Life and career
1987–2004: Childhood and youth
Kesha was born in Los Angeles, California on March 1, 1987. Her mother, Pebe Sebert, is a singer-songwriter who co-wrote the 1978 single "Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You" with Hugh Moffatt for Joe Sun. Pebe, a single mother, struggled financially while supporting herself, Kesha and her older brother, Lagan, at the time. They had to rely on welfare payments and food stamps to get by. When Kesha was an infant, Pebe would often have to look after her onstage while performing. Kesha says she has no knowledge of her father's identity. Two of her maternal great grandparents were immigrants from Szentes, Hungary while her other maternal great grandmother was originally from Poland. Pebe moved the family to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1991 after securing a new publishing deal for her songwriting. Kesha's younger brother Louis was born shortly after. She said that she did not fit in in school in the Brentwood suburb of Nashville which she called the "Bible Belt", explaining that her unconventional dress sense including homemade purple velvet pants and purple hair did not endear her to other students. The Seberts were featured in an episode of The Simple Life as the host family to Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie in 2005. Kesha attended Franklin High School and Brentwood High School. She played the trumpet and later the saxophone in the marching band in school and described herself in an interview with NPR as being a diligent student.
Pebe frequently brought Kesha and her brothers along to recording studios and encouraged Kesha to sing when she noticed Kesha's vocal talent. In addition to taking songwriting classes, Kesha was also taught how to write songs by Pebe, and they would often write together when she returned home from high school. Kesha began recording demos which Pebe would give to people she knew. Kesha was also in a band with Lagan. Kesha and Pebe co-wrote the song "Stephen" together when Kesha was 16, Kesha then tracked down David Gamson, a producer that she admired, from Scritti Politti who agreed to produce the song. She dropped out of school at 17, after being convinced by Dr. Luke and Max Martin to return to Los Angeles to pursue a music career, and earned her GED after. Luke and Martin had received one of Kesha's demo from Samantha Cox, senior director of writer/publisher relations at Broadcast Music Incorporated, and were impressed. Two of the demos were described in a cover story for Billboard, the first "a gorgeously sung, self-penned country ballad" and the second "a gobsmackingly awful trip-hop track" where Kesha raps ad lib for a minute when she runs out of lyrics near the end. Dr. Luke stated in an interview for the story that it was the latter track that caught his attention, saying "when you're listening to 100 CDs, that kind of bravado and chutzpah stand out."
2005–09: Career beginnings
I was so happy being broke. And I’m happy not being broke. It doesn’t really affect me either way. I care about taking care of people that have taken care of me – that’s important to me. But to be honest, I’m kind of repulsed by the gluttony and excesses of a lot of people in the limelight.
In 2005, at 18, Kesha was signed to Dr. Luke's label, Kemosabe Entertainment, and his music publishing company, Prescription Songs. Kesha later sang background vocals for Paris Hilton's single, "Nothing in This World". Dr. Luke became preoccupied with other incoming projects, having enjoyed success writing and producing for Kelly Clarkson's album, Breakaway. Kesha then signed with David Sonenberg's management company, DAS Communications Inc., in 2006, hardly interacting with Dr. Luke after that. DAS was tasked with obtaining a major label record deal for Kesha in a year’s time in exchange for 20 percent of her music income, with her having the option of ending the relationship if they failed. She worked with several writers and producers while at the company and ended up co-writing The Veronicas' single, "This Love" alongside Toby Gad. While furthering her career in studio, Kesha earned her living as a waitress. She adopted the dollar sign in her name while struggling to get by as an ironic gesture.
