"Let [the haters] be miserable"

For all Ke$ha’s spontaneity, for all her love of the moment, for all her endless enthusiasm for the night, straight up, she’s a little bit of a hippie. She admits it. “Not like the patchouli kind of hippie, but the kind where you love everybody,” she says. It’s her sense of love and empathy that inspired Ke$ha’s “spirit journey,” which she embarked upon in September 2011, just after she was named the Humane Society’s first-ever Global Ambassador for the animals. Influenced by her family—her brother’s in the Peace Corps in Honduras—and wanting to fully understand what that meant, she took a long break from work, didn’t tell anyone where she was going, and traveled to Galápagos Islands, Australia, and South Africa to raise her own awareness of animal rights. “I went swimming with whales in the middle of nowhere, it was like naked boat ladies swimming with baby whales for a week,” she says. “Then I was rehabilitating baby lions who were like pissing in my tent, and I was feeding them with a bottle, because their parents orphaned them and they’re trying to rehabilitate these other lions that were kept in captivity.”

Her face softens when she remembers it, and she kind of glows, not at all like the up-all-night Ke$ha of past red carpets. She gets the same look on her face later, backstage in a dressing room at Staples Center waiting to prerecord a skit for the VMAs when she talks about her fans—who she’s appropriately christened her Animals. “It can’t be said enough: be yourself, love each other. I’ve had to deal with scrutiny [in Nashville] that probably isn’t even comparable to the kind of scrutiny people from a place like that face being gay or lesbian. A lot of my fans struggle with that, and it breaks my heart that people haven’t found out how to be nice to each other.”

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