Day five of SXSW Conference and Festivals saw a ton of events centered around film, technology, journalism and health, but one of the week’s most anticipated events drew a huge crowd to the Austin Convention Center today. As part of a program entitled “Reclaiming the Internet,” world-famous pop star Kesha, 30, sat down for a conversation with Amy Emmerich, Chief Content Officer of Refinery29.
Emmerich opened the conversation with a sobering statistic that influenced the rest of the talk: 65% of people on the internet feel they have suffered some form of abuse. From there, the two ladies discussed everything from coping with criticism and internet trolls to Kesha’s own struggles with eating disorders to what fans can expect from her much-anticipated new music.
Meanwhile, the conversation never did turn to the pop singer’s drawn-out legal battle with her former producer Dr. Luke. (In case you’re following that saga, Dr. Luke has now filed a motion to subpoena Michael Eisele, a superfan who organized a #FreeKesha campaign to support the singer during the lawsuit.)
Below we breakdown some of today’s best and brightest SXSW moments with Kesha:
Kesha on kids today and online bullying
“The internet shouldn’t be a place that makes us feel unsafe,” Kesha said early on in the conversation. “Young people — I feel nervous for them. I got bullied at school, but I got to go home and write songs. They get bullied at school and go home and get bullied online.” Her concern read as quite genuine to the audience, which no doubt skewed younger than much of the festival’s programming thus far.
Kesha also discussed how bullying and online trolls have affected her own artistry. Whereas before she felt she had to overcompensate as a young artist, “thinking that’s strength,” she says she has since “found an immense amount of strength in my vulnerabilities. It’s empowering to stop pretending to be powerful and just sit in my power of imperfection and emotionally insecure human-ness.”
Kesha on the perils of communicating with fans via Instagram
“I participate [on Instagram] because it connects me to my fans,” Kesha said to Emmerich and the audience. “I love you guys. And I owe you everything, because without you I’d still be a waitress — which is fine — but I get to live my dream. I keep that very much in perspective.”
But she also touched on the dangers of the social media platform: “But aside from that, it’s not a healthy space for me. If I want to post something — like, if I’m really feeling myself — I always gravitate toward the one negative [comment]. I hold onto that. I internalize it. And I know it’s not healthy. It’s an unhealthy habit to go in and redo something I know is just gonna hurt me. So I stopped reading comments. I think everyone should develop their own healthy relationship with the internet.”
Kesha on what it means to be a feminist
One of the conversation’s most memorable moments followed Emmerich asking the pop star what she thinks it means to be a feminist.
“To be a feminist — I think it’s to be myself unabashedly and unapologetically, and to stand for all the things I think are right, and to be all the things I want to be. I can be a sexy, funny, gross, psycho, intelligent, beautiful animal rights activist that pisses in the street. I’m a motherfucking woman who can be every single one of those things,” Kesha said. “They’re not mutually exclusive.”
Kesha on turning 30 years old a few days ago
“I turned 30 a couple days ago, and the day I turned 30 I was on safari [in Africa], and I saw two lions having sex. I was like, I think my 30s are gonna be dope.”
Kesha on her struggle with eating disorders, which she acknowledged affects women and men
“It’s a part of my story,” Kesha said, referring to eating disorders. “I’ve suffered from body dysmorphia and eating disorders. I just want people to know that they’re not alone. If you struggle with looking in the mirror and just being OK with yourself, you’re not alone, and there are probably many reasons why that affects you. It’s not a weakness; it’s a disease. I was embarrassed, but now I really wanna talk about it.”
Speaking to her past struggles made Kesha tear up.
“It can kill you, so if any of you feel a certain way about yourself or your body — I almost died,” she said. “I came closer than I ever knew. By the time I entered rehab they were surprised I hadn’t had a stroke. I wasn’t consuming enough of anything. I think the only sense I can make of this life is helping other people. Even though it’s hard for me to talk about, I have to. I’m not done. I don’t know if I’ll ever be done.”
The singer’s message was one of finding freedom from the struggle.
“The sick thing is, I was starving, and people were saying, ‘You look great, you look fabulous,'” she said. “They were encouraging me to literally starve myself to death. I really want to be a person that young women, young men, old women, old men can look to and say, I don’t need to starve myself. I want to lead by example.”
Kesha on her long-awaited new music
“I’ve been working — pretty much every day, all day long — and I can’t wait to give it to you,” Kesha said about her next musical release. “I don’t know when. I don’t have a date. I pray to the ocean and the universe and every god out there that it’ll be soon. I have somewhere between 70-80 songs to choose from. Just know that I’ve been diligent to bring it to you.”
Asked about having so much music already written, Kesha said, “I have a lot to talk about.”
Kesha also spoke about returning to her country roots, and mentioned the songs she had written with her mother, a country songwriter in her own right (songs like “Your Love Is My Drug,” “Cannibal” and “Stephen”).
As for the new music’s sound, Kesha says, “I did dance pop, and now I’m like, wait a minute. A lot of my new record has country influences. It’s not necessarily a county record. I fucking love pop music — it’s innately what comes out of me. It’s fun. But I’ve gone back to the storytelling element of country music.”
Kesha on dropping the dollar sign from her name
It’s been a few years since Kesha (formerly Ke$ha) dropped the symbol from her name, much like Pink did. Emmerich asked her about it.
“I went to rehab for an eating disorder, and when I was there, I realized my façade was to be strong and not give a fuck,” she said, “and to be this girl where nothing could touch me. And that’s total bullshit. I’m highly emotional and sensitive. I took out the money symbol because it was all part of a façade. I’m happy, and I’m not embarrassed by it, but I turned a corner.”