Kesha’s third album, 2017’s Rainbow, came with more baggage than any pop album should be asked to carry. Her first project since her high-profile lawsuit against former collaborator Dr. Luke and its subsequent legal and label entanglements, it was heralded on arrival as a bold and cathartic statement of intent, but wasn’t necessarily the good-time dance-pop she’d made her name on. Three years later, the 15 cheeky, genre-hopping songs that make up High Road are about—and the results of—having a lot of that weight lifted. “I just tried to make it as low-pressure as possible because I feel like my whole career has been this race against time,” she tells Apple Music. “And on this album, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to make—exactly what genre, exactly what sound—and I wanted to not put a time on it and just see what would happen if I allowed that for myself.” Here Kesha talks through the inspiration behind a few of her favorite High Road tracks.
Tonight “When I first started making the record, I wasn't so sure how honest I could be about who I am and where I'm at in my life. I didn't want to take away from or minimize what I've been through by coming out with songs that are about me going out and having fun. And it took me a little bit of time to really come to terms with the fact that I don't owe it to anybody to be eternally miserable. It's kind of a sound-fuckery, because you think it's going to be a ballad and then it goes into me doing my shit-talking—kind of a quintessential off-of-my-first-record thing that I purposefully left off of Rainbow. This is a record for my fans, because they have been there for me through all of the bullshit I've gone through and I just wanted them to know I'm back and I'm ready to have a fucking amazing night and tonight's the night to do that. That's what I wanted to open the record with.”
Resentment (feat. Brian Wilson & Sturgill Simpson) “Having Sturgill on it and having Brian on it and having [LA singer-songwriter] Wrabel on this, it still doesn't really feel real. How did that come about? I have no fucking idea. God was on my side this time, I guess, or whoever you want to call it, whatever you believe in. It was just a dream list for me, and I never thought in a million years it would actually all come together so beautifully the way it did. I think Pet Sounds is one of the most influential records ever made. I mean, it's changed pop music forever, and Brian Wilson has always been at the top of my dream list of collaborators. I wasn't sure if he wanted to do a more upbeat song or slowish one, and he just gravitated towards this one, and the fact that he knows I exist as a human on earth is insane. Sturgill, I picked him up and I kind of kidnapped him for the day, and he had his guitar with him, and we put his guitar in my car and I took him to go see Lords of Chaos, about Norwegian black metal. He's a hard read, and I couldn't tell if I completely traumatized him by taking him to see this movie—it was just like blood and guts everywhere. I think it's the biggest compliment an artist could give another artist to collaborate with them. It's a sign of mutual respect.”
My Own Dance “That was the first pop song I wrote for High Road, and it was me talking to myself in my head about what my expectations for this record were, what I thought the public's expectations for this record were, what my apprehensiveness making a pop song was. Why deprive myself of something that I love doing so much? If that makes me a cheesy bitch, then by all means sign me up, and I don't care because I'm just following what makes me happy. I'm not going to pretend to be cool if that means I don't get to write pop music.”
High Road “Obviously this has a double meaning. I think after I put up ‘Praying,’ people would expect me to be very pious and take the high road. And it's quite the opposite: It's about talking about how things have bothered me in the past about people talking shit or just being up my ass. And especially in a culture where everyone is so ready to just cancel you if you say one wrong thing. It's just about me being like, ‘Do you know what? I'm just going to get high and I'm going to laugh about this because it's so ridiculous.’ All of these things used to give me so much anxiety, and now I'm just at a point where I can sit back, smoke a little weed, and have a laugh and not be so invested in all this shit that people talk.”
Father Daughter Dance “I never set out to write a song about the fact that I grew up without a father. I was just with people I really am very, very comfortable around and who know me really well and the song just kind of started flowing out of my mouth. I opened some sort of unconscious floodgates; I had no idea I had all these feelings about the subject. It feels so vulnerable and embarrassing when you're writing a song like that, because there's shame, there's guilt, there's sadness, there's resentment—so many questions that are in the back of your mind when you have a situation in the way I grew up in. I didn't intend to put it on the record, and then I played it for a couple of people and they all insisted that being a strong woman doesn't mean you always have to be strong. I don't want to take away from the way my mom raised me, because I had such respect for single parents and women that decide to have children on their own or without a man.”
Raising Hell (feat. Big Freedia) “I met Big Freedia on a Kesha cruise. I'd never been on a cruise before and I got on this and it was like a music festival on the ocean. We were all being so loud because there were no sound restraints, no time restraints. Everybody on this boat was just having the best time of their life but also taking care of each other and could just feel 100% themselves. There were people taking their clothes off and getting naked. It was just like this little island of magic for four days. And I also really wanted to write a song with Big Freedia after seeing her show; it was so inspiring. Spirituality shouldn't be exclusive—you shouldn't have to meet some sort of requirement to love or not love a certain gender of person to be included into getting into heaven or having eternal happiness. I find the salvation in being together and just being really supportive of people being positive and taking care of each other and living in a really loving way. But it doesn't mean you can't get naked and get drunk and be wild. I just grew up really seeing some disconnect with spirituality and religion. So I just wanted to give a shout-out to that [cruise], because it was really fucking fun.”