The Kesha of chart-topping fame — a wild child whose golden ear for a party-starter earned her 10 Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hits — was not the same Kesha who sang a beautifully minimalist rendition of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe” at the Billboard Music Awards in May, backed only by violin and Ben Folds on piano. “It felt like the first time I actually let myself be seen for who I truly am,” says Kesha, 29. “I let my guard down and just let my voice carry the song. It was one of the most special moments of my career.”
It also was a poignant one: Since 2014, Kesha has been in the midst of a protracted legal battle to free herself from her recording contract with Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, whom she accused of physical, sexual and emotional abuse (though she recently indicated she is willing to release new music through her existing contract). Earlier in 2016, a host of artists (Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga, Lorde, Demi Lovato and Haim, to name a few) started a #FreeKesha movement on social media, and, buoyed by that support, Kesha recently set out on tour. She says the new songs she’s working on “showcase my vulnerabilities as a strength and not as a weakness. In the past, I always felt like I was trying to prove something. Now, I’m writing what I want to share with the world, rather than trying to give the world what it wants. For better or worse, I’m just me.”
“During this election, I met a lot of LGBT homeless youth and was incredibly inspired by them. I want to promote equality until the day I die.”
“Adele is nothing but class. She reached out to me privately and publicly in the middle of winning her own award [at the BRIT Awards]. What a beautiful soul.”
“I’ve been writing a lot with Wrabel, who also is an artist. We have so much fun together. I’d love to collaborate with Mick Jagger, David Byrne, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. A girl can dream!”
?This article originally appeared in the Dec. 10 issue of Billboard. Billboard’s Women In Music event takes place on Dec. 9 in New York City and airs on Lifetime Dec. 12.