“Tonight’s the best night of our lives,” Kesha’s familiar, metallic, anti-gravity voice promises at the top of “High Road,” her fourth and newest album. “Can you feel it? I can feel it.”
“I realized I wanted to have the next chapter be really fun and positive and poppy,” she told Insider during a recent phone call, “because I love pop music and it makes me happy — and I don’t think that I owe it to myself to stay in a place that’s just, like, sadness.”
“I think it’s really important to address when you’re sad, especially for me and my music. But I think it’s also okay to try to move forward with your life in the most positive way possible. And for me that’s making happy, fun music.”
The past few months have been especially busy — and, yes, fun — for the reborn pop star. In addition to the January release of “High Road,” Kesha also launched
a namesake makeup line.
Insider caught up with the singer-songwriter over the phone, and she went into detail about her artwork, both musical and visual.
I think I’ve always loved decorating myself in various ways, whether it was fashion or makeup or tattoos. I just like decorating my body. So I also like that — coupled with having a decade of wearing wild makeup all the time — I know what I like being put on my face, and I knew the level of the quality I wanted it to be. I just wanted it to be really special, from the packaging down to the product. And I feel like I’m a bit of a glitter expert. I think I could put that on my resume.
I just wanted to put all of my knowledge of makeup to good use, because I feel like I’ve tried pretty much every makeup available and I know what I like. I know what stays. And I really wanted to spend the time to make sure it would be makeup that I would put on my face. So pretty much, since I put it out, I’ve worn predominantly my own makeup on red carpets and everything, even onstage, because I really wanted to make sure it was makeup that I would want to wear — and I do.
Personally, I was really impressed with the formula of the liquid eyeliners. It’s so smooth.
Oh my god, thank you. I’m such a geek about it. I get so excited when people want to talk makeup, I could talk about it all day. Do you feel like it stays?
Yeah, I have oily eyelids and I’ve always struggled with finding good liquid eyeliner, and yours never smudges.
Oh, I love that! I feel like it has really good staying power. Wait, I love hearing that.
I’m so glad. What’s your makeup-slash-skincare routine looking like right now? With all this self-isolation and social distancing?
Well, that is one thing that I have had plenty of time to play with: my skin. Because I have so many products and things I do at home. Like, I have an LED light that I am currently sitting under while I’m talking to you. It’s supposed to be good for everything, for your skin. right now, and anytime it’s not raining, I’m outside. Like, being in the sunshine so I don’t feel crazy. Going for a walk or being in my backyard. But when it’s raining, then I just go full spa day on myself inside.
I love that you named the colors in your eyeshadow palette after your songs. How did you decide which color paired with which song? Are you an artist that thinks about or sees visuals while you make the music?
Oh, yeah. I’m so visual. I think it’s like, the No. 1 way I create is visually. So I really liked being able to match up the names of the songs to the eyeshadow colors, because to me — “Godzilla,” that’s an obvious green, and “Cannibal” is an obvious red. “Pageantry” being pink, that just makes sense in my mind. When I close my eyes, I look at the color and just think of like, what emotion it makes me feel and then name it after — I would kind of visualize what the song title would make me think of.
While promoting your new album, you spoke of re-embracing pop music during the creative process. Are there any pop artists or songs that you’re really into right now?
So many! I’m trying to think. I think the biggest names in music are obviously women that I love listening to, like
Lizzo and Billie Eilish. They’re so different, yet they’re running the pop music game and I love that they’re women and they’re strong and empowered, and I just love everything about them.
After the critical acclaim of “Rainbow,” were you nervous about putting out a pop-heavy record instead of continuing with the folk-rock direction you were going in before?
I was super nervous, just because I had no idea how to follow up “Rainbow.” Because I had never really gotten used to people saying nice things about my music. So it was all kind of new territory and shocking for me, and I didn’t want to lose people’s positivity.
But I also feel like, if you’re making art and you’re making anything really, you can’t worry about what people are going to criticize about it. You just have to make genuine art. And I think that it’s really important to not chase positive reviews, at least for me, because that’s giving the power of my art away.
