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Kesha talks ghost communication, her fear of 'rich, white, straight men,' and why she 'would've had like 10 lobotomies' in another era

·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
·12 min read
Kesha performs during Stonewall Day and Visitor Center Groundbreaking ceremony on Christopher Street. (Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Kesha performs during Stonewall Day and Visitor Center Groundbreaking ceremony on Christopher Street. (Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Kesha has long been fascinated by supernatural phenomena, which she has explored in her podcast, “Kesha and the Creepies.” Now, in her new Discovery+ reality series Conjuring Kesha, she literally expands that journey — hitting the road with famous friends (comedian Whitney Cummings, pop star Betty Who, bounce rapper Big Freedia, former Bachelorette Jojo Fletcher, supermodel Karen Elson) to visit haunted sites and make contact with the other side.

Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume ahead of Conjuring Kesha’s July 8 premiere, Kesha explains why she’s always had this “insatiable curiosity” and desire for otherworldly connection — a lifelong search that intensified after she experienced “existential crisis after existential crisis” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The “Rich, Straight, White Men” singer also reflects on the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which happened the same day of her headlining performance at Pride Live's Stonewall Day in New York City. And the topics of equal rights, mental health, and the supernatural all intersect as she discusses as her series’ scariest and perhaps most spiritually resonant episode, in which she investigates a haunted West Virginia mental hospital with a history of locking up and lobotomizing women and queer people.

Yahoo Entertainment: So, I just watched the first two episodes of Conjuring Kesha, and I'm a little freaked out in a good way! I especially liked seeing you and pop singer Betty Who go to a haunted opera house, Antoinette Hall. You're both singers yourself, so you felt a special connection with the spirits there.

Kesha: Yeah, it was beautiful. It’s this beautiful, hidden opera house in the middle of Pulaski, Tenn. Nobody knew it was there for over a hundred years, which is real weird, because it's huge. Just nobody opened the doors. But once they opened the doors, this whole opera house became super-haunted. Me and Betty went and just rode around and sang our little asses off and had a great time. I think a lot of the guests on the show came in not really knowing what to expect — myself included. I didn't know what we were going to walk away with, and it ended up being incredibly active. I think the ghosts like me.

Yeah, there was a lot of talk about you having “gentle energy” and entering these haunted spaces respect, trying to not trespass on these spirits’ turf. As an expert ghost-hunter, or aspiring ghost-hunter, how do you do that?

I put myself in the ghost’s shoes: Like, if I'm hanging out in my haunted opera house that I built and some people come trumping in there… I just want to go in with respect, in all areas of my life. Because when you have aggressive energy, you might get aggressive energy back. I want to go in with curious and open-hearted energy, and hopefully get that energy back now in life. It doesn't always work like that, unfortunately, but this being my first foray into ghost-hunting… and you know, “hunting” sounds so mean! I'm not hunting; like, they're already dead. It’s “ghost communications.” Anyway, I wanted to be safe and gentle. Maybe it's just spillover from how I live my life, but I always want be a safe, gentle place — even for ghosts.

This may be your first experience with “ghost communications,” but the paranormal has long been a fascination for you. What drives this curiosity? What exactly are you searching for?

Well, that's the thing. I've been searching since I was a little kid. I never really knew what I needed the answers for, but I always have been searching. I studied comparative religion when I was in high school. That was my backup plan — not that I really had one. But my other idea, aside from singing pop songs, was I wanted to study comparative religion, and the psychology behind it too. Because I feel like people need to feel connection either with each other, but also to ourselves. And that has transcended for me recently into feeling like I want a higher connection with the universe and just trying to come to terms with the world we live in and why we are the way we are. It got very existential, and then it got supernatural. It all in my mind, it makes sense that it's all tied together, that there are so many things that we can't see or explain. … I just want to experience as much as humanly possible, on this plane and in all the other dimensions.

Obviously you're an LGBTQ+ ally. You just played the Stonewall Day event in New York. I’ve read that at a young age you felt alienated from the concept of Christianity, because Christianity can sometimes be linked with homophobia. How do you feel about that, after studying various religions?

Growing up in the South, I remember I always wanted to be a part of what everybody else was a part of. And there were so many churches in Nashville at the time. It was more churches per square mile than anywhere else in the country — maybe the world. I really wanted to go and listen to what other people believed. I always was kind of desperate for a connection with… I don't really like using the word “God,” because I feel like that's alienating and I don't like to put a word to it, but just that inner peace. You know, like what Buddha seemingly had — just peace and goodness and calm and trust in the universe, not trying to control things that are out of my control.

I didn't really understand what that was, and then all the cool kids would go to the superchurch. That's where I had my first kiss — outside of a superchurch! All the kids would go there. And then I remember going in this one particular day... I'm not lumping anyone into categories or making any sweeping statements, but this particular preacher was talking about how being gay was a sin. And I knew at a very young age that that was not true for me and my higher consciousness and my higher power. Any kind of love is not wrong. Who you are is not wrong, and is not a sin. And so, through process of elimination, I learned about all different religions and found it really interesting — what people believe, what kind of guidelines they have for their life, what brings communities together.

