Starting out as a pop singer with a savvy sense of the zeitgeist, over the course of more than a decade in the public eye, Kesha (formerly Ke$ha) has grown into a nuanced artist who deftly combines dancefloor rhythms with deeply introspective lyrics.
Los Angeles-born Kesha Rose Sebert grew up in the music tradition. Her mother, Rosemary “Pebe” Sebert, is a singer-songwriter who achieved some success on her own. Pebe co-wrote “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You.” Released as a single by Joe Sun in 1977, the tune performed well on Billboard’s Hot Country chart, reaching #13. Superstar Dolly Parton took notice of the song, recording it less than two years later for her 1980 album Dolly, Dolly, Dolly. Parton’s cover of Pebe’s song soared to the #1 spot on the Hot Country singles chart, doing nearly as well on Canada’s Country Tracks chart (#2).
Kesha’s mom taught her the mechanics of songwriting, and as a teenager Kesha received formal training in the craft as well. Mother and daughter wrote their first song together when Kesha was 16. Quitting school and moving to Los Angeles, she had signed publishing and recording deals by the time she was 18. In her first few years in L.A., Kesha scored a number of accomplishments: she co-wrote 2008’s “This Love” for Australian pop twins The Veronicas; the song reached #10 in the twins’ home country.
That same year, Kesha provided background vocals on a modestly charting Britney Spears single (“Lace and Leather,” pop #100). She could also be seen in the music video for Katy Perry’s Grammy-nominated smash “I Kissed a Girl.” While her initial solo recording contract didn’t yield any released material, Kesha continued to write songs. By the time she landed a higher-profile deal with Warner Brothers in 2009, she reputedly had a backlog of some 200 songs upon which to draw.
Released on the first day of 2010, Kesha’s debut album Animal was an almost immediate success. Leveraging the artist’s high profile on social media, the album’s first single “Tik Tok” soared to the top spot on digital download charts before being released to radio; it eventually amassed more than 15 million downloads globally. Prominent guest spots on talk shows across the U.S. and a prime time performance of “Tik Tok” on American Idol only increased Kesha’s hard-won (but seemingly overnight) success. Three more singles from Animal followed; each rose to the Top Ten on U.S. singles charts.
Avoiding the so-called sophomore slump, Kesha’s second proper long playing album, 2012’s Warrior received positive notices for its eclectic and stylistically wide-ranging character. It sold briskly, going Gold within months of its release. Between the releases of Animal and Warrior, a Kesha EP and remix album both appeared in stores; with so much product on the shelves, Kesha was essentially competing with herself.
Perhaps as a result of that surfeit of released material, it would be nearly five years before Kesha returned with a third album. But she was in no way idle; the Warrior tour took her to some 60 cities on four continents. Taking only a few months off, Kesha launched another tour of concert venues, including more than 40 dates.
A few weeks after that tour’s last date, Kesha released Rainbow, an album conceived and recorded over the previous three years. Her crossover appeal would be underscored by the album’s roster of musical guests: members of soul singer Sharon Jones’ backing band (Dap Kings Horns), Eagles of Death Metal and Dolly Parton all made appearances on the record. The album soared to Billboard’s #1 spot on the day of its release, and critics seemed to appreciate the album as much as did Kesha’s loyal and massive fan base: the record would receive a Grammy nomination. Two tours – a two-part run as a headliner and another tour co-billed with rapper Macklemore – followed in short order, keeping Kesha busy late into 2018.
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