Last Friday, Kesha made a triumphant return to pop with her latest album Rainbow. The album is a powerful statement on the singer’s journey from broken down to unbreakable, as she continues a legal battle against her producer and alleged abuser Dr. Luke.
The arc of the album’s narrative began nine years ago when Kesha became heavily tied to Dr. Luke through a series of contracts. Both Kesha’s publishing and record deal were linked back to the producer. As time went on and Kesha’s brand grew, and these contracts became more complicated. Kesha released two albums off the back of an uncredited feature on Flo-Rida’s ‘Right Round’, which proved both financially lucrative and propelled her into the pop stratosphere.
The first crack in her relationship with Dr. Luke became apparent with the release of ‘Die Young’, from the pop star’s second album Warrior. The track was released as a promotional single around the time of the Newtown massacre in 2012. Upset by the idea that the song might be misinterpreted as idolising the tragedy, Kesha denounced the song claiming she wasn’t in favour of its production or release. This, however, raised the question of who was.
In October 2014 Kesha filed a civil lawsuit requesting release from her contractual obligations with producer Dr. Luke and record label Kemosabe Records (a branch of Sony Records). Due to the emotional and sexual abuse Kesha experienced from Dr. Luke, she felt it was harmful to her well being to continue working with him. The singer began to receive support from a variety of other female pop singers who claimed to share similar experiences with the producer. This drew international attention to the case, and added “legitimacy” to her cause in the eyes of a mainstream media often reluctant to accept the experience of abuse survivors. These events lead her to Rainbow.
Rainbow is not the story of an underdog, but a person who has faced her demons in a very public way and has come through as a more resilient person. It focuses on the beginning of her own healing process, rather than her time working with Dr. Luke. There is no bitterness in any of these songs, but there is an acknowledgment of the past and a hopeful look to the future. Her focus is on moving on and making peace with what she’s been through. The question around how to heal as a survivor of sexual assault has been missing from the dialogue around nonconsensual sex. Kesha has brought that forward and reframed how we look at the conversation. Throughout the album her lyrics and melodies convey her defiance. She doesn’t care if you believe in her or what she has to say; but she does care about finding a way to move on.
The genius of Rainbow lies in its ability to weave between moments of glittering fantasies and harsh smacks of reality. Songs like ‘Godzilla’, which proposes bringing the Japanese monster home to your mother, sits alongside emotional and nuanced ballads such as ‘Praying’. This format keeps us interested and highlights the more emotional, complex tracks on the album. The most unexpected moments on the album are ‘Woman’, ‘Let Em Talk’ and ‘Boogie Feet’, which sees the return of Kesha as her obnoxiously fabulous self. After the release of ‘Praying’, many people thought that the Kesha we had come to know in her first two albums was a product of Dr. Luke, and Rainbow would introduce us to “the real Kesha”. However, dollar sign Kesha is very present on this album and plays an important part in its story. Rainbow allows her to broaden her musical capacity and fully express herself artistically, rather than focusing on just one facet of her character. The unwavering confidence she’s shown in her artistry and ability to remain authentic to herself is a real middle finger to both Dr. Luke and Sony Records.
We’ve recently seen a string of American pop stars from the 2000s move to country music, searching for a more “authentic” sound. This switch to authenticity usually means a dilute of personality. Lady Gaga’s over the top, drag queen-esque personality didn’t translate into Joanne, leading to a middle of the road record. Meanwhile Miley Cyrus’s recent attempts with Malibu and Younger Now seems wholeheartedly dishonest, taking into account the disdain she holds for her flirtation with hip-hop. On Rainbow, however, Kesha has channeled her brash, over the top energy. Country music is a genre that has a deep rooted history in misogyny, racism and homophobia. This provides an interesting context, within which Kesha is freely expressing feminist ideals and speaking openly about overcoming the adversity that so many women experience in the music industry. It’s a clever re-appropriation of the genre and part of the reason why the album packs such a powerful punch.
Rainbow is a brazen statement against Dr. Luke. It’s a clapback at those who would detract from her success and experience, and it has expanded the dialogue and representation of sexual assault survivors – that’s no easy task achieve in just forty eight minutes. It’s also important to remember that Kesha isn’t in the clear yet. She still has two more albums to release through Dr. Luke’s record label and has an upcoming counter lawsuit from her former producer who will be suing the pop star for defamation of character. She has however won back her artistic expression and to quote the singer, created “hymns for the hymnless”. Any rulebook that was created for Kesha has been thrown out the window.