Ke$ha's 'Warrior': The Billboard Cover Story
When Ke$ha burst onto the scene in 2009 -- rapping through an Auto-Tune filter about brushing her teeth with whiskey and boys trying to "touch [her] junk" -- the then-22-year-old quickly positioned herself as pop's resident troublemaker and made the charts her home. In sales week that ended two days after Christmas of 2010, her bratty debut single, "TiK ToK," smashed the record for highest single-week sales for a female solo artist with 600,000 digital downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan (the previous record-holder, Lady Gaga's "Just Dance," sold 419,000 one year earlier), and soared to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Dr. Luke- and Benny Blanco-produced anthem took just 11 weeks to top the chart, holding the peak position for nine weeks on its way to becoming the longest-running No. 1 debut single by a female artist since 1977, and the highest-selling digital single of all time, second only to the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling," with almost 14 million copies sold.
| Yu Tsai |
Ke$ha + Billboard
Ke$ha's debut album, "Animal," crowned the Billboard 200 when it arrived at the top of 2010 with 152,000 copies in its first week, according to SoundScan. Driven by an attractive $6.99 initial price point, it leveraged the sales record of "TiK ToK" with iTunes' Complete My Album program and took full advantage of the holiday shopping season with a preorder program that launched Dec. 15, 2010. The result was another digital benchmark, this time for sales of a No. 1 album.
A series of top 10 hits, including "Your Love Is My Drug," "Take It Off" and "Blah Blah Blah" (featuring 3OH!3) followed, and in November 2011, Ke$ha once again shot to the top of the Hot 100 with "We R Who We R," the lead single from the EP "Cannibal," which was also included in the deluxe-edition repackage of "Animal." "We R Who We R" bowed at the peak position with more than 280,000 digital downloads. Ke$ha, who co-writes her own songs, was a hit factory, mining chart gold.
That is, until she took a break. After touring as the opening act on the North American leg of Rihanna's 2010 Last Girl on Earth tour (which grossed $13.1 million from 18 reported shows, according to Billboard Boxscore) and then headlining the Get $leazy tour last year (grossing $2.1 million from nine shows), the Nashville-raised singer went on a month-long sabbatical before taking on her sophomore LP, "Warrior" (RCA/Kemosabe). Now, with "Warrior" set for a Dec. 4 release and lead single "D ie Young" gaining at radio (it's the Greatest Gainer this week, despite falling 13-14 on the Hot 100), Ke$ha is back, much to RCA's relief.
"I had the label breathing down my neck to come back and make a new record, and I kind of had to tell everybody to fuck off for a month," says the singer/songwriter born Kesha Rose Sebert. When her solo tour wrapped in September 2011, Ke$ha dropped out of the public eye after Rio de Janeiro's Rock in Rio Festival, making stops in South Africa and other locales before returning to the States in late October. She calls it a "spiritual journey," a chance to get off the road and back to herself and the land: "I needed to get my head back on straight and sleep in the dirt for a little while. And then I came back and have literally been working on my record ever since."
After a 14-month break from the top 40, Ke$ha returned to the upper reaches of the charts with the release of "Die Young" on Sept. 25. RCA chose WHTZ (Z100) New York to debut the track as part of Clear Channel's iHeartRadio World Premiere program on the "Elvis Duran and the Morning Show," which reaches 7 million listeners in 50-plus markets each morning. For the first day, it played the song every hour. The response was so strong that Z100 moved the cut to its "power new" category, playing the song every other hour to give it maximum exposure.
"I got really sick of people saying that I couldn't sing, because I can do very few things confidently in my life, and one of them is that I can sing."
"You don't really see reactions like this so quickly," Z100 PD Sharon Dastur says. "It's been a week-and-a-half and we feel like it was selling well. We put it into our research and it was enormous. It was just so interesting to see how a song could connect so quickly. I just know that this is going to be a huge, huge album for her and she's really going to just pick up where she left off."
The same day RCA distributed "Die Young" to digital retail, standard and deluxe edition preorders for "Warrior" were made available on iTunes for $9.99 and $11.99. (The latter includes four extra tracks.) This time, RCA opted out of iTunes' Complete My Album program and instead offered consumers a free download of "Die Young" with every preorder of "Warrior." Leading up to the album's release, each of those preorder-driven free downloads counts toward the single's total digital tally.
RCA Music Group president/COO Tom Corson says that so far, the method is paying off. "The preorder is beating our expectations and doing well," he says. "Ke$ha had an incredible run with the first project, with ["Animal"] and then "Cannibal," the repack. It was global. Hopefully, that's what ["Warrior"] will do. Our intention is to cement her as an established pop star. When you listen to the album and all the possibilities on it, we have high hopes."
That meant heeding to Ke$ha's creative vision for Warrior. After dousing her vocals in Auto-Tune for her debut gave the critical community reason to believe that her voice was the product of technological tricks, Ke$ha set out to banish Auto-Tune almost entirely from the project and incorporate more guitars, which she had excluded from "Animal."
"I got really sick of people saying that I couldn't sing, because I can do very few things confidently in my life, and one of them is that I can sing," she says. She was so adamant about proving herself that she first contemplated making "Warrior" a rock album. "I remember thinking [with "Animal"], 'Oh, it's just processed. People will learn that I can sing later.' But after reading some reviews that were like, 'She can't sing,' I finally was like, 'Fuck that.'"
RCA senior VP of A&R and operations Rani Hancock notes how her abilities shine in the studio and onstage, echoing how critics often mistake the use of Auto-Tune for a lack of talent. "Ke$ha is really one of the best singers I've been in the studio with," says Hancock, who served as A&R rep for "Warrior" as well as "Animal" and "Cannibal." "She has an amazing voice and having been out on the road like she has, her voice has opened up from what it was previously. She really can sing her ass off. I think that she had a bad reputation, and her bad reputation was not justified."
By going light on Auto-Tune, "Warrior" brings songwriting to the forefront. The LP features the collaborators who made "Animal" a pop powerhouse -- Dr. Luke, Benny Blanco and Cirkut -- but it also makes room for what Ke$ha terms her "dream team" consisting of the Black Keys' Patrick Carney, Iggy Pop, the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne and fun.'s Nate Ruess, who co-penned "Die Young."