Ke$ha showed her party-hearty side during her August 2011 performance at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul.

Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

A fresh slice of Ke$ha

  • Article by: MIKAEL WOOD
  • Los Angeles Times
  • December 5, 2012 - 3:25 PM

In the three years she's spent as an A-list pop star, Ke$ha has done little to cultivate a reputation for timidity.

"Before I leave / Brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack," she famously bragged about an evening out in "Tik Tok," the 2009 single that has sold more than 6 million copies. "'Cause when I leave for the night / I ain't coming back."

Other instructively titled songs from her debut album, "Animal" -- a No. 1 hit on the Billboard 200 -- include "Hungover," "Take It Off" and "Party at a Rich Dude's House," each a vividly imagined (if oft-disparaged) exhortation to live it up set over throbbing electro-pop beats.

Leaning back in a low-slung chair, a floppy black hat shading her eyes, Ke$ha said recently that her new record "Warrior" -- with its potent mix of rock signifiers and overt sexuality -- is an attempt to expand the party-hearty persona she created with "Animal."

"I'm trying to show the world who I am as a human being," she explained. "I think I've realized that you don't just have to be one thing -- you can be sexy and cool and funny and down-to-earth."

Still, Ke$ha, 25, acknowledged that her semi-legendary gumption had been tested while shooting a scene from the video for her latest single, "Die Young," in which she writhes around on a bed wearing not much more than an animal pelt.

"I had on my bra and underwear," she clarified at a North Hollywood rehearsal studio. The L.A. native, born Kesha Sebert to a country songwriter mother, was preparing for a performance at the American Music Awards, which may (or may not) have explained why she appeared to be dressed as a kind of antebellum pimp.

"But I'm uncomfortable in my bra and underwear around one person, let alone however many million have seen the video."

So why strip down? Ke$ha said she wanted to showcase "imperfect" beauty -- "I'm not a size 0," she pointed out -- in "a world that's been airbrushed to death."

It's the same approach the singer takes on "Warrior," released Tuesday. Rawer and randier than "Animal" (or its 2010 follow-up EP, "Cannibal"), "Warrior" extends Ke$ha's brand of post-millennial recklessness but incorporates sounds inspired by old-school rock acts such as Alice Cooper, Marc Bolan of T. Rex and Iggy Pop, who turns up for a duet in the hard-stomping "Dirty Love."

"Looking for some trouble tonight / Take my hand, I'll show you the wild side," Ke$ha sings in "Die Young," which thrums with electric guitar (or at least a credibly synthesized version of one) and was co-written by Nate Ruess of the band fun.

Elsewhere on the album the singer complements her usual crew of songwriters and producers -- all overseen by Dr. Luke, the Top 40 titan behind hits by Britney Spears and Katy Perry -- with additional visitors from the rock world, including Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne and Julian Casablancas of the Strokes.

In "Wonderland" she even slows the tempo for a rootsy, organ-glazed ballad with live drums by the Black Keys' Patrick Carney. Dr. Luke remembered recording Ke$ha's vocals for the song in a studio lounge. "We were like, 'OK, let's go do this properly now,'" he said. "But we ended up keeping it the way she sang it that first time through."

"The thing I really like about her is that she doesn't have any judgment or limits as to what she'll try," said Coyne, who recalled a long night spent hanging out at Ke$ha's house listening to Side 1 of Led Zeppelin's "Physical Graffiti." "She just goes for it."

So far listeners seem to share Coyne's enthusiasm: This week "Die Young" is at No. 2 on the Hot 100, and the song's video has been viewed nearly 15 million times on YouTube. (An alternate version from a so-called acoustic EP available with some editions of "Warrior" has racked up an extra 332,000 views.)

Yet if the album repositions the singer to some degree, it does so without repudiating her established sensibility. "She wasn't going anti-pop," as Coyne said.

"A lot of people think 'pop' is a dirty word, but I love living on pop radio -- that's where my heart is," Ke$ha said. "I never set out to make a record that would be played on rock radio. I wanted to make a pop record that had [nerve]."

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