Ke$ha's key to success: songwriting
She might forever be known as the girl who claimed to brush her teeth with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s (as outlined in her breakout hit “TiK ToK”), but in reality, Kesha Rose Sebert has found a much healthier way to get a buzz: writing a song.
“It’s pure ecstasy and excitement that runs through your veins,” she says.
There’s no question the 24-year-old Nashville resident — known to the world as “Ke$ha” — is one of the city’s biggest noncountry music stars. In fewer than two years, she’s had six consecutive singles reach the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart — including the No. 1 hits “TiK ToK” and “We R Who We R.” More quietly, she’s also become one of its most successful new songwriters.
On top of having a co-writing credit on every song she’s released, she’s helped pen others for Miley Cyrus, Miranda Cosgrove and, most famously, Britney Spears. The song she co-wrote for Spears, “Till the World Ends”, became a top-five hit earlier this year, and cast a new light on Ke$ha as a behind-the-scenes talent.
“I consider myself a songwriter first and foremost”, she says, noting the influence of her songwriter mom, Pebe Sebert, who co-wrote Dolly Parton’s “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You” with Hugh Moffatt.
“I would come with her to the studios,” Ke$ha says. “I remember countless nights where I fell asleep in the drum booth or the couches in the studios all along Music Row.”
Six years ago, Ke$ha carried that commitment to Los Angeles, where she began seriously pursuing a career in pop music as a singer as well as a songwriter. Some extremely good fortune had her crafting her solo debut with a host of established writers and producers, including pop masterminds Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald and Max Martin.
The project took years, as her in-demand collaborators often had their hands full producing hits for the likes of Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson and Avril Lavigne. Ke$ha took advantage of her downtime by writing songs and singing demos for other artists.
“I was writing every day, sometimes two or three writing sessions every day — except I would take Sundays off — for 3½, four years”, she says.
Skeptics need look no further than YouTube, where leaked copies of Ke$ha’s demos for other artists run rampant. There, you can hear her singing songs such as “Run Devil Run” and “Boy Like You”, which became respective hits for South Korean group Girls’ Generation and Austrian singer Charlee. Many others, such as the clumsy country-rocker “Boys Just Suck”, were wisely never cut but remain preserved on the Web with Ke$ha’s name attached.
“It’s really bizarre,” she says. “I wouldn’t even like some of the songs. I would just sing them to make my rent money, but now my voice will be forever on a song that I don’t even like. But that’s the way it is when you’re broke.”
But even the worst of those demos help make Ke$ha’s case that she’s no mere producer’s puppet. She’s also put her signature stamp on her biggest live show yet: the Get $leazy Tour, which makes a hometown stop at Municipal Auditorium Sunday.
Ke$ha says she’s had a hand in the lights, costume changes and choreography, and takes turns on guitar, synthesizers and theremin (an electronic musical instrument) during the show. She’s encouraging her Nashville fans to take action, too: Earlier this month, fans who registered as volunteers with Hands On Nashville were given free tickets to Sunday’s show.
“(The tour) showcases everything I want my fans to see,” she says. “I have a serious side. I have an emotional, magical side. And the rest of it is an incredibly addictive dance party.”
That dance party, as her fans have come to expect, involves lots of lasers, neon and glitter. Still, at the center of that blinding spectacle is a Nashville-reared singer and songwriter who says she gets “chills” from the naked sincerity in the songs of Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, and requires her songs to pass “the ultimate test”.
“After the song’s written and produced and done, it still sounds good with just an acoustic guitar and your voice,” she says. “Then you know you’ve written a good song.”
About time the media slowly begins to realize that she in fact is an accomplished songwriter.
Try an unreleased Ke$ha ballad to this post, btw!