2009–2011: Animal and Cannibal
Soon after, Kesha signed a multi-album deal with RCA Records through Dr. Luke's imprint, after negotiations with Lava Records and Flo Rida's record label, Atlantic Records as well. Having spent the previous six years working on material for her debut album, she began putting finishing touches to the album with Luke and Max Martin. She had accumulated over 200 songs which forced her to increase the tracklisting from the intended twelve songs to fourteen. The album was executive produced by Luke, who produced the majority of the songs with combinations of Martin, Benny Blanco and Ammo. The album is primarily of the electropop genere with beats and synths, marking a shift in sound for Luke from then on from his signature pop-rock productions, which he attributed to Kesha who was adamant that there be no guitars used on the record. She described the record as "honest and fun," calling it "a celebration of youth and life and going out and getting crazy." She explained that she was "all about non-pretentious irreverence and f**k off good fun!" Animal debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 when it was released in January 2010, usurping Susan Boyle's album which had spent five consecutive weeks at the top, receiving three quarters of its sales from digital sales. It was certified platinum in the US and had sold two million albums worldwide by September. Animal received mixed reviews from music critics; Rolling Stone summed the album up as "repulsive, obnoxious and ridiculously catchy." First single, "Tik Tok" topped the charts in eleven countries and set the weekly record for the most digital downloads of a female artist and became the second best-selling single in a week in the US, after "Right Round", by shifting 610,000 copies. Spending nine weeks at the summit of the Billboard Hot 100, "Tik Tok" became the longest running number one by a female artist on her debut single since Debby Boone and "You Light Up My Life" in 1977. "Blah Blah Blah", "Your Love Is My Drug" and "Take It Off" were released as the album's second, third and fourth singles, respectively. All three songs achieved similar commercial success each reaching the top ten in Australia, Canada, and the US. Kesha's deliberately unpolished aesthetic and juvenile stage persona, which she described as her own personality "times ten", quickly made her a deeply polarizing figure. Some of her critics found her output to be unsophisticated, while others felt that she was manufactured and lacked credibility.
Kesha also featured on two top ten singles by Taio Cruz and 3OH!3, through recommendations by Dr. Luke, in May. Kesha's former managers from DAS Communications Inc. filed a lawsuit later that month, seeking $14 million from Kesha and $12 million from Luke for commissions on her RCA Records deal, alleging that she had extended the deadline for them to get her a major record label contract and squeezed them out of her career under pressure from Dr. Luke. Kesha launched her own lawsuit in October, citing the Talent Agencies Act, asking the California Labor Commissioner to declare her contract with DAS void because it had acted as an unlicensed talent agent while procuring work for her in California, where only licensed agents can do so. Kesha held a benefit concert on June 16, 2010 where all proceeds went to aid victims of the May 2010 Tennessee floods from her hometown Nashville. She raised close to $70,000 from the event. She was a supporting act on the summer North American leg of Rihanna's Last Girl on Earth Tour and was awarded Best New Act at the 2010 MTV Europe Music Awards in November.
Kesha was named Humane Society's first global ambassador for animals for which she is expected to bring attention to such practices as cosmetics testing on animals and shark finning. She had earlier donated 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of dog food to a Nashville animal shelter for pets abandoned in the May 2010 flood in addition to raising money for people. She had also appeared alongside Iggy Pop in a campaign for PETA, protesting the clubbing of baby seals in Canada and later wrote on behalf of the organization to MacDonald's over the conditions of their slaughterhouses. After meeting Kesha at the 2010 Grammy Awards and guesting at a number of her concerts, Alice Cooper asked her to play the role of the devil on the song "What Baby Wants", for which she also co-wrote the lyrics.
2011–present: Second studio album
Kesha began writing for her second studio album while on tour. She intends to make a "cock rock" album inspired by 1970s rock and describing her experiences touring the world, a departure from her first two electropop albums where there were few guitars to be found in the production. She explained the rationale to MTV, "I just want to capture some of the true essence of what rock and roll is, and that's just irreverence and sexiness and fun and not giving a f---." While her album will still feature productions from her main collaborators Dr. Luke and Max Martin, she said in an interview that she also wanted to work with other producers and was reaching out to the Dust Brothers. Producer Dr Luke revealed that Ke$ha will be releasing her second album around May 2012, which the singer has also confirmed. "I want to take enough time to make sure it's the reinvention of pop music," Ke$ha said. "That's the ultimate goal, to reinvent pop music. So I'm planning on taking as much time as I need, but May sounds about right.