MADRID Ke$ha is sitting on a stool deep inside the cavernous, white-tiled guts of Madrid's Caja Magica, a sparkling, vaguely "THX 1183"-y complex that was built for tennis tournaments and the city's pro basketball team, but on this night is playing host to the 2010 MTV Europe Music Awards.
She is dressed like an extra from an old Busta Rhymes video — think "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" — covered in neon fishnets and DayGlo body paint, bright-yellow false lashes leaping a good 3 inches off her lids. She's holding a plastic cup filled with what she describes as "apple juice" (but which smells very much like whiskey) and waving to no one in particular, spilling some of that juice on the tile floor with each wild gesture. No one seems to mind.
She is smiling like crazy, and whenever she does, you catch a glimpse of her gold-capped tooth, a rather inspired — if slightly anachronistic — bit of flair that flies in the face of modern dentistry and sort of makes her look like a pirate. I think about bringing this up, but I don't because at the moment, Ke$ha appears to be incredibly, unbelievably happy, which may have something to do with the apple juice or the fact that she's just bested the likes of Justin Bieber and B.o.B for the Best New Act award, the first thing she's won, she tells me, since being voted "most likely to become a serial killer" in high school.
That statement is somewhat fitting because, much like everything else in this scene — the slightly drunk, glow-in-the-dark pop star; the oddly sterile confines of the Caja Magica; the gold tooth — it doesn't make an ounce of sense. But then I realize that nothing about Ke$ha makes much sense these days because somehow, in spite of her countless doubters and detractors, she has managed to become an actual pop star. Not just the kind who sells lots of albums but, like Lady Gaga and Madonna, the kind that wields tremendous influence and even manages to use some of her power for good.
She has undergone perhaps the most unlikely of transformations in recent history, morphing from a hard-partying pop oddity into an actual icon, a champion for those on the fringes of society, a hero to outcasts around the world. And, much like everything in her rather bizarre career, she's done it without really trying at all.
And yes, I am aware that she is still the same girl who wears garbage bags to award shows and claims to be psychic and even has a song on her new Cannibal album called "C U Next Tuesday," but there's no denying that, right now, Ke$ha is on an upswing, both professionally and personally. "We R Who We R," the first single from Cannibal, not only debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, but has also become an outcast anthem, which, as she told Entertainment Weekly, was precisely the reason she wrote it.
Moreover, she won that EMA — voted on by fans, which means she outgunned the Beliebers of the world to get it — and will launch a North American tour early next year. More important, even former adversaries like Perez Hilton seem to have nothing but good things to say about her these days. It may not be a stretch to say that, at this very moment, everybody loves Ke$ha.
And, yet, she is seemingly the exact same person who bombed on "Saturday Night Live" and had amassed so many haters that she was compelled to address the issue in an interview with me earlier this year. Nothing about her has changed — quite the opposite, in fact — and yet, by simply sticking to her guns, Ke$ha has won. I am not exactly sure how this happened, but she has staged an improbable comeback without any of the pitfalls that usually precede an improbable comeback; no rehab, shaving her head, attacking an SUV with an umbrella, etc.
And, in the process, she's not only answered her critics, but she's proven that she's no one-hit wonder. Ke$ha's already on to her second act and she'll probably have a third and fourth too.
It is the unlikeliest of developments, and yet, it is happening right now. Either we, as a society, have come full circle — to the point where we no longer criticize those who dare stray outside the norm — or Ke$ha has single-handedly shifted the entire paradigm ... by doing nothing at all. Either way, I can't explain it, but I wonder if Ke$ha can. So, as our interview begins, I ask her if she's aware that she has suddenly become everyone's favorite pop star. Turns out she is, although, like everyone else, she seems to be mystified as to why.
"I was under the assumption that everyone hated me, for a long time, and then I stopped going on the Internet. And since then, about six months ago, apparently people have started liking me," she laughs. "I have no idea why. ... I hope it continues, because I'm not innately a douche bag, I don't think — maybe I am — so hopefully people are starting to see that. I like to do stupid sh-- sometimes, but I'm not mean or a douche."
As she says it, I realize it doesn't make any sense at all. No one ever accused Ke$ha of being a douche bag (or of being mean). But it hardly matters. In fact, her statement is oddly perfect. It's impossible to figure out what's happening with Ke$ha these days, but it's never been better. She'll keep dressing up in DayGlo outfits and drinking apple juice. She'll continue doing "stupid sh--," and we'll all try our best to keep up. Traditionally, these things usually don't happen this way, but then again, nothing about Ke$ha is traditional. At all.
What is it about Ke$ha? If you've recently come around, tell us why in the comments!