Put on your glitter eyeshadow and break out your DVDs, because the early 2010s may be up for a comeback. At least, that’s how Kesha’s forthcoming album, High Road, makes it seem. It was a decade ago that the Tennessee-raised Kesha Rose Sebert, in her smash “TiK ToK,” reported waking up in the morning “feelin’ like P. Diddy.” Now one thundering song, “My Own Dance,” opens with the 32-year old singing that she “woke up this morning feeling myself / hungover as hell, like 2012.”
On a few levels, 2012’s a significant year for her to reference. That’s when Kesha released her second full-length album, Warrior, which was her last album to land megahits in turned-up nightclubs across the globe. It was the era of not just peak pop Kesha, but also Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, an era when Rihanna was still regularly releasing singles and encouraging listeners to pour it up. For Kesha herself, 2012 was a time of going out constantly, living the “couch-surfing life” in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park, she told me recently over the phone as she sat in Southern California traffic.
It was also, she has said, a time of trauma. In 2014 she sued her manager and producer, Lukasz Gottwald, a.k.a. Dr. Luke, alleging that he abused her—including by drugging and sexually assaulting her—throughout her rise from an unknown 18-year-old songwriter to an international sensation. Gottwald denied her accusations and pushed back in court, resulting in a legal and reputational battle that’s ongoing. Judges have not ruled on the truth of Kesha’s claims, but her bids to sever business ties with Gottwald have been dismissed on the basis of merit and statutes of limitations. The producer is seeking more than $40 million in damages from her for defamation and breach of contract, according to a 2018 motion filed by Kesha’s legal team. Agreements signed early in her career with him remain intact. (Gottwald’s representatives did not respond to a request for comment.)