It’s hard to tell sometimes if Ke$ha is kidding. On the one hand, who among us isn’t tired of hearing things like, “Paris Hilton/ Lindsay Lohan/ Britney Spears/ Tera Reid/ etc. is so much smarter than people give her credit for?” Because by now it’s pretty obvious that that’s hardly ever the case. Their tabloid exploits aren’t a postmodern prank on male expectations. There is no sniggering genius behind the curtain. They’re just idiots. But on the other hand, unlike her bleach-blonde peers, Ke$ha occasionally gives hints that she might actually be in on the joke. She’s compared her first album, the mega-smash Animal, with the Beastie Boys’ 1986 debut Licensed to Ill. The two records definitely share some musical DNA, with their frathouse celebrations of partying, booze, and casual sex. But then again, the Beastie Boys went on to make mature and ground-breaking albums like Paul’s Boutique and Check Your Head, while Ke$ha’s latest, the EP Cannibal, offers more of the same dry-heaving, dry-humping antics.
Ke$ha may be easy to dismiss from a distance, but her songs get more interesting with closer scrutiny. And no, I’m not fucking with you. The music itself, at least to my ears, tends to sound like the synth-generated beats of a junior high rave. But her lyrics, if you’re really paying attention, can often be laugh-out-loud funny. Take a line like this: “Your love / Your love / Your love / Is my drug / I like your beard.” Or this: “Cause the sun is coming up / And oh my god, I think I’m still drunk / Where’s my coat? / Where?” Or this: “You can’t imagine the immensity of the fuck I’m not giving.” Or even this: “But now that I’m famous/ You’re up my anus.” You can dismiss it as juvenile trash, and as someone who didn’t have any reason or desire to listen to Ke$ha’s music prior to this interview, I might have agreed with you. But in hindsight, I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. If it’s any consolation, I was wrong too. If her beautifully clumsy poetry doesn’t make you smile even a little bit, you’re taking life way too seriously.
I spoke with Ke$ha by phone, as she was in Nashville, preparing for her upcoming “Get $leazy” tour (her first as a headliner), which kicks off in Portland, Oregon next Tuesday, February 15th. In a bittersweet coincidence, I also spoke to her as she should’ve been making plans to attend the 53rd Annual Grammys, which airs this Sunday, February 13th at 8pm on CBS, an awards ceremony in which she was unfairly snubbed. I say “unfairly” because, come on, it’s the Grammy’s. This is a show where Neil Young, Jeff Beck, and Tom Petty have all been nominated and it’s not 1978. Katy Perry is up for multiple awards, and the difference between her and Ke$ha is something that even their respective mothers would have a hard time explaining. She insists that she’s not bitter, but as with everything Ke$ha does, it can be difficult to tell when she’s being ironic.
Eric Spitznagel: On Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, you told Ryan Seacrest that your resolution for 2011 is “to not be a douchebag.” How’s that been working out for you?
Ke$ha: Thus far, I think I’m doing a pretty decent job. I’m not saying I don’t fuck up here and there. But for the most part, I think the douchery has been kept to a minimum.
If you’d cut back on the douchiness a little earlier, do you think you would’ve had a better chance of getting a few Grammy nominations this year?
Who knows. Probably not. But it’s not that big a deal.
You don’t want a Grammy?
Of course I do. I was disappointed that I didn’t get nominated. But I’ve only been around for a year. I’m friends with the Black Keys, and they were nominated for the first time this year. And they’ve been around for a decade. That’s like half my life. So I really can’t be a brat about it. I plan on making a lot more records, and hopefully one of them will be Grammy worthy.
I have a theory. Is it possible that the Recording Academy doesn’t take you seriously because they’re confusing you with the David Bowie character in the 1986 movie Labyrinth?
I hope that’s the reason. That is one of the best compliments I’ve ever received in my life.
Well you’re welcome. It really is true. In your last few videos, it looks like you’re morphing into Jareth the Goblin King.
I wish! Labyrinth is one of my favorite movies of all time. I’ve always wanted to cover that song Bowie does. (Sings.) “Dance magic dance, dance magic dance!” I would love to do it on my tour. I just can’t convince my manager that it’s a good idea.
