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Vincent Haycock

‘I got in touch with my rage’: how Kesha found her voice again

Ahead of the release of her new album Gag Order, the singer opens up about love, psychedelic spiritual experiences, and how she finally learned to reclaim her anger

Kesha is sitting in a room in the Dazed offices talking about communing with spirits. “Last night, I woke up at 4:44 in the morning and my light just turned on and off and on and off,” she says, her eyes alight. “I was like, ‘Oh, fuck me, OK, what’s going on?’ Then I just started talking to the light.”

For most people, this interaction would likely be terrifying. Kesha, however, is pretty au fait with the supernatural. She hosts a podcast, Kesha and the Creepies, about the paranormal, and last year fronted the wildly entertaining TV show, Conjuring Kesha, which was like Most Haunted on steroids. She even owns a bunch of ghost-hunting gadgets. 

In 2020, though, she had a spiritual experience that went beyond the average seance. It wasn’t so much an experience, really, but an awakening; so transcendent and life-altering that she compares it to something psychedelic. This divine connection was so powerful that it led Kesha into a period of soul-searching creativity, the result of which is her fifth album Gag Order.

Made in collaboration with musical wizard Rick Rubin, Gag Order snarls with anger, desperation, and a sometimes uncomfortable honesty. Holding your gaze and forcing you to watch is Kesha at her most raw, unfiltered and human. Gone is the yolo hedonism of “Tik Tok” and the celebratory affirmations of “Die Young”. There’s none of the vindicated power of “Praying”, nor any of the whiskey-soaked anthems that typified her last album, 2020’s High Road

Instead, Gag Order is like an exorcism. Contemplative, devastating and sometimes violent, it touches on the emotional strain of the ongoing legal situation that has dominated Kesha’s life since 2014, grappling with her own self-directed rage, the twisted machinery of fame, and finding solace in a higher power. The result is her best album to date.

Given that Kesha’s legal proceedings are ongoing, there were some things Dazed was asked not to discuss with her. Still, ahead of a listening party and Q&A with Kesha held in the Dazed Space, the singer did sit down with us to talk about Gag Order, her spiritual awakening, and the life-changing relationship she has with her cat.

There was a wildness to your last album High Road that harked back to your dollar-sign era. Gag Order, however, has a totally different vibe. What led to that shift? 

Kesha: During the pandemic we as a world experienced this madness of uncertainty. Collectively we went through a massive trauma together. During lockdown, it was the first time I was still, maybe ever in my life. So there was a lot of reflection, and I felt like there were a lot of things in all the corners of my mind that I’d been too busy for or that I didn’t necessarily want to deal with. I certainly didn’t want to address it and then put it into an album for the whole world to judge, because I like making people happy. I’m an entertainer and I’m cognisant that this is my job. But as an artist, I felt like I had to dig into all the shit I’d been avoiding and purge it into the music. 

You worked with Rick Rubin on the record. What was that like? 

Kesha: It was everything everyone thinks it is and so much more. It’s almost indescribable, but I definitely feel like working with him has been transformational. He really allows for the artist to go fucking mental and almost walk through the madness, and the music is a safe place to do that.

You’re both Pisces. How important is someone’s star sign in a creative partnership?

Kesha: Star signs could be the most important thing in the world, the most indicative of who we are. Or it could be total bullshit. I don’t know, but I love it. I like to believe it’s really important. My mom’s a Pisces, my brother’s a Pisces, I’m a Pisces, two of my exes are Pisces, and Rick’s a Pisces. I’m just surrounded by fish and we are, supposedly, the last sign. We’re like an old soul, and then the cycle restarts with Aries. So I do feel like I’ve been through many lifetimes. Or maybe that’s just because I'm jetlagged as fuck.

Your first single, “Eat the Acid”, is amazing. But I can’t tell if you are advocating for psychedelics or not. 

Kesha: When it comes to psychedelics, it’s on a case-by-case basis, right? That’s a personal choice. I am not here to say you should or should not do anything in life. I think you should do what you are called to do, as long as it’s safe and you’re not harming yourself or anyone else. I have taken psychedelics in the past and they were really beautiful experiences for me. But at the same time, that song is about how, once you see all the things in life that you can discover, you can’t unsee them. I do miss the naivety, blissful unawareness, and borderline stupidity of when I was much younger, before I had seen the world around me and realised that almost everything I’ve bought into is an illusion. The more you see and the more you learn, the more you realise, as a society, we’ve built up rules, even down to the amount of work someone does in an hour. Then we suffer from things that we’ve created for ourselves. So once you start to see that, it’s a little bit like being on the brink of madness – but also on the brink of enlightenment. 

There’s a line in that song where you sing “I’m the one that I’ve been fighting the whole time”. How did you come to that realisation? 

Kesha: I’ve always been a seeker. At the age of 10, I would make my mom drive me to different churches; that’s what I would do for fun. I had my first kiss at one of those southern super churches. I studied comparative religion in New York before I dropped out of high school and started doing music, and ever since then I’ve read religious texts. I’m fascinated with the fact that, throughout all recorded human history, there’s this recurring search for something greater than ourselves or, for lack of a better word, a god. But the reason why I’ve never connected with a specific religion is because in certain religions if you’re gay it’s not acceptable. I have to learn to have compassion and love for myself and not only the side of myself that’s attracted to both men and women, but just across the board, like accepting who I am.

“I do miss the naivety, blissful unawareness, and borderline stupidity of when I was much younger, before I had seen the world around me and realised that almost everything I’ve bought into is an illusion” – Kesha

What is your relationship with spirituality now? 

