By Anna Cowan (@L0VESICK)
Sometimes, the smallest changes to a person are the most significant – it could mark a turning point in one’s life, or a symbol for a newly found freedom. For Kesha, it was a name change – the removal of a dollar sign from her stage name. Without context, this could appear minor, but it is everything for her.
If you see the name ‘Ke$ha’, your mind may be cast back to the iconic year of 2009, where this where this pop queen’s glitter-trash anthems such as ‘Tik Tok’ topped the charts, and audiences globally were charmed by her wild blonde mane and ripped denim shorts with lots and lots and lots of glitter. Flash forward a few years and the dark truth hidden behind her image was brought to light – and with that, the once iconic dollar sign was gone. In 2014, Kesha accused her label’s founder and producer Dr Luke of sexual abuse and misconduct, following her stay in rehab due to eating disorders, with doctors claiming his abuse had caused ‘severe depression, stress and panic attacks’. However, she was unable to be granted release from her contract with Sony Music, meaning Dr Luke remains in charge of her music and career, leaving her face to face with her tormentor. This sparked fury online, creating the #FreeKesha hashtag to grant Kesha not only creative, but personal freedom. The trial itself has not begun, but Kesha remains in an unfortunate and degrading situation.
This context is hugely important when listening to her new album, Rainbow, her first album in five years since 2012’s Warrior. One thing must remain key in the listener’s mind – this context is not what this album is about. Indeed, it acts as influence and inspiration for many tracks, such as the album’s opener Bastards, kicking off the album with a smooth and rousing ballad, with lyrics such as But they won’t break my spirit / I won’t let ’em win / I’ll just keep on living, keep on living, oh / The way I wanna live clearly directly linking to her lawsuit with Dr Luke. However, it is obvious that Kesha is self-aware of how consuming this issue is, and thus in Rainbow she ensures that she shows the world that she is not just a victim.
Many tracks on Rainbow act as an ode to her former image, and show that she is in fact still that girl. Songs such as Boogie Feet incorporate a heavier, guitar infused hook courtesy of Eagles of Death Metal, and her cheerleader-like chanting sounds like a somehow effective mix of her previous discography with Kathleen Hanna inspired vocals. As well as this, Learn to Let Go uses an anthemic beat alongside powerful lyricism to create a superb and catchy pop song, which is easily a highlight on the album.
Rainbow is also effective in showcasing how pop can, in fact, be diversified and genre-breaking – and what better way to do that than with a Dolly Parton feature? On Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You), Kesha sounds particularly in her element with this country-inspired, bluesy track, with Parton’s instantly recognisable voice weaving gorgeously with Kesha’s. What’s more, Let ‘Em Talk once more features Eagles of Death Metal, with a fast-paced electric guitar fuelling an angsty, middle-fingers-up side to Kesha we’ve seen many times before, but this time her middle fingers are directed at those who doubted her.
Of course, however, the album features many moments of vulnerability in amongst such high-energy songs. These are undoubtedly the most gorgeous parts to Rainbow, in which Kesha truly shines. Title track Rainbow was written whilst Kesha was in rehab, where she sings of self-recovery and building herself back up again. Single Praying is a glorious highlight; as though it were penned as a letter, Kesha directly addresses her enemy with vivacity despite her pain. But, this ballad is no wallow in self-pity – Kesha proves how far she has come despite her experiences, singing: And I don’t need you / I found a strength I’ve never known. It may sound clichéd, but Praying genuinely is inspirational for anyone going through what may seem like the most difficult time of their life.
Whether you notice the removal of the dollar sign or not, it is clear that Kesha has found herself at a momentous time in her life, where she is faced with a difficult and trying future, but yet it is clear that she is determined to remain strong and fierce. Rainbow is an empowering, fun and at times highly moving album; it is not perfect – the silly, cringy parts of Kesha’s previous discography are still prevalent in tracks such as Boots – but overall it is a triumph, especially when considering what she has been through. The listener is left with one, powerful to take this message from the record: your experiences do not determine who you are – you do.