In 2017, the singer plumbed one of the most difficult periods of her life. With her next record (out this December), she’s jumping back into the party.

By Maureen Lee Lenker
October 18, 2019 at 12:30 PM EDT
Bruce Glikas/WireImage

“I got my balls back!” Kesha proclaims of the driving force behind her currently untitled fourth studio album. The highly anticipated follow-up to Rainbow is primed to take fans on a roller-coaster ride through an eclectic mix of styles she lovingly defines as “weirdo pop.” “On this record, I got to explore my happiness and reclaiming all the different ways I can use my voice,” she says.” It’s not owned by anybody else.”

While her Grammy-nominated 2017 record was about coming out of the darkness — the album came after Kesha accused former collaborator Dr. Luke of sexual assault and physical abuse; he denied the claims and countersued for defamation, and the case is still ongoing — her new project embraces what it’s like to bask in the sun after the storm. “If you keep on pushing through the darkness, you’ll find a rainbow, and I feel like I finally arrived there,” she muses. “I want that to be inspiration to other people — by embracing the vulnerable side of myself, but also the strong, and the person that wants to lead a joyful, happy, and free life.”

Part of that is returning to the dance pop of her first two albums and falling back in love with her free-spirit image. This time, though, it was on her terms. “I’ve been told to be fun before, but now I’m actually genuinely having fun,” she says. “[It’s] a self-deprecating look at what I believe the music industry wants someone to be versus the fact that I’m f—king everything. I’m not just one thing. I’m not just the party girl, and I’m not just a tragedy. I’m an infinite amount of things, and I don’t want to be put into a particular box.”

Yet, the album didn’t start out that way. Kesha began writing it immediately following the end of her last tour and found herself returning to the introspective, singer-songwriter vibes of Rainbow. When her brother suggested she try making a pop song again, she begrudgingly gave it a shot. “I came back around to realizing that I f—king love pop music,” she says. “I had been depriving myself of something I loved very much because I wasn’t supposed to have fun. There is a beauty to the escapism of what pop music gives people and being aware of that. I enjoy it. I use it. Music is my therapy.”

The new project also has Kesha revisiting the rap-inflected vocals of her earlier work, which she lovingly refers to as “s–t talking.” “I decided to take that part of my voice back,” she explains. “It felt like it didn’t belong to me. People know about the hard things I’ve gone through and [that] made me realize I’m allowed to be happy. I don’t have to live in the past. I don’t have to be defined by something s—ty that’s happened to me. I can be present and find compassion for myself and come out having a really f—king amazing life still. Hopefully, that gives people hope.”

Kesha’s current musical tastes are all over the map — from Carly Rae Jepsen to the Cars to Black Sabbath to Madonna — and the new album’s inspirations are equally as diverse: Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum (“As a bum, I very much relate to this character,” she says), ‘90s country music, and swimming with sharks in Mexico. “I just realized I’m an adrenaline junkie and probably always will be,” she reflects. “I love doing things that scare me and for anyone who ever would want to be in a relationship with me, they should know these things up front. I am a wild spirit. I’m a wildflower, and I’m always going to chase the storm.”

Besides her own interests and life experiences, Kesha turned to numerous collaborators for the new record, including Wrabel, Tayla Parx, Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons, Nate Ruess, and Justin Tranter. “My process of making music works best when I’m with people that I know, that I care about, I’m comfortable with, and we are genuinely having a really good time,” she explains. “That is when the truth comes out and that’s when the best songs are born.”

No matter who she was working with, she set ultimately out to write a record with no boundaries and blow up the notion that an album needs one defining sound. “The overarching theme is reclaiming my voice,” she says. “I’m proud to say that through making happy music, I’ve found a lot of joy coming back into my life. [I’m] a grown-ass woman who has been through some s—t, and I really am just reclaiming feeling good and having a good time.”

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