. Sebert asserted that this had caused Kesha's disorder to worsen. Kesha had completed her treatment on March 6, 2014, after spending two months in rehab.