As glitter rained down over a sold-out Manhattan crowd, Kesha took the mic. She had four more songs left at this Rainbow tour stop, including "Tik Tok," her 2009 debut that topped Billboard's Hot 100 chart. No performance would be complete without shooting sparkles into the audience, a move she's been pulling since her first tour in 2011.
Kesha and glitter go together like peanut butter and jelly, yet the motherfucking woman onstage today is very different from the Ke$ha from back then. It’s obvious enough to see, but her dedicated fans can hear it directly in the music.
"Rainbow is my favorite album of hers, and then Warrior is a close second," longtime fan Joseph Miller, 21, told MTV News. "I feel like she, with Rainbow, explored some of the best aspects of Warrior even deeper ... but Warrior, it's the epitome of Ke$ha, like it has all of her fun party songs, but it also has deeper emotional songs, and it's just such a special album release."
Warrior, the promising follow-up to the massive success of Kesha's 2010 debut LP, Animal (and the later Cannibal EP), came out in November 2012. The next year, Kesha joined Pitbull for "Timber." Then, silence. Her die-hard fans, known as Animals, sensed trouble coming.
In October 2014, Kesha sued producer Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald, alleging that he sexually assaulted and emotionally abused her while they worked together. Their explosive (and ongoing) legal battle unfolded in the national spotlight and, in the process, halted her music career. Until 2017's Rainbow, Warrior had been her last major project released. Given what may have happened behind the scenes, how do fans feel about the album today?
"I feel like, if anything, that only deepens the message of the song," Miller said. "Like for example, [in] 'Warrior,' she's singing about being a warrior, and I think quite literally it was the case."
To celebrate Warrior's fifth anniversary, MTV News spoke to more Animals about their memories of the album — conversations that prove Kesha's strength goes beyond just herself. Her work inspires fans to find their own inner warriors.
Miller, for instance, said Kesha's support for the LGBTQ community helped him accept being gay. Sandy Aulet, 25, learned she didn't have to "quiet [herself] down" to suit others.
"I love to dress up," Aulet said. "I love glitter, I love sparkles, I love being extra and everything. ... People might think my personality's too loud, and I feel like [Kesha] is just like, you know what? There's room for everybody and people are going to love you no matter what, and as long as you're genuine from your heart, you're always going to find your way."
Michael Eisele, 20, first "found safety" in Kesha's music during middle school, a "hard time for everyone," he said. Around 2013, he launched @KeshaTODAY, the self-described "official Twitter account for the #FreeKesha Movement." Like many fandoms, Kesha's Animals thrive on social media, but their community and passion extends into real life, too.
Eisele's date to senior prom? A guy he met on Kesha's Warrior tour. They were the only gay couple at prom that year. "The lessons I've learned from Kesha through her music allowed me to not think twice in the moment, but it's insane to reflect and see her impact," he said.
Nico Seidita, 19, another dedicated fan, called the fandom a "family." He's attended 10 Kesha concerts and met her five separate times. "I feel like we all resonate with her music, which makes us feel like we resonate with each other," he said.
"We're not like, oh no, I didn't get a picture with Kesha but you did," Seidita continued. "We're all very supportive of each other and very loving, and I think it's partly because Kesha's music is about love and acceptance, so we have that not only with ourselves, but with each other, and we accept and love each other's differences."
Amanda Rosenblatt, 30, runs a podcast dedicated to all things Kesha. Her favorite track off Warrior, "Wherever You Are," was the "unofficial song" that helped her and her boyfriend survive a long-distance relationship between San Diego, California and Providence, Rhode Island. Now, they're married, and Rosenblatt still keeps Kesha's early music in heavy rotation.
One of her go-to favorites is "Party At a Rich Dude's House," from Animal. "It's kind of a Dr. Jekyll [and] Mr. Hyde complex, because that's totally not my personality," Rosenblatt explained. "I don't party and I'm always very in control of everything, so it's kind of fun to mentally live out that fantasy of getting to [go] balls-to-the-wall like that and going out and partying. ... It's fun to let the story unfold in your head when you listen to that kind of music."
The music, of course, will always carry its association with Dr. Luke, who executive produced both Warrior and Animal. As Kesha's legal battle heated up, Aulet found herself questioning her career as a music major at Purchase College. It was "terrifying," she said, to see the situations she could be put into and how creative control could be stripped away from her work.
"[It made me] take a step back and think, is this the kind of industry I want to get into?" Aulet recalled. "But seeing now what all has come of it, I think [Kesha's] made room for people to be like, I don’t have to be treated like this, and I shouldn't be treated like this, and that you can have a successful career without compromising yourself and your art."
Dr. Luke wasn't the only shadow hovering over Warrior. Lead single "Die Young" came out in September 2012 and was on track to hit No. 1 on the charts at the time of the horrifying Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. After, many radio stations pulled the song because of its controversial title. Eisele grew up in Newtown and attended Sandy Hook, as did his sisters, but said he wasn't personally offended by the song's lyrics.
"It's understandable. I do know people who are extremely sensitive to that and especially to that song, my dad being one of them," he said. "It could make people feel uncomfortable, but I mean, what the song is about is living every day like it is your last and to celebrate life, like the message has been throughout every single album."
Rainbow, the launch of Kesha's newest era, continues this hopeful journey. She's evolved so much as an artist over the years, but that doesn't take away from her past. "I loved what I was doing when I was doing it," Kesha told Rolling Stone about her former self. "It was so much fucking fun! I wouldn't change all the Worst Dressed lists, I wouldn't change the mohawk, I wouldn't change all that shit. I'm proud of myself for being that ballsy young girl that was ready to take life by the balls."
As both Eisele and Seidita pointed out, it's not that Rainbow is the real Kesha and Warrior was a fake Kesha. Every LP represents a specific part of a journey, just as they remind fans of pivotal phases in their lives. Everyone interviewed for this story unanimously named Rainbow as, without question, their all-time favorite Kesha album.
Still, when the opening notes of "Tik Tok" sounded off that night in Manhattan, the cheers were deafening. Ke$ha still has a special place in fans' hearts.