I really make art because it’s therapeutic for me and, you know, I have intentions with what I make. I want to make people happier, make people dance, and make people connect and feel less alone. But I really feel like the most success I’ve ever had is when I just make really honest, genuine art.
How many of the details on this album are strictly autobiographical and how much of it is exaggerated or embellished for the effect? Like, is there really a boy wearing a cowboy blue suit in Nashville that has a whole Kesha song written about him?
[Laughs] There just might be!
I was just impressed by the lyrical specificity on the album. I guess my question is, more generally, how often do you draw directly from your life? Versus play something up for the effect, or change a detail because it rhymes better?
I was actually thinking about that this morning. I think it’s important for me — like we were talking about earlier with the makeup — I’m really visual, so I want people to see the experiences that I’ve gone through. So I do get really specific when I’m writing and I want to create a scene. I want to make it very visual, just from [listening to] a song. And I like these specifics because it’s really what my experience was, so it makes the song really real.
And, you know, I’m not going to give away all my secrets. Of course, I want it to be entertaining as well. I think all art is an exaggeration of life. So there might be some exaggeration, but every song I wrote, so they’re all at least a snapshot of a moment in time that was very real.
Do you have any lyrics on this album that you’re particularly proud of?
Yeah, I actually wrote so many songs for this record and I’m really excited about the entirety of it. I like how it goes through so many different emotions.
I really love “Cowboy Blues,” the one that you brought up. I love that song. The way it was created was so, it was just so natural. I went over to [cowriter Stephen] Wrabel’s house and we just sat on the couch and wrote the song and read our Tarot cards.
But, my favorite lyric… let me think about that. I think it’s kind of funny that it’s called “High Road” because after I put out “Praying,” I figured people would just think I would always take the high road. But [the song] is really about just being stoned.
Can I throw some of my favorite lyrics at you? And you can tell me if there’s a story behind them, or if they bring to mind any specific image, color, place, etc.?
The first one that comes to mind is definitely the pre-chorus in “My Own Dance.” “You’re the party girl, you’re the tragedy, but the funny thing is, I’m f—ing everything.” How did you come up with that? What does it bring to mind?
I just think of all the labels people have put on me throughout the years of my life, living as an artist and making music. I feel like people love to label you as one specific thing.
That was stream of consciousness, me talking to myself: “What do people expect out of this record? What do they expect from me and what have I been labeled in the past? And what do I
want to be labeled?” Then I just thought, f— it. I want to be everything and I want to be allowed to be everything. Not just one thing, not just two things.
I’m actually pretty proud of that song. That was the first pop song I wrote [for “High Road”]. It kind of was my gateway drug into just being like, “F— it. I really like pop music. I’m going to write it because it makes me happy.” And I’m not going to apologize for my love of pop music and I’m not going to call it a guilty pleasure. It’s just one of the most pleasurable things of my life, period.
The second lyric I want to ask you about is from “Shadow.” “I love tripping in the desert with my best friends, seeing spaceships in the sky.” Is that a purposeful callback to your song “Spaceship?”
[Laughs] Yes, and it’s an activity that me and my friends do often. Talking about spaceships and aliens is a very normal part of our normal conversations, that me and my friends have, so it is an activity that I participate in quite a lot.
The third lyric I have in mind is from “Kinky.” “Monogamy ain’t natural, at least not for me and you. We’re in our own dimension. We’re making up our own rules.”
Well, I just think there hasn’t been a song — that I’ve heard, in recent history — that’s just been celebrating kinks. Kinkiness can be really fun as long as it’s all consensual. I think that everybody should have fun.
OK, the last one I have: “I’ll grow some potatoes and flowers, then I’ll make sandcastles, then I’ll eat some cake.” Those are super specific activities. Was that another stream of consciousness, or were those carefully chosen?
Me and my mom wrote that song with my friend Stuart [Crichton], who I worked on “Rainbow” with a lot.
She [Kesha’s mom] knows me so well, and she knows that my long-term goal is to move to an island and make sandcastles and be naked, and do all of the things — like grow my own food and just run around