"Carnivore animal, I am a cannibal
I eat boys up, you better run
I am Cannibal"
These aren't death metal lyrics, but rather the first hook of Kesha's first song on her 2010 debut, the quasi-legendary Cannibal EP. Her obsession with death and gore never lets up either, but she balances it with a rock and roll lifestyle worthy of Motley Crue and a quasi-Buddhist ethos reminiscent of Cynic. Given her impressive intellect, willingness to embrace the bleak realities of modern life and devastating life story it leaves us wondering if this Protest The Hero loving pop princess is actually our generations metal icon. (For the record, Kesha isn't just into more mainstream stuff, she was also an early proponent of Midnight Ghost Train and is a proud fan of experimental collective The Residents). She collaborated with motherfucking Iggy Pop, has your favorite band done that? I know this will kick up some shit (and isn't that sort of the appeal of clicking on this sort of article?) but I genuinely believe that Kesha is metal, more metal than many of her peers in the metal world. what's more I think that I might just be able to prove it.
Before diving in I wanted to call your attention to a few things that inspired me to write this article. First of all – as I found myself plunging deeper into the Kesha fandom, I found that dozens of my metalhead friends, dudes in bands like Starkill and Tengger Cavalry identified as fans of Kesha's work. Even underground doom bands like Rift and SubRosa have expressed a fondness for Kesha's work. Meanwhile, the woman herself has always strongly identified with the metal subculture, stating as early as 2010 and 2011, well before the popularity of metal in haute couture. She loves bands like Steel Panther and Slayer. Hell the woman has even been quoted as saying, "I’m into metal dudes with long hair, big beards, motorcycles, that love heavy metal." If that's not an indicator that this is something of a match made in heaven then I don't know what is.
I want to emphasize that one of the main things that made me into a hardcore Kesha fan, and a fan of music in general, is the thematic content of the work. What regularly impresses me with her discography is not just the breadth of the themes – partying, revenge, depression, impermanence – but also the way she couches them. Like Manowar before her, she knows how to make everything into an epic. Every heartbreak is a tragedy, every party is going to be the best night ever and every drug a mind blowing new experience. Yet she also is reminiscent of Motley Crue, which is admittedly a far more obvious comparison, when she focuses on the beauty of the party hearty lifestyle.
Like Steel Panther, she does her best to live the lifestyle. For example – there is a rumor out there that dudes need to take a Polaroid of their penis in order to get onto her bus. That is almost reminiscent of Gene Simmon's infamous book of women he's slept with. On a more serious note though, tracks like "Wonderland" and "Past Lives" show a very real depth to the music, focusing on impermanence and our own mortality in a way that is almost reminiscent of doom metal darlings Subrosa.
Now what has kept me coming back to Kesha is her iconography. This is more than just the typical shlocky goth shit that many of her peers might attempt in order to appear edgy. Kesha literally has a video where she is a cult leader with her and her followers wearing black uniforms, hers featuring a giant cross turned dagger. I mean yeah the symbolism is heavy handed, but so is the symbolism in almost every metal video ever. Toss in clear callbacks to Twisted Sister in her music video for "Tik Tok" and it's easier than ever to see the tie between Kesha and the metal world. Things get even more obvious when you consider some of her outfit choices. For example, in 2015, she was photographed wearing a custom dress emblazoned with the slogan, "You will never own me." I think it's also important to note that unlike many of her less metal pop peers she has never really been photographed trying to use metal merch as a way to showcase how edge she is. Her songs are about destroying personal property and the inherent torment of human existence (If you don't believe me just listen to "Wherever You Are" or "Past Lives") she is already as edgy as she needs to be.
Then of course, there is the dark and oftentimes terrifying life story. Aside from the fact that she is very much a sexually-empowered self-made woman, there is the horrifying story of her sexual assault by her producer Dr. Luke. Beyond that, she never knew her father, but has had multiple men come forward claiming to be her father. This is someone who was bullied in school, was always a misfit and never really had a chance to go beyond until music came to save her, and then she had to face her darkest struggle after she had achieved her dream. That's some pretty heavy fucking shit and the fact that she still goes on to create empowering, positive (and surprisingly heavy) music like her new single, True Colors is a testament to her incredible tenacity. She's far tougher than many of these bearded dudes in death metal bands.
Kesha is fucking metal. Everything about her reeks of rock and roll, but when incorporated with the bitter darkness that defines so much of her life, and the flip side of her music it becomes easy to see that she is metal incarnate. Sure her music is much more in the pop sphere, but god damn if she isn't a badass zen motherfucker then I don't know who is. She has distilled every traditional element of metal into her unique brand of depressed party girl pop. She has it all, the ethos, the look, the story, and fans in apparently every corner of the metal world (Members of grinders Theories and doom lords Samothrace pronounced their fandom for the band in my research on this article for gods sake!) She has tapped into our hearts and proven to us that there is a whole lot more to this incredibly talented and intelligent young lady than meets the eye. Roll over Marilyn Manson… to paraphrase Kesha herself, there is a new bitch on the block.