And I think that churches can really do that for people. I've found my church in the queer community. That's my family. When I play music, I would like to create a safe space for people to come and be together and dance. I'm not judgmental about what anybody else believes. I just know for me, I haven't found a particular religion that I could label, kind of like with my sexuality — I don't like to put a label exactly on what it is, because I'm open. And that's how I feel with the universe and my spirituality. I'm open to it all.

Did you have a certain scary epiphany or experience that made you get on this path?

I had an epiphany during COVID, actually. I had so much anxiety trying to sort out what the f*** was going on. I was having a hard time with understanding why things happen and just what was happening, and what is still happening. Sometimes it's hard to come to terms with why things happen. I was just having existential crisis after existential crisis, all day, all night. And then one night I thought I literally was having a mental breakdown. But I found this really strong connection to something that is otherworldly-feeling. I called my therapist and I was like, “I think I'm having a breakdown.” She's like, “No, that's a spiritual awakening.” I was like, “What the f*** are you talking about?” This is the point you're supposed to feel like you're going crazy, and she's like, “Yeah! Congratulations!” [laughs] So, after that experience, it did help me find a little bit of that peace I've been looking for my entire life. And then I wanted to learn more about it and prove that there is something else.

You actually have an upcoming Conjuring Kesha episode with Big Freedia called “Descent Into Madness”…

Oh my gosh. Me and Big Freedia went to Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, which was so gnarly. A lot of women and a lot of gay people ended up in here for things like premenstrual “psychosis.” I think being a “bitch” when you're premenstrual..

It’s where the word “hysterical” comes from...

Oh, yes. That was one of the things on the list. You could get lobotomy for that. And so this place had over 10,000 lobotomies in this one building. Oh, God. Me and Big Freedia both kind of realized that had [the asylum] still been open and had we lived in that town, we for sure would've been in this place. I know myself, I probably would've had like 10 lobotomies at this point. Because if you're a “hysterical” woman, I mean – guilty! Yeah, this place was really f***ing haunted. Like, if you watched the episode, things happen that are truly unexplainable. We're talking demons. Things happened in front of my eyes that I cannot explain — and I'm an executive producer on the show! … Some crazy shit happened. I think that was probably the most insane episode of the entire season.

It seems like a really relevant episode, given what’s going on in the country right now with women’s rights, gay rights, mental health awareness… It’s scary because it hits so close to home.

Well, it made us both really sit and think about how people were treating mental illness. Instead of having any sort of compassion or help, it was like, “Just give them a lobotomy against their will.” It was really heartbreaking, and a good wake-up call that we need to pay attention to what we're doing, because [the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum] closed not that long ago, in the ‘90s. That’s not that long ago! It's just good to keep tabs on what we are doing in society. I think in hindsight, giving people lobotomies against their will is, um, not a great idea.

I mentioned that you performed at that Stonewall event. I imagine that was an emotional day, because the Roe v. Wade ruling came down that very morning, Friday the 24th. Obviously the ruling itself is very troubling, but people are worried about if gay rights will be rolled back by the Supreme Court next.

Oh, it was incredibly troubling. So many conflicting emotions that morning. I was playing New York City Pride after we've been confined for two years, and I was so excited. I love Pride. Then I woke up to the news about Roe v. Wade and I felt crushed. And I felt really scared. I feel scared. I feel really scared that it's predominantly rich, white, straight men who feel like they have the right to tell other people how to live and are taking away the autonomy for me to have control over my own body. And that doesn't seem like that should be up for debate, whether or not I should have the rights to my own bodily autonomy. So, it was conflicting, because that happened in the middle of celebrating Pride and Stonewall. When I played at Stonewall, there were breaking ground to make it the first LGBTQ+ visitor center for the National Park System, so you can go there and learn about the legacy of Stonewall and what happened there. So, onstage that day, it was a really confusing day. I [still] wanted to celebrate how far we have come… and you know, Stonewall started as a protest, as a riot. And I'm feeling that kind of energy inside of me now — that stirring of “we will not rest until we all feel safe and protected and equal.” And that goes for everybody.

Did you play your 2019 song “Rich, Straight, White Men” at Stonewall Day?

I should have! We didn't have soundcheck that day, but I wanted to play it. And yeah, I want to do more music on this subject. I haven't quite figured out exactly what to do, but the wheels are turning and I want do as much as I possibly can. It’s a really scary time for us all.

There's a lot of political unrest in the world. I'm really interested about what you're going to say in your next album. What is plan there?

Well, I will say that this Conjuring Kesha is a partner piece; with the new music, they really go together. So, if you watch the show, you'll understand how the [forthcoming Kesha album] was informed. The new record, I'm not going to give away too much as it's not done, but there is definitely an existential, spiritual side of this record. And I'll say it: I've never been more excited to put out this TV show and this record. These are my two favorite things I've ever done in my entire career.

The above interview is taken from Kesha’s appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Full audio of that conversation is available on the SiriusXM app.

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