“I feel nervous for [young people],” the singer said. “I got bullied at school, but I got to go home and write songs.”
Kesha — whose powerful and embattled lawsuit against producer Dr. Luke has dominated headlines in recent years, preventing her from releasing new music but finding her many allies along the way — never directly brought up her former producer and the case in her “Refinery 29 and Kesha Discuss Reclaiming the Internet” SXSW talk on Tuesday, but the subtext throughout was clear: The artist has dealt with abuse both on and offline and is stronger now than ever before.
Amy Emmerich, chief content officer of Refinery 29, walked a clearly fine line during an emotional interview ostensibly about online bullying, but really more a rally cry about being strong in the face of adversity (and scuba diving, and nudity, and cats — more on that in a bit). The talk coincided with the launch of Refinery’s new Reclaim Your Domain campaign, which aims to make the internet a safer space — and Kesha’s remarks reflected her desire to do the same. “I think that the world should be a safe place, I think that America should be a safe place, and I think that the internet should be a safe place,” she said at the beginning of the chat, before recounting the difference in the danger she faced as a teenager — and how that reflects on current online culture.
“I feel nervous for [young people],” she said. “I got bullied at school, but I got to go home and write songs.”
She said that much of the problem online lies with individuals putting too much power in negative trolls, who often are a small percentage of the people that are actually interacting online. The danger, she says, is, “You’re making people you don’t know your higher power.”
She continued, “I was making trolls, I was making bullies, I was making people I had never met before — who were projecting their insecurities on me, on the internet — I was making them the truth, the higher power.”
The talk turned to darker parts of Kesha’s backstory, including her battle with an eating disorder and her work trying to gain visibility for that affliction as well. “If you feel a certain way about yourself, your body — it can kill you,” she said, fighting tears. “I almost died. I came closer than I ever knew. By the time I entered rehab, they were surprised I hadn’t had a stroke — because I hadn’t consumed enough. I’m not ashamed anymore. It’s emotional because it’s a deep-rooted disease. It can really affect your self-worth.”
But the discussion wasn’t all intense: Kesha shared a story of recently turning 30 while on safari in Africa. “I saw two lions having sex, and I was like, ‘I think my 30s are gonna be dope!’” Kesha also shared her ultimate goal in life (“To live on an island full of cats one day. I’m just trying to stack it up until I can do that forever.”), her desire to one day be a nudist (“If you live like a nudist for two days, you get over it. It’s a boob.”), and her love of scuba diving, which she returned to multiple times.
She also talked about a new record in the works, with over 80 songs already recorded, some with a potentially rawer tilt, though Kesha made sure her love of pop music would shine through. The lawsuit has famously gotten in the way of new music from the singer/songwriter, so fans will be glad to hear that there’s a lot in the chamber. “The new music is just me speaking honestly about the sh– I’ve been through in life,” she said. “For the first time ever, without anyone dictating anything — it’s just me speaking directly from my gut.”
To end the chat, Emmerich asked Kesha how she keeps moving forward through adversity, and the singer offered this take, from someone who’s clearly been through the wringer: “I have people that doubt me and try to get in my way, and people that are horrible to me. I have this mental place I put them all. It’s my 'f— you' list. … I have a bunch of people that doubt me, and I have the strength inside of me — you have a lot of people to prove wrong.
“[That’s when I say to myself] 'Get your ass up and write a song.' I’m not gonna let hate win. I’m gonna win, and I’m gonna do it, and I’m going to spread love for the rest of my life. My goal is to be remembered for being a positive human being that did positive things to other people.”
A version of this story originally appeared on Billboard.com.