Still ‘Scummy,’ Ke$Ha Gets Respect With New CD

Becoming one of pop’s top-selling acts over the past two years hasn’t changed Ke$ha much – the girl who got famous by celebrating the trashy life is still reveling in it.

Photo: John Shearer / Invision / AP
American Music Awards, Nokia Theatre L.A. Live, Los Angeles, Calif.

On her new album, she sings fondly of warm Budweiser and gives a thumbs-down to Champagne. One track is about sex with a ghost. She drinks bottom-shelf Taaka vodka.

And before a recent photo shoot, Ke$ha let out a massive belch that sent her busy prep team into an awkward silence.

“I still love having really terrible house parties,” said a relaxed and reflective Ke$ha during a recent interview. “I still don’t live my life with my happiness being dependent on name brands or how much things cost or some sort of VIP club. … I still love being kind of scummy, to be honest.”

Her Warrior, released this week, flaunts the same uncouth attitude that propelled her debut Animal and EP Cannibal up the charts. Like those albums, “Warrior” is filled with upbeat, living-in-the-moment anthems like current single “Die Young.

But while Ke$ha isn’t courting respect, she’s getting it – and from an elite group in the music industry. “Warrior” features an expansion of collaborators beyond musical overseer Dr. Luke, the hitmaker who discovered and signed Ke$ha when she was 18. Among those on the album are Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Iggy Pop, Nate Ruess of fun., Patrick Carney of the Black Keys and Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips. Last year, the sometimes reclusive Andre 3000 did a verse for a remix of her track “Sleazy.”

Ke$ha said she pushed herself to put her “heart on the line” by reaching out to the musicians she admired.

“And then when they respond and they’re down to collaborate with you, it’s scary as an artist because you don’t want to get into the room with somebody that you adore and have them think you suck,” said Ke$ha, sporting a floppy black hat with a flower, a brightly patterned blazer and multiple rings on both hands as she sat in a rehearsal space before her well-received American Music Awards performance. “You never know how good you’re going to be on a certain day or what they’re going to think of you.”

Ke$ha says she “stalked” Iggy Pop “because I’m obsessed,” but the other musical partnerships came through mutual friends. They serve as a reminder that she’s a hardworking songwriter at heart, not a label-manufactured dance-pop star. She began her career in the industry writing for others, and co-wrote Britney Spears’ hit “Till the World Ends.”

“It was nice to know that people that I really love wanted to collaborate. Because I feel like when you collaborate with somebody, there has to be some element of mutual respect. Because you’re putting your name with their name for the world to judge,” she said. “So I’m really happy I pushed myself to reach out to these people.”

Photo: © Brian Hineline / Retna Ltd.
Beale Street Music Festival, Tom Lee Park, Memphis, Tenn.

Ke$ha co-wrote five songs for Warrior with her mother, Pebe Sebert, a singer-songwriter from Tennessee who penned “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You,” a hit for Dolly Parton in 1980. She says she learned about songwriting by sneaking into her mother’s sessions as a child. They now bounce ideas for lyrics back and forth regularly.

“I can write with her about anything. I can write with her about boys. I wrote the song ‘Cannibal’ with her, which is about me dismembering men and eating them,” Ke$ha noted.

The album features more guitar than her previous efforts, with her punk and hard rock influences heard on “Gold Trans Am” and “Dirty Love,” the collaboration where Iggy Pop gleefully name-checks Rick Santorum. It also features less Auto-Tune: After taking criticism for relying too heavily on voice manipulation technology, she showcases her natural pipes throughout large chunks of Warrior and on an accompanying five-song acoustic EP, Deconstructed.

“We wanted to tone it down on the gimmicky, cutting stuff up, Auto-Tune stuff,” said Dr. Luke, credited as executive producer. “I signed her because the first stuff I heard her with was just acoustic guitar and her voice. … When you hear her on a song, you know it’s her right away. It’s a very distinctive voice.”

Ke$ha’s voice is also being heard with her new book, “My Crazy Beautiful Life.” In it, she writes that she feeds off the energy of her passionate fans, whom she calls “animals,” a la Lady Gaga’s “Little Monsters.” Yet she’s also happy to get away from them. At the end of her last tour, she turned off her phone and backpacked around Central and South America and Africa.

“When you live a life where you’re surrounded by a lot of people all the time, it’s a very ego-centric lifestyle. And to prevent myself from like totally living on another planet, I wanted to like you know run around barefoot and sleep in the dirt and go meet random people who have no idea who I am and just don’t give a (care),” she said. “And that was really nice.”

Photo: AP Photo
Wireless Festival, Hyde Park, London, UK

She admits to one rock star indulgence: “I’m kind of a diva about glitter. Somebody told me I couldn’t have glitter at a show and I threw a fit. But I’ve always been a diva about glitter.”