Kesha Rose Sebert (born March 1, 1987), better known by the mononym Kesha (pronunciation: /ˈkɛʃə/ KESH-ə, stylized Ke$ha), is an American pop singer and songwriter. In 2005, at eighteen, Kesha was signed to 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 only came in early 2009 after appearing on Flo Rida's number one single, "Right Round."
Her debut single, "Tik Tok", released in late 2009, reached number one in eleven countries. Her debut album, Animal, was released in January 2010 and debuted at number one in the US, Canada and Greece. By September, Kesha had sold two million albums worldwide and released three more top ten singles from Animal. The album was re-released with a companion extended play, Cannibal, in November, preceded by the chart-topping lead single, "We R Who We R".
Kesha has cited artists such as Madonna, Debbie Harry, Queen, Johnny Cash, Aaron Neville, Bob Dylan and Beastie Boys as musical influences. Her music incorporates elements of dance-pop, and she uses a spoken word rapping style on many songs. 1987–2004: Childhood and youth
Kesha was born Kesha Rose Sebert in Los Angeles, California, to Pebe Sebert, a singer and songwriter. Pebe, a single mother, struggled financially while supporting herself, Kesha and her older brother, Lagan, at the time. They had to rely 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. 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. Pebe also taught Kesha how to write songs, and they would often write together when she returned home from school. However, she dropped out of school at seventeen and earned her GED after. The Seberts were featured in an episode of The Simple Life as the host family to Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie in 2005.
Kesha attended Franklin High School and Brentwood High School. She described herself in an interview as being "very studious" in school; she was in the International Baccalaureate program and achieved an SAT score of 1500 out of 1600. Producers Dr. Luke and Max Martin had received Kesha's demo after Pebe passed it to Samantha Cox, senior director of writer/publisher relations at Broadcast Music Incorporated, and were impressed. They then convinced Kesha to return to Los Angeles to pursue a music career. 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 eighteen, 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 Kelly Clarkson's album, Breakaway. Kesha ended up signing 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 The Veronicas' single, "This Love" alongside Toby Gad. While furthering her career in studio, Kesha earned her living as a waitress. Two years after arriving in Los Angeles, she decided that she wanted Prince to produce her music and located his home; soon thereafter she trespassed on his property. Once she was discovered, she was thrown out, but not before she left her demo with him. She appeared in the video for 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 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. Soon after, she terminated her contract with DAS and wound up reuniting with Dr. Luke.
Kesha gained exposure in the mainstream media in early 2009 after appearing on Flo Rida's number one single, "Right Round". The collaboration was called "an accident" by Kesha; she had walked into a recording session 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; she explained in an interview that, "if you want to be a legitimate artist, it’s more important what you say no to. I knew he would want me to be some sexpot, shake my booty, and whatever." Soon after, Kesha signed a multi-album deal with RCA Records through Dr. Luke's imprint, after negotiations with Lava Records and Flo Rida's record label, Atlantic Records as well.
2009–present: Animal and Cannibal
Kesha in concert in October 2010
"Tik Tok" was released as Kesha's debut single digitally in the US in August and sent to radio two months later. The song was a commercial success topping the charts in eleven countries; performing best in the US where it set the weekly record for the most digital downloads of a female artist and became the second best-selling single in a week, after "Right Round", by shifting 610,000 copies. In October 2010, the single was certified five times platinum for sales of five million downloads in the US. RCA had noticed her strong following on social media when negotiating her contract and thus relied on viral marketing to build a following for her single, offering it for free in July. Kesha's debut album, Animal, was released in January 2010 to mixed reviews from music critics; according to the music review aggregation of Metacritic, it garnered an average score of 54/100. Rolling Stone summed the album up as "repulsive, obnoxious and ridiculously catchy." The album debuted at number one in the US, Canada and Greece. "Blah Blah Blah", "Your Love Is My Drug" and "Take It Off" were released as the album's second, third and fourth singles, respectively. All three songs achieved similar commercial success each reaching the top ten in Australia, Canada, and the US. She would go on to sell two million albums by September. Kesha was featured on two top ten singles by Taio Cruz and 3OH!3 in May.