Would you sing it with muppets like Bowie did?
Oh absolutely! I actually wanted to do something with muppets when I performed on Saturday Night Live. But it didn’t work out. And now I hear that Cee Lo Green is performing with muppets at the Grammys. I’m sorry, that’s really badass, and I’m a little jealous.
Do you have a favorite muppet? One that you’ve been dying to collaborate with?
What’s the guy’s name who lives in garbage?
Oscar the Grouch! Yeah, I’d want to duet with him. We have a lot in common. We share a very similar personal philosophy on life. He and I are one in the same.
I don’t think he shares your appreciation for glitter.
Oh, I’d turn him around. I’d just throw it at him. The glitter’s not really a choice. When you’re around me, you’re going to get glitter on you. It infuriates a lot of people who hang out with me. They get glitter on them and it won’t come off for days and it ruins their game. But I think it’s incredible.
What’s your glitter budget for a typical year? It’s got to be in the thousands, right?
Honestly, it’s pretty exorbitant. It’s probably more like a few thousand every month. If you come and see a show of mine, there is no shortage of glitter. By the end, everyone from the back of the auditorium to the very front is covered and potentially choking on glitter. I am shooting glitter from glitter guns and out of every orifice in my body. It’s really a big part of what I do. It’s my goal to cover the planet in glitter and take the fuck over. I can’t do that if I don’t have a shit-ton of glitter.
Wait, did I hear you correctly? You’ve got glitter coming out of every orifice?
(Laughs.) That’s right. I’ve found glitter in places that will not be named in this interview.
You might want to mention that to a doctor. Would you describe it as a glittery discharge?
No, it shoots out. And it’s coming from everywhere on my body. Let’s just leave it at that.
If your songs are to be believed, your life is one big lost weekend of alcohol poisoning and recreational sex. But it’s all just a metaphor, right? It’s like when Bob Dylan sings about working on Maggie’s farm. It’s not a literal representation of your life, is it?
Everything I write is based on something I’ve personally experienced, or things that my friends have experienced that I just find horribly entertaining. One of my favorite songs on my first record is about this bitch who stole my car. I also did a song called “Dinosaur,” which is about old creepy guys with bad hairpieces who hit on me in bars. I think dinosaurs are the male equivalent of cougars.
I guess. But calling somebody a cougar is much closer to a compliment than calling them a dinosaur.
I mean it as a compliment. I love dinosaurs. I love creepy old dudes. I love that they have so much self-confidence, despite having no evidence whatsoever to back it up.
What about that infamous line in “Tik Tok,” where you brag about brushing your teeth with a bottle of Jack Daniels?
What about it? I do that all the time.
When something like that happens, what’s going through your head? Are you like, “How’d this bottle get in the bathroom? What the fuck am I doing? Oh my god, what’s happened to my life? I’ve got to get my shit together!”
Absolutely not! Jack Daniels is an anti-bacterial and it’s way better than morning breath. Let me put it this way, if you wake up naked in a bathtub and you have the choice between rinsing out with Jack Daniels or trying to make out with some dude with morning breath, I would recommend picking up the Jack.
There’s also option C, where you catch a cab and go home and spend the rest of the day doing some serious self-reflection.
(Laughs.) That’s no fun. I think Jack Daniels is underrated as an antiseptic. Two nights ago, I was in Dallas for the Super Bowl — I played a pre-Super Bowl party — and I was with my hairdresser. He said he wanted a tattoo, so I whipped out my new tattoo gun. It’s really loud; it makes this whirring noise like some scary electronic mouth drill from the dentist. He got really freaked out and said, “No, no, no, just give me an old school tattoo.” So I whipped out a sewing needle and ink pen, and I gave him this tattoo. And he was like, “No, first you have to sterilize the needle!” And all we had was some Jack Daniels. We just kind of soaked it for twenty seconds. And the man still has an arm. He didn’t get gangrene or any sort of diseases.
I’m less concerned that you’re using whiskey as an antiseptic than I am that you own a tattoo gun.
It’s great! My manager got it for me as a Christmas present.
Have you actually given anyone a tattoo with it?
Nobody will let me. Whenever I whip it out, they’re like, “I was just kidding!” They sober up really quick.
