Welcome back, Kesha.
Five years ago, Kesha released her second studio album, Warrior. While Warrior was mainly a pop album in the same vein as her debut, Animal and its companion EP, Cannibal, it was by no means a sophomore slump or a retread of what she had already done. Of course, Warrior did contain some of her most club ready and poppiest moments in the form of “Die Young” and “C’Mon,” but, it also gave Kesha a chance to expand artistically by working with some of her personal inspirations, including Iggy Pop, the Strokes, Nate Ruess (fun.), Wayne Coyne (Flaming Lips), and Patrick Carney (Black Keys). Songs like “Only Wanna Dance With You” showed that Kesha had a bit of a rock edge wanting to escape out of her trashy pop clothes, and “Wonderland” highlighted her naturally beautiful voice in a lifting inspirational ballad. Warrior (and its follow up EP, the beautiful Deconstructed) were big, bold statements of something much deeper and more artistically important from Kesha. Both sets contained songs that represented something closer to her actual self instead of just representing the sleazy, trashy, glitter-faced party animal that became the entirety of her persona during the first two years of her career.
And then, right as she began to spread her musical wings, everything came crashing down.
Kesha entered rehab in January 2014, and nine months later, she filed the first of many back and forth lawsuits between her and her producer, Dr. Luke, eventually pressing her label for an injunction. The brutal and prolonged series of sexual assault, defamation and breach of contract lawsuits between Luke became tolling on everyone involved, and had a visual impact on the singer. During the legal process, Kesha was barred from releasing new solo music to her fans, putting her career into an abrupt stall.
The turning point in terms of Kesha releasing new music occurred only a few months ago, when Dr. Luke’s contract with Sony expired, and the label opted to not renew it. With Luke out of his position of power and completely out of the picture, Kesha was finally allowed to release music on her own terms. The first song off her anticipated third album, titled “Praying,” was released today, and it is a whopper. Unsurprisingly, “Praying” is the complete opposite of everything “party-girl” Kesha was known for – if you are going into this song thinking it is going to be another “Tik Tok” or “Die Young,” you’ll be disappointed. Instead, the Ryan Lewis produced “Praying” is a building Lorde-style kiss-off ballad, with the biting lyrics directly referencing her long series of legal battles with her former producer and how she came out stronger for it:
“I’m proud of who I am/No more monsters I can breathe again
And you said that I was done/Well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come
‘Cause I can make it on my own
And I don’t need you, I’ve found a strength I’ve never known
I’ve been thrown out/I’ve been burned
When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name”
“Praying” is devastating in its humility, honesty, and its matter-of-fact attitude, and it represents the start of a second chance for Kesha’s career. On the track, Kesha is not afraid to directly express how she feels about her trials and triumphs, and with the song unadulterated by any sort of vocoder, auto-tune, or club effects, her pure, clear, and strong yet torn voice quickly become the focal point of the meaningful track. I can’t say enough about how well this song is put together from a production standpoint as well – the foot stomping and backing chorus that drives the song home at the end, and the violins, cellos, and pianos that surround her voice throughout give the song a simultaneously floating quality during her quieter more personal moments in the verses and driving feeling and overwhelming emotion in the choruses.
With the musical landscape changing so quickly, it is hard to tell if this new era of Kesha will be received as warmly from a commercial pop radio standpoint as her glitter-queen alter ego was (I have a strange feeling it will be). But, I don’t think Kesha cares about commercial success at this point in time – after all, this song, and her upcoming album (out next month) is just one of momentous relief. Finally, Kesha (the singer-songwriter, not the “Animal”) gets to let go and move forward from the stresses of the past five years. We now get to see the real Kesha, as she wanted us to see her – a talented singer-songwriter with a whole lot to bring and a whole lot to say.