Kesha's former managers from DAS Communications Inc. filed a lawsuit, seeking $14 million from Kesha and $12 million from Dr. 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 Talent Agencies Act, 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 also donated 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of dog food to a local animal shelter for pets abandoned in the flood. She was a supporting act on the summer North American leg of Rihanna's Last Girl on Earth tour. Kesha was awarded Best New Act at the 2010 MTV Europe Music Awards in November. Animal was re-released with a companion extended play, Cannibal, later that month. Lead single, "We R Who We R" became only the 17th song to debut at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, three weeks before the album's release. The song's charting also gave Kesha her fifth straight top ten hit in the US. In November 2010, it was announced that Kesha would embark on her first headlining tour, Get Sleazy, in spring 2011, with dates in North America and Australia.
Musical style and themes
Kesha has cited Beck, Queen, Madonna, Johnny Cash, Aaron Neville, Bob Dylan, Beastie Boys, The Damned, Velvet Underground, Talking Heads and Blondie as musical influences. She also highlighted Dylan's Nashville Skyline as her favorite album and called her debut album, Animal, an homage to the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill. She has writing credits on every track on the album and defended her decision to make pop music in an interview, explaining that, "[p]eople get so pretentious about pop music so I do feel like I'm fighting this battle. My record is honest and fun. It's a celebration of youth and life and going out and getting crazy. I'm about non-pretentious irreverence and fuck off good fun!" Animal is of the dance-pop genre; it incorporates elements of electropop in its production. It ranges from high energy pop dance tracks, to electronic ballads.
Kesha uses a sing-song rapping style on a number of her songs, which she admitted had begun as a joke, most notably on her debut single "Tik Tok". The New York Times stated that the song represented "the complete and painless assimilation of the white female rapper into pop music." The Los Angeles Times compared this vocal style to that of L'Trimm and Salt-N-Pepa. Kesha has been criticized for using Auto-Tune and vocoders to distort her vocals on her album Animal. Billboard stated that the heavily processed vocals "[made] it hard to tell whether [Kesha can] actually sing."
Kesha's lyrics are straightforward and based on her life experiences and influenced by the storytelling style of country music. She has urged critics not to take her lyrics seriously; such as in "Tik Tok", where she has been criticized for referencing brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack Daniel's whiskey. She explained that, "Everyone's really offended by that. But come on, brushing your teeth with Jack Daniel's: what girl does that? People are like, 'Do you really advocate brushing your teeth with bourbon?' I'm like, 'Yes, actually, I do, every day, for everybody. Especially eight year olds.' I mean, what are you talking about? Of course I don't. Come on." Kesha has also expressed frustration at the double standard for the objectification of women in music. Thus, in songs such as "Blah Blah Blah" and "Boots and Boys", she makes it a point to sing the same way men traditionally sing about women.
[The] reason I have (the dollar sign), [is] ’cause it’s ironic. Like, I don’t care. I was so happy being broke. And I’m happy not being broke. It doesn’t really affect me either way. I care about taking care of people that have taken care of me – that’s important to me. But to be honest, I’m kind of repulsed by the gluttony and excesses of a lot of people in the limelight.
Kesha explaining the dollar sign in her stage name
Kesha's styling comprises messy hair, smudged makeup and a wardrobe she commonly refers to as "garbage-chic". Her stage makeup is characterized by dramatic makeup at her right eye, inspired by A Clockwork Orange, and body glitter. She has three tattoos, one of a dollar sign, inspiring her stage name, a cross and another of an anchor that she received in Cuba. During her youth, Kesha often faced opposition to her ambition to be a singer as a result of her looks. "People told me, 'You shouldn't be singing' - I went through awkward, chubby, total weirdo phases.... I was in a marching band. Did you ever think a little, chubby, awkward girl with braces in the marching band would be No 1 on top of the pop charts? No, you wouldn't." Kesha ranked fifty-sixth on Maxim's 2010 Hot 100 "definitive list of the world’s most beautiful women". Kesha's lyrics and image have drawn attention from multiple critics citing her as a "party girl". While interviewing Kesha, Bill Werde from Billboard asked her about her party girl image, Kesha responded saying, "If you mean 'party girl' like, at a club with a short skirt on with no underwear, then no. I've gotten drunk before but never gotten a DUI. I don't go to clubs. I try not to let my vagina hang out. I don't do drugs, but I think I'm a walking good time and I talk kind of funny, so people think I'm messed up all the time. I'm not."