I am not an emotional person. I rarely cry. But over the course of my entire life, I have cried three times over music.
The first was watching The Strokes perform at Governor’s Ball in 2016, dedicating Under the Cover of Darkness to their recently deceased friend. The second was seeing my favorite band, Cage The Elephant, perform for the first time this past fall, standing in the small crowd singing Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked. The third was watching the video for Kesha’s first single since her sexual assault case, Praying.
The Praying video and song is a powerful, colorful, explosive ballad in which Kesha not only shows her pipes, but her prowess in songwriting, creative visioning, and talent to hone her emotion and pain into one song. Kesha nails whistle notes like Mariah Carey, yet has the rasp of her rumored father, Mick Jagger. You can truly hear the pain it causes her to sing this song, and the blood, sweat and tears that went into this record.
Kesha released four singles in the days leading up to the August 11 release of her 7th studio album, entitled Rainbow.
The first was Praying and the accompanying music video, and the second was Woman: a bright, vibrant, trumpet-led anthem about being an independent woman. It’s the type of dance-y, makes-you-want-to-get-up sort of feel Kesha is known for, but with an empowering message. The chorus says it all: “I don’t need a man to be holding me tonight, I’m a motherf*cking woman!”
The third song Kesha put out, titled Learn to Let Go, which Rolling Stone hailed as a “course from ruin to redemption”. It has a more indie-rock feel to it, and Kesha has described the song’s title as her mantra over the past year while making this album.
The fourth, named simply Hymn, is described in an essay Kesha wrote about the song: “the longer title was ‘Hymn for the Hymnless.’ And when I say ‘hymnless,’ I’m talking about people who feel like they don’t fit in, people who feel like they don’t have a hymn” she writes, “and I will never stop fighting for the equality for all humans”. Kesha has become an icon in the LGBT community, especially after her 2010 song We R Who We R, which is seen as a rallying cry akin to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way. Like WRWWR, Hymn is seen as a more mellow, more poignant chant in the time of Donald Trump and the threats facing LGBT rights.
The first song on the tracklist is Bastards, an acoustic, uplifting ballad about staying true to yourself. Let ‘Em Talk features The Eagles of Death Metal and is a fast-paced, guitar-focused, punk track that’s quick, to the point, and loud, a la Green Day’s American Idiot. Kesha also goes a bit country on this album, such as the track Finding You, a love song for her current boyfriend, Hunt You Down, and Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You), a beautiful song featuring country icon Dolly Parton, that brings her back to her Nashville roots.
Then comes the titular track, Rainbow, a gorgeous piano ballad that rings true to Kesha’s message of staying true to yourself that shows off the voice that was hidden behind auto-tune in her earlier, party girl days. Kesha still gets to show that side of her once more in Boogie Feet and Boots, songs in her comfort zone about dancing, partying, and waking up next to a stranger.
She ends the record with showing off her weirder side (a la her criminally underrated 2010 album track, Dinosaur, which I distinctly remember running around the Yale Peabody Museum on a sixth grade field trip singing at the top of my lungs) with Godzilla (with the incredible lyrics “what do you get when you take Godzilla to the mall? He scares all the children and shreds all the pillows and knocks over walls, his emerald eyes, they sparkle and shine, as he eats the food court and steals half my fries. That’s what you get when you take Godzilla to the mall”), and Spaceship (I’m waiting for my spaceship to come back to me, I don’t really care if you believe it’s coming back for me, yeah I been in a lonesome galaxy, they’re coming back for me).
Rainbow is being herald as a “defiant comeback” and “the comeback of the century”, and I couldn’t agree more. She’s put more voice, more range, and more soul into this album than anything else I’ve ever seen, and I couldn’t be more proud as a longtime fan. From her days of “brushing my teeth with a bottle of Jack” and party anthems, the four-year hiatus hasn’t seemed to hinder her creativity. Kesha shines in this record, producing the “purposeful pop” that makes for an incredible new and honed sound.
While most people will tell you that artists must “suffer for their art”, Kesha has gone through more pain in this year than anyone ever should. Praying was presumed to be a response to Dr. Luke, Kesha’s former producer and alleged rapist, who slammed the song and Kesha’s new work.
Back in October of 2014, Kesha filed a lawsuit against the producer to get out of her contrate. She claimed he not only controlled her in what she ate, wore, and exercised, but also drugged, physically abused, and raped her multiple times over their professional relationship, starting when Kesha was 18 and had just signed a contract with Dr. Luke in 2005. She had just gotten out of rehab, which she had checked herself into for an extreme eating disorder, and Dr.Luke counter-sued Kesha, her mother, and another lawyer claiming Dr. Luke had also raped pop icon Lady Gaga back when she was 19.
The legal battle was long and drawn out, and Kesha claimed that her career would suffer “irreparable damages” if she had to wait to release music until after the court case was over, since she had not put out music since 2013 (her smash hit with Pitbull Timber, and her late 2012 album Warrior). Yet in February 2016, even with substantial evidence of Dr. Luke’s abuse, Kesha was forced to stay in her contract, thus the infamous picture of Kesha crying in court that is stained in my mind.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the sexual assault of young women. Whether it be the documentary about rape on college campuses The Hunting Ground, the Brock Turner v. Jane Doe assault case, the Yale senior case last year, the Donald Trump Access Hollywood tapes, the Vassar college student in 2014, the Bill O’Reilly scandal, and most recently, the Taylor Swift assault case, we are bombarded with story after story of the epidemic levels of sexual assault and the complete lack of help we give these women.
Taylor Swift’s story brings up an entirely different point. Women in the music and entertainment industries are often coerced into contracts with much older producers when they are just teens or young adults, and are signing these contracts without really knowing the full intent of the words on the page. They are taught they have to look a certain way, act a certain way, weigh a certain amount, and be a certain type of person in order to make it in a music industry dominated by people so much older and more powerful than them. We see story after story of people getting away with this just because they are famous and powerful, both men and women being controlled and both men and women getting away with this due to their status.
As a young woman wanting to make her way into this industry, Kesha’s story and those like it encompass my worst fears. I’ve written before about the impact Hillary Clinton’s nomination had on me, but Kesha’s is different. Kesha is an artist I’ve been a fan of since I was in elementary school; I grew up listening to her music. Music like hers and the women before her have inspired me to do what I love and pursue that as a career, and hearing her heart wrenching story always brings a tear to my eye. One of the things that propels me in life is womens’ issues. I live my life trying to educate myself, further myself, and better myself so that I can break barriers in the industry I have chosen to dedicate my life to, and model that off of strong women like Kesha.
With this album, Kesha is calling out the industry, giving a big middle finger and a fuck you to to the people who wronged her, and living her best life in the wake of this nightmare. This album is emotional and heavy while simultaneously being cathartic and upbeat. Kesha’s channeling of her emotions into song is a talent beyond her years, and this album an incredible representation of that, and has earned its way into my heart.