Miley Cyrus’s 2015 noise collaboration with the Flaming Lips was notable not just because it was a document of the former squeaky-clean teen queen’s descent into full weirdo adulthood. It was also notable because Kesha had already done something similar, with the Flaming Lips, for a project that has yet to be released.
Kesha began collaborating with Flaming Lips bandleader Wayne Coyne for her 2012 album, Warrior, which was meant to be more of a rock-inspired record. That year, I spent some time with the singer in Los Angeles for a cover story for VIBE Magazine, and she effused about the work she’d been doing on it:
I’m so excited about this record because it’s so different from my last record, and I have a song with Wayne Coyne and Ben Folds and a whole orchestra. It’s a melancholy pop song about past lives. And there’s a song with Iggy Pop that’s one of my favorites on the record that I wrote with my mom. She’s such a crazy genius.
Kesha’s mom, Pebe Sebert, is herself a successful songwriter, and the Iggy Pop track was of course “Dirty Love,” which ended up on Warrior. The track with the Flaming Lips and the orchestra was included on the album’s Deluxe edition. With Flaming Lips taking the production credit, the song stands out as one of Warrior’s few tracks not produced by Dr. Luke (there were three others, produced by Max Martin, Shellback, and Ammo) and it is the only single that credits Kesha as the sole songwriter.
It was clear even then that Kesha was interested in doing more rock-oriented songs—she beautifully covered Bob Dylan for an Amnesty International benefit album, a track she cut while literally crying—and in public both she and Coyne said they were continuing to work on music together for a project entitled Lip$ha.
But as early December 2012, Kesha and Luke were having public artistic differences. When some radio stations pulled the Warrior single “Die Young” after the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, Kesha tweeted her condolences, and then said that she had been forced to sing the song, which was partially written by fun.’s Nate Ruess. (This week, fun.’s Jack Antonoff tweeted his support for Kesha.) Later, writing on her website, she backtracked (the post has since been removed but is archived at Rolling Stone):
“After such a tragic event I was feeling a lot of emotion and sadness when I said I was forced to sing some of the lyrics to ‘Die Young.’ Forced is not the right word,” Ke$ha wrote on her website. “I did have some concerns about the phrase ‘die young’ in the chorus when we were writing the lyrics especially because so many of my fans are young and that’s one reason why I wrote so many versions of this song.”
But the hedonistic pop star still believes in the track’s overarching positive message. “The point of the song is the importance of living every day to the fullest and staying young at heart, and these are things I truly believe,” she wrote.
In Season 1 of Kesha’s MTV reality show, My Beautiful Crazy Life, she discussed the process of recording Warrior, and needing her label’s approval for the final cuts (which is standard for major labels). MTV has archived most episodes of that show, but the one in which she cuts the album, Episode 5, is not available on their site. “I really like the rock and roll vibe of ‘Machine Gun Love,’ but my record label has final say on which songs make the album,” she says. “Unfortunately, they think that the song is too different from the sound that I’m known for—it’s not pop enough. I wanna make music that’s different, but I’m just second-guessing everything I write.”
Though Luke produced nearly every song and was credited as executive producer on the reality show, he is nowhere to be found in the footage.
In a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone, she discussed that lack of creative control:
You don’t have any creative control now?
Not really. What’s been put out as singles have just perpetuated a particular image that may or may not be entirely accurate. I’d like to show the world other sides of my personality. I don’t want to just continue putting out the same song and becoming a parody myself. I have so much more to offer than that and I can’t wait till the world really gets to hear that on the radio.
That same year, the Flaming Lips released “Elizabeth My Dear,” a Stone Roses cover that clearly features Kesha’s vocals, but which does not officially credit her. (She had also worked with the Lips on their Heady Fwends album, for a song called “2012 (You Must Be Upgraded).”) Coyne told fans that November that Lip$ha was at that point a no-go: “I can’t say why...” he tweeted. “It is sad.”
The aesthetic shift is stark in comparison to Warrior, and especially so when compared to her debut album Animal. In the beginning Kesha had cultivated the persona of a boozy party girl whose prime interests were getting wasted and getting laid, and Dr. Luke’s mathematical production aligned with that: all squelchy synthesizers and frat-house rave-ups. Kesha adopted a sneery style of white girl rapping that conveyed a sense of irony and willful lack of attachment to anything but the moment, while Luke layered her vocals with Auto-Tune to further hone the sonic distance. It was great music—fun, fleeting, exactly what you want to party to at Wet Republic—but with the Lips, we were allowed to hear a deeper side to Kesha. Here, there’s depth and emotion in her voice, a vulnerability that was a rare commodity on her albums for Kemosabe.
In May of 2014, the Flaming Lips’s official account tweeted that the Lip$ha project was “Still comin!!! Soon as Ke$ha works out her stuff with Luke.” By October, though, it was still unreleased, and Coyne discussed the Lip$ha songs with Radio.com, as well as her Dr. Luke situation:
“If the music is great, all these other things that get in the way – like the Dr. Luke thing – it’s like, ‘We can get through that, it’ll be OK,’” he says. “I don’t really know the situation, only they do, I hope it works out. I hope that everybody can hear this music [that we made], it’s great. It will be great [even] if it takes five years to come out. The music that we did together, it’s just stellar and I know that’s why she wants it to come out.
“I don’t know Dr. Luke at all, but when we [Kesha and I] speak, I know there’s some anxiety about their relationship. I think she would like to have the freedom to do more things in that spirit. Where it’s not — again, I don’t know their situation — but where it’s not producers producing her. She could produce herself, that’s probably what she is wanting to happen with her own career. I love Kesha, she’s great. Miley is a lot more of her own entity, I think the success of Hannah Montana has allowed her to be the king of her own destiny. And I think Kesha will get to that eventually. She doesn’t have that sort of power now, but I think she will eventually.”
Many on Twitter—including Antonoff and Zedd—have suggested that Kesha go ahead and leak her own music, but at least some of it has made its way onto the internet already, including this track she recorded with the Black Keys’s Patrick Carney:
In our 2012 interview for VIBE, Kesha told me she’d just been recording in Nashville with Carney after having gone on extended holiday, first to Australia and then to South Africa, where she said she worked on a lion rehabilitation farm. She was gearing up to release Warrior, release her autobiography and debut My Crazy Beautiful Life, a show which detailed her album tour as well as intimate family moments. (As the intro promised, it was filmed in part by her brother.)
Back then, she told me:
It’s so much more than just the music, which is exciting; I know I’ve only put out one record and an EP but I’m really antsy for the world to know so much more about me. Right now I know I’m known for being this wild child, which is great, but I’m so much more than that. There are so many other things I want to do.
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