If you got somebody to sit still long enough, what kind of tattoo would you give them?
I would be more than happy to give you a tattoo of my face on your face.
Okay then. I’m suddenly very grateful that this is just a phone interview.
Whatever, man. When you’re ready for the tattoo, just let me know.
You’ve claimed that the dollar sign in your name was meant as a joke, because of how ridiculously poor you were early in your career. But now that you’re rich, can’t you get rid of it? It’s not exactly ironic anymore.
I don’t care, I love it. Looking back now, over the past year, I’m so happy that I decided to keep the dollar sign. It’s the American symbol for money, which is one of the most powerful things in the world. And now, because of me, it’s also a symbol for glitter, debauchery, and youthfulness. I love that. Whenever I’m walking by a bank and I see a big dollar sign, I just have to laugh to myself.
What banks have big dollar signs outside? Do you have an account with Scrooge McDuck?
You know what I’m saying. A dollar sign isn’t just about money anymore. It’s also about glitter guns and whiskey. I really feel like that’s the ultimate subversion. I get off on stuff like that.
The dollar sign in your name took on extra meaning in the video for “We R Who We R,” which was like a big commercial for Revolucion Tequila and the dating site PlentyOfFish.com. Is that more subversion, or did you get a big fat check for product placement?
With Revolution Tequila, I liked the name of it and I like tequila. So it was a good fit. And also, they were supportive of my vision, which was a very expensive vision. We shut down downtown Los Angeles for 48 hours and blew up the 2nd Street Tunnel. That doesn’t come cheap.
What’s the going rate? What would it cost to have you flipping through a copy of Vanity Fair in the middle of a homeless prostitute mosh pit in your next video?
Make me an offer. What you got? Six million dollars? We could talk about it for six. My manager thinks I’m going easy on you, but that’s a friend price.
That’s a little out of our price range. How about fifty bucks and a free subscription?
We can find a compromise somewhere in the middle. Somewhere between fifty bucks and six million. But you know, it’s not always about the money. I was wearing a Casio Baby-G watch in the “We R Who We R” video, and that’s because I’m the brand ambassador for Casio. But also, I just like their stuff. I love everything about the brand. I love the watches, I love the keyboards, I love the keytars.
Keytars! I have to admit, I have a soft spot for any piano-guitar hybrid. You don’t see a lot of love for keytars anymore.
It’s definitely a lost art. I love it because it’s a phallic representation of a keyboard. Guitar players get to experience that phallic power every time they play. They get to thrust it, they get to pump it and spin it around. When I’m rocking on the keytar, it can’t get any sexier. But at the same time, it’s completely hilarious and silly.
You can’t really take yourself too seriously when you’re playing a keytar.
I disagree. You should come see my show. I have a pretty big keytar solo during one of the numbers, and I am very, very serious about it. I can play the fuck out of a keytar.
This might seem like an odd question, but did you see Mega Python vs. Gatoroid on the Syfy network a few weeks ago?
No. I don’t even know what that is.
It’s a campy science fiction movie about giant alligators and snakes, and it stars Tiffany and Debbie Gibson — who, it could be argued, were the Ke$ha and Taylor Swift of the 80s. I’m just curious, twenty years from now, if your career follows the same trajectory of Tiffany or Debbie Gibson, will you be O.K. doing made-for-TV monster movies to pay your bills?
Absolutely! I think that sounds really fun. I’m sure critics make fun of them about it, but that’s a bunch of bullshit. It sounds like one of the things I want to do before I die. I was just talking to someone the other day about how much I loved Tina Turner in Mad Max. I want to do something like that. Or David Bowie in Labyrinth. It’s a dream of mine to be the sci-fi weirdo in some crazy cult movie. I don’t even care if it’s a made-for-TV movie. Sign me up!
You’ve probably got the right idea. There’s definitely more dignity in doing a made-for-TV movie than being on Celebrity Fit Club or the Surreal Life.
I don’t know what either of those things are.
You’ve never heard of the Surreal Life?
I have no idea. Now you have me worried. Is it something I should know about?
No, no, it’s a good thing. If somebody from VH1 hasn’t called you to pitch a show, that means your career is still in good shape.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com.)