KESHA: I like going for a walk to get myself out of my head.
I also just have started walking around my neighborhood and found little cool, old houses from the ’40s I never noticed before. One woman has a rose garden, and we started talking, and now I go visit her and her roses every day. So it’s a way of connecting with my community, too. Just any time I can shake up the energy, I think it’s positive for me.
SAM SANCHEZ: It’s Time To Walk, where some of the world’s most interesting and inspiring people share stories, photos and songs that have influenced their lives. Kesha began writing songs as a kid, and by 23 had a bestselling single on her debut album. Since then, she’s become a two-time GRAMMY nominee. On this walk, she talks about the safe space music creates and the connection between nature and well-being.
[WAVES CRASHING AND SEAGULLS CALLING]
KESHA: We’re walking on the beach in Malibu. It’s just, like, a little hidden cove.
It’s really pretty. There’s just, like, little waves. The sound of them makes me feel grounded, and I am looking for dolphins, always. I don’t really know the name of this beach, but it has so much significance in my life.
As a kid, my mom was always very encouraging of me expressing myself however I wanted to. And I was a lot. I liked to sing. Ever since I can remember, I would always run around singing at the top of my lungs. I always loved painting and painting myself and my body and everything around me, and I always loved glitter. That is something I’ve held onto since I can first remember. I’ve always just loved getting messy with anything colorful.
I also learned how to make my own clothing. And that usually translated into, like, purple velvet bellbottoms that I made myself and my brother’s old T-shirt that I take apart and then I stapled and safety-pinned back together because I thought it was cool. And I didn’t realize it was out of necessity because we didn’t have the money to go to the fancy stores like The Gap. I remember specifically all the girls had these Gap shirts and Abercrombie & Fitch, and the only time I got one of those was if I found it at the Goodwill, and then it would be like, “Score! I got one.”
There was one day my mom got me like a Gap T-shirt from like TJ Maxx or maybe it was Goodwill. And I was trying to fit in so hard. So I straightened my hair, and I wore my, like, either knockoff or Goodwill Gap T-shirt, and I was so stoked. I showed up at school, and I remember the guy I had a crush on, it was the first time he, like, ever said hi to me in the hallway, and I was like, “Oh, my god. It’s happening. Finally, I’m being accepted.”
In high school there were these girls that were so mean to me because I was like… Yeah, I was different, but they were just, like, brutal and would make fun of me mercilessly.
But then, at lunchtime, I went to go sit down, and they’re like, “Come over. Sit with us,” and I was like, “I can’t believe a Gap T-shirt can do this much for someone.” My mind was blown.
And I go sit with everyone. And they’re like, “We’re playing this fun game where you literally zip-tie your hands to the lunch table.” And I was like, “Oh, it’s a magic trick. Okay, cool, do it.” So they zip-tie my hands to a table, and then the bell rang, and everybody left.
And this 90-year-old lady had to come cut me off of the table. And I just remember thinking, like, “God, you’re such an idiot.”
So I start skipping school over lunch, or I would sit in the bathroom on the floor, eating lunch under the motion detector hand blowers? Which, in hindsight, I probably could’ve found a better place to park myself. But I just wanted to stay away from anybody who was hurtful, and I just wanted to find people that were safe.
I felt so much like an outsider even when I tried to play along and tried to do what everybody else did. It just… A, I didn’t feel like myself, and B, it just didn’t work.
So it was that point when I started writing songs, and I would come home to my mom, and she would be like, “Write a song about it.” I’ve been writing songs about feeling like an outsider since I was probably 11 years old, 12 years old? And they were really bad.
But I kind of took all that bullying and, instead of… Of course I wallow in it occasionally, but I’d also take it and let it motivate me to be the person I am.
I make music to make people feel happy and dance and move and have a connection, have a community. I’ve made it my life’s mission to create a safe space whenever I go play a show or whenever I’m a part of anything. I just want people to feel safe and comfortable and not judged.
I never want to be a negative impact on anybody’s life because I know how much it can stay with you.
You can’t change anybody, but you do get to change the people you surround yourself with, and you absolutely have control over surrounding yourself with people that show you that they are loyal and they’re kind.
