“Over the past couple years, I feel like I've become a woman in a lot of ways,” said Kesha during her SXSW 2017 panel, “because I'm reclaiming my personal space, my body, my confidence, my music, my life.”
To say this period has been hard for Kesha, the musician behind hits like “Tik Tok” and “Die Young,” would be an understatement. The artist has been open about her struggles with an eating disorder throughout her career; in 2014, she checked into rehab for it. Later that year, she sued her producer, Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, for sexual abuse and battery; Dr. Luke responded with a countersuit. Fans rallied to Kesha’s side using social media and the #FreeKesha Twitter hashtag to organize and protest, but in 2016, a court ruled that Kesha could not change or terminate the binding contract she signed when she was 18. The legal drama continues on elsewhere, with Billboard reporting just this week that Dr. Luke is attempting to subpoena one of the fans involved with organizing #FreeKesha protests.
Throughout these tough experiences, Kesha faced an endless stream of harassment from internet trolls. “I was making trolls and I was making bullies — I was making people who I'd never met before, who projected their insecurities onto me, onto the internet — I was making them the truth,” she said.
But Kesha went back to recording music. And gradually, she has reestablished her footing in the industry and her own personal life.
Kesha’s SXSW appearance was an opportunity for the artist to reflect on how she’s changed over the course of her career. As a young woman in music, Kesha thought the best way to survive was to act tough, even overcompensate. Nothing could touch her — or so she let others think. “I thought that was strength,” she said. “But I've since realized that I found an immense amount of strength in my vulnerabilities.”
Once she began taking down her walls, talking about “the real shit,” and the things that have hurt her, she started to feel more connected to those around her. “It is empowering,” Kesha said. “It's really empowering to stop pretending to be powerful and actually just sit in my power of imperfection and emotional insecure, humanness. Because that's the truth. Any time there's truth, that's when you really have the power.”
When you listen to the harassment of trolls instead of the truth, she explains, “you're making people you don't know your higher power.”
That doesn’t mean online spaces have been easy for her to navigate. Kesha uses social media to connect with fans, she said, but tries to avoid reading comments when she can help it. “It's not a healthy place for me,” Kesha said. “I try to limit myself in terms of reading comments because there can be a million positive ones, but I always gravitate toward the one negative one. And I hold on to that and I internalize it. I know that that's not healthy.”
Not reading the comments is Kesha’s chosen method of protecting her mental health, but she realizes it’s not for everyone. “I think you should develop your own healthy relationship with the internet if your'e going to be on it, if it's a tool for your job, or if you just like it. Make sure you're not hurting yourself with it.”
The artist also recommended spending time offline whenever possible, a strategy that she says helps ground her and give her perspective. But most important of all: stop comparing yourself to others and the life you think they might live based on their online presence. Everyone has their shit, she said, no matter how beautifully curated their Instagram is. “You choose the fucking best filter,” she said. “You don't use the worst one.
“Just because somebody's posting a picture of themselves doing something fun doesn't mean they don't also struggle with things. We all do. Every human being. They're not going to show you that side on Instagram.”
The musician confirmed that she’s still working on a new album; she estimates she has somewhere from 70–80 songs to decide from for its contents. “I have a lot to talk about,” she said. Kesha has no estimate of when the album will be ready, but it will be her first studio album since 2012’s Warrior. Making music over the past several years has helped her immensely, she said, and making art — whatever form that may take — is some of the best advice she can offer struggling fans.
“That's my way of coping,” Kesha said. “Along with a shit-ton of therapy.”