Kesha: “Eat the Acid” was written after I had this completely sober yet psychedelic spiritual evening. It was like an ego death; it just felt like a very spiritual moment. It was the catalyst for the album. I took all of my obsessive energy and channelled it into searching for the beauty and magic of not being in control. I don’t necessarily have to have the words or understanding of who or what “god” is, but [I feel] open to the fact that there’s so much we can’t understand. Also, when thinking about the history of art, a lot of masterpieces were made in dedication to some sort of power greater than ourselves. That’s something that I can’t ignore, and I do think that this is the best piece of art I’ve ever made. 

Along with “Eat the Acid”, you also released “Fine Line”. Can you tell me about that song? 

Kesha: Writing this album, I felt like I walked through the stages of grief. I wanted the album to sound like this ego death and spiritual awakening, [so] it’s not all pretty or comfortable. “Fine Line” was when I got in touch with my rage. I don’t know where this came from, but growing up it was just understood that there was nothing more unattractive than an angry woman. I’ve never really explored my anger because I like to carry myself as gracefully as humanly possible. That song gave me permission to finally tap into it. But it’s also about how everything in life is about walking a fine fucking line. I try to control not only the things around me, but also people's perception of me. It’s been really exhausting. “Fine Line” is me being honest with my rage, and admitting I have no control.

On the song “Only Love Can Save Us Now”, you sing about how you’d kill for some secrets. Given how public your life is, what does privacy mean to you?

Kesha: It’s been so long since I’ve had any semblance of privacy that I have no idea. I had to give in to the fact that I lead a life that’s not conducive to that much privacy. I’ve had everything, from leaked photos to paparazzi hanging behind bushes. If I think about it, it becomes too much. At the same time, the reality is that’s part of the life I signed up for and I’m very lucky and grateful to be in a position where people want to see a picture of me walking down the street drinking a smoothie. I personally wish they would choose better pictures of me, but it’s out of my control. At least people are hearing the art I’m making, because that’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid. 

Do you think love is always enough?

Kesha: I sometimes get so overwhelmed with everything and on that song, the verses are diving into the rage and frustration, and then the chorus feels like a surrender and prayer of desperation that only love can save us. We really need to have love and compassion for each other as it’s key to not feeling so separated. During my spiritual awakening, I saw how interconnected we all are, like how the forest speaks through a cellular network and how whales sing songs across the world to each other. 

You sing about having no shame on that song. What does that mean for you? 

Kesha: There were so many years when I walked this fine line of always trying to look good, obsessing about my body and my hair and how well my song was doing. Then you’d see a paparazzi picture you didn’t even realise had been taken, where you’ve just rolled out of bed. No one wants to be seen like that. But you kind of have to eventually learn to laugh. People have seen me for over a decade now in every which way, so I don’t have any shame left. It’s been depleted from my system. There’s a freedom in knowing I don’t have any privacy and everything is out there for the whole world to see.

Pop stars are often held to this higher standard of perfection. What impact does that have?

Kesha: Perfection is an affliction that is perpetuated by social media. In the past, on my albums, there’s been auto-tune because there was this idea that to be worthy of love you also had to be perfect. That’s all a really toxic illusion, especially for women in pop music. It’s not fair to the humans behind the music, but it’s also not fair for culture and for young women. I’ve definitely been guilty of only wanting to share pictures of where I look hot as fuck. But that’s why it was really important for this album to be brutally open and vulnerable with all these very imperfect sides of myself.

“I don’t have any shame left. It’s been depleted from my system. There’s a freedom in knowing I don’t have any privacy and everything is out there for the whole world to see”

There is certainly a sense of imperfection on the record, both in the lyrics but also vocally, too. 

Kesha: I’m not a fucking robot. On “Living In My Head”, there’s a vocal take that’s so imperfect. I’m so angry and I got the lyrics wrong. I then rewrote and re-recorded it to sound “better”, but we ​​ended up going with the original vocal. Rick really encouraged that part of me. I begged him to let me put auto-tune on a couple of things and it was really helpful and impacted me a lot to have him insist that I didn’t need it. I’m so happy he encouraged me not to use it. Because in the slight imperfections, that’s where you find humanity. Humanity is where you gain compassion. And with compassion there is connection.

There is a love that did save you and that’s between you and your cat, Mr Peeps – so much so, that on “The Drama” you wish to be reincarnated as a house cat.

Kesha: Mr Peeps has changed me permanently and for the better. Of course, I love my mother, but the love I have for Mr. Peeps is different. I feel like he’s my true soulmate. When you do look into an animal’s soul it’s an undeniable feeling. I remember once I went swimming with whales in the middle of the ocean and I looked into this humpback whale’s eyes and he started interacting with me and playing with me. Those connections make me feel like there is a god, not in a Judeo-Christian way, but more like there being a connective tissue that is holding us together. Something about finding Mr. Peeps in a trashcan and caring for him for so long… And he’s been through so much with me. There’s just such unconditional love. We’ve trauma bonded.

How does your sense of spirituality fit together with your interest in the supernatural? 

Kesha: It ties in with spirituality for me. It’s all these things you can’t really see or explain, and I find it so exciting. It’s intangible and magical. I’m so here for the esoteric eccentricities of life. I met a bunch of people that believe in Bigfoot as an interdimensional creature. That shit makes me so happy to be alive. 

Kesha's new album Gag Order is out now

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