[SOUND OF FOOTSTEPS IN SAND AND SEAGULLS CALLING]
I think most of the world knows me for brushing my teeth with Jack Daniels, and my affinity for glitter. That’s very true. So that’s on point, but I don’t think people understand that I am absolutely obsessed with animals.
And I feel very much like, as humans, we are animals. And there are things that we ignore that are very animalistic like our intuition and time to play, things like that that animals do instinctually and inherently that people… I don’t know, they get embarrassed of?
So, there’s one place in the world where you can swim with whales. And it’s one of my favorite places to go. I’ve been three times, just in between tours, and it’s kind of like the ultimate decompression, grounding moment.
It’s 6:00 in the morning. You go out on a boat. It’s raining. It’s freezing. The water’s so cold. The last thing in the world you want to do is get out of the boat and get in the water.
So then you have to suit up, and you have to jump in the water with this animal that, in my mind, I know I probably should be scared, but I’m just not scared of.
In the water, if you look down, it fades into this dark blue. It’s almost like looking at the sky when it’s about to turn into nighttime. And from there, almost out of a fog, comes this huge creature.
They sing, and it fills your whole body with this awe. And they come right up to you and look you in the eyes.
I had a baby whale come up and stick his belly out and wanted a pet like a cat. That was the peak of my life. And I don’t think it’ll ever peak quite that high. I mean, maybe I will, but I don’t know what’s going to beat that. But it just kind of puts it all in perspective.
I love the chaos and madness of a show and singing music and being the center of attention and just being so extra. And then I love having no makeup on and being completely at the mercy of an animal that gets to decide whether or not they would like to interact with you.
Nature is my spirituality. It’s my happy place I go to whenever I start getting caught up in stuff that doesn’t matter. I realize how little I know, how small I am in the grand scheme of things.
When I don’t get to be swimming with my whale friends, then I’ll just throw on a hoodie and go walk around the block and try to make animal friends in my neighborhood.
I’ve recently made very good friends with a stray cat named Mitzie. She’s not a stray. She’s somebody’s cat, but she’s an outdoor cat, and I keep telling them that I’m happy to steal her if they need me to. But the owners are adamant that she’s fine.
And there are ravens when I’m playing songs that like to come and sing with me, and there’s a very large wiener dog across the street.
And I think it’s stopping and taking the time to have a conversation with the animals you come into contact with, which sounds crazy, but that’s what I do, and it makes me really happy.
So you can judge it, but then try it. Try talking to your neighbor’s cat, and you tell me if that doesn’t make you feel better.
On my album “Rainbow”, I wrote a song called “Praying”. And it was the first time I was ever nominated for a GRAMMY, which was so important to me. So, singing at the GRAMMYs was a very nerve-wracking situation, to put it lightly.
The month before, every single day, I would just start sobbing hysterically. And all of the people around me were great. They were like, “What do you want us to do?” And I was like, “I don’t know. I just hope the sun burns out and I don’t have to make a choice.”
And, oh, my god. At the GRAMMYs, I was trying to not lock my knees and to breathe.
You’re in a room full of your peers that you respect and you would pray that respect you.
I felt like I had no business being in this room, sitting next to Kendrick Lamar, and Beyonce and Jay-Z were a couple seats over. I just felt like a complete glitch in the system, like they must’ve made a mistake, full imposter syndrome.
So I get on the stage, get ready, we’re set. And when I finally got there, I, like, truly did not know if I was going to be able to do it because I could barely stand up.
And I’m nervous, and I’ve been on tour for three weeks. If I don’t hit this one note, pretty much all the music stops. And in “Praying” there’s a note that I can hit. But on occasion, I just don’t hit it because I get too scared because it’s almost like having faith in something that you can’t see. You can’t wrangle it, and it’s terrifying.
And it was just this crazy feeling of not feeling worthy and wanting to prove myself and wanting to do the best job I could and anxiety and just so much… All of the feelings.
But all of these amazing artists that are massively successful, these women from all different genres of music are there being supportive, singing with me.
And they all showed up. They didn’t have to show up. They just showed up.
And, and it still makes me emotional to talk about it because it was so special to feel like you’re being seen, you’re being heard, and you have people around you that are empowering to you and make you feel okay and make you feel safe. It just echoes all of the things I thought were true. There are good people that can just be there for you and show you love and show you support. And they all showed up.
We sang the song.
[KESHA AND CHORUS OF SINGERS SING LINES FROM “PRAYING”]
[END GRAMMYS CLIP]
I felt like I was going to pass out and die, but I didn’t. And then I proceeded to lose the two GRAMMYs I was nominated for.
And I realized that it does not matter whether or not you win or lose. No one can ever touch or take away how much that experience changed me.
And I’m kind of happy I lost because I can look back and just say, “I showed up.” And I think that’s the hardest part sometimes in life, is showing up to the really, really scary stuff.
It’s not about being fearless. It’s about not letting fear win and, like, weighing out the benefits and rewards and the safety of it. And if it’s a safe thing that you’re going to be really proud of yourself if you do it, then take a risk. And be nervous. It’s okay to be nervous. Sometimes it makes things better when you’re nervous because you know you care.
[WAVES CRASHING AND SEAGULLS CALLING]
This beach is really important to my heart. Really, it is.
Because this is where I had the photo shoot for the cover of my album, “Rainbow”. I was fully like covered in this sheen of glitter all over my entire body, and I just felt like it was a rebirth for me.
It was the first record I got to executive produce, the first record I got to pick the songs that went on, my redemption record, like, the record where I feel like I finally was heard and seen in the way that I’ve always wanted to be heard and seen.
Music is my form of coping with the world and everything I go through. Certain music gets me out of bed when I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. Certain music makes me feel so damn good to be a woman. It’s my outlet. That’s how I know how to relate to the world, is pretty much through song.
This is a song that was never really on the radio. It was never a hit song by any means, a lot of people have probably never heard it, but it’s one of the songs I’m most proud of because I wrote this 100% by myself in my bedroom, and I executive produced it.
This song is called “Bastards”. It’s me finally putting my thoughts about bullying and negativity into words. It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written.
[MUSIC - “BASTARDS” BY KESHA]
Growing up, I listened to so many different genres of music. So it was this weird combination of punk and then whatever the Beastie Boys were, and then I loved early Madonna, and I loved pop music. So, when it came time to make music, I was just really confused. I was like, “My voice can do all of those things. Why can’t I do all of it?”
But I remember just it got really heavy hearing everybody talk about how I couldn’t sing, how I couldn’t sing, how I couldn’t sing for so many years. And it just hurt my feelings because then I started to believe it. So I was giving my power completely away to people I’d never met.
And to finally put out “Praying” was just… It felt so good to sing with no autotune and no help on the vocals. And now I feel like I can carry on with my life because it almost opened up this doorway in my mind. I, like, impressed myself. I was like, “I didn’t even know I could hit that high note.” And because of that and actually daring and letting myself go to possibly really humiliating extents, that’s where I found something great.
[MUSIC - “PRAYING” BY KESHA]
I was writing my record, “Warrior” and I went to a bar called Cheetahs. And on my way out, there was a cat inside the dumpster, the cutest little tiny, tiny kitten that started running around, and I just decided to scoop him up.
I swear that that cat has shown me what unconditional true love is. He’s my soulmate. I’ve never loved something or someone as much as I love this cat. And I love my family. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s just so unconditional. He rips up my couches. He just destroys them. And he’ll pee on them. He’s so bad, but everything he does is just so perfect, and I love him, and he’s taught me so much about love.
I also love Dolly Parton. She’s a huge connection to my lineage. My mom wrote a song that she sang, called “Old Flames”. But one of my favorite songs she’s ever written is “I Will Always Love You”. So I’m dedicating this song to my cat, my soulmate, Mr. Peeps, “I Will Always Love You”.
[MUSIC - “I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU” BY DOLLY PARTON]
I hope you like the songs. I did pick some of my own songs, but it’s because, I don’t know, I’m proud of myself. I’m working on trying to accept that as a good thing.
And I’m watching the sunset. The sky is neon orange and green and blue and all the best colors, and the waves are crashing. I feel a little at peace, and I feel like it’s all going to be all right, at least for tonight.
Thank you for taking the time to walk with me today.