Yesterday, pop singer Kesha, who has been silent musically for years now (her last release, Warrior was released in 2012) released her first song, “Praying”, since undergoing a massive legal battle against her former producer Dr. Luke. This is something that has been highly publicized since it began, and perhaps should have been covered more as the trial went on, but sexual assault still has a stigma attached to it like a ball and chain. And while the road has been bumpy for the “Die Young” singer, she’s been battling her way through it with an overwhelming amount of fan and celebrity support. Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, and Adele are just a few of the big name musicians that have stood out publicly in support of Kesha, as well as singers like Taylor Swift who donated money to assist with legal fees. And while we’ve been updated back and forth about which parts of the case were being heard, and sadly, which ones were being thrown out, it was no secret as to why, for multiple reasons, this was not an easy case to stomach.
For one thing, sexual assault is never an easy case to deal with because it’s such a slippery slope. There are a number of cases where the claims of assault are untrue, which only makes the ones that are valid harder to prove to be such (though statistically, the amount of false reports over the years has peaked at 7.1% in 2009, and has remained under that bar in the years since). And though the amount of substantiated proof hasn’t always been made clear to the public as to whether to not it’s there as it pertains to this case, it’s hard not to side with Kesha, especially with how Luke has handled things, as well as parent label Sony (more on this later).
The other part of this that was difficult to process was from a macroscopic industry level, as cold hearted as that might sound. Kesha, once stylized to be Ke$ha, came out swinging when she stormed out with lead single “Tik Tok”, and followed it up with other radio hits like “Blah Blah Blah” and “Your Love Is My Drug”. She was covered in glitter, brash and brazen in her language, unapologetically loud and in your face, and overall, a free spirit. This only matured when she went from her debut album Animal, and it’s follow up EP Cannibal, to her sophomore album Warrior, going from a collection of auto tuned, straight up dance cuts to rock infused pop/dance concoctions that saw her partner with Patrick Carney of the Black Keys and rock legend Iggy Pop. Still, she kept that same persona like an early Lady Gaga and demonstrated in every way she was here to have a good time. So when we as the public saw her go from rolling around in an empty swimming pool full of glitter to sobbing in a courtroom holding on to her mother, it was quite a jarring shift. The free spirit we once knew from the top of the charts was now visibly broken.
As anyone knows, writers turn to their craft when times get tough, so fans could only assume she had to have been writing during this time to get her feelings out. Over the course of her musical absence, Kesha had been battling depression and eating disorders on top of the trial she’d been undergoing, and even ended up in rehab after her tour for Warrior ended. Heavy stuff to be dealing with all at the same time.
The unfortunate situation for her was that she as an artist is signed to Kemosabe Records, which is run by Dr. Luke and is owned by Sony. Currently, she is tied to a multiple album deal with the label, so even if she wasn’t forced to work alongside Luke on any of her future music, he still stands to profit from it (and note, with her forthcoming album Rainbow, and it’s current single “Praying”, Luke will be making money from it’s sales) and has the authority over it’s release. Things were looking bad for a while there too, while Sony remained motionless on the calls for them to cut ties with Luke and do something about Kesha having to work with him. Eventually, they made a statement saying that Kesha was free to make music by their standards without his involvement in it. But with her being signed to Kemosabe directly, it was Luke that overall had say in the matter. This he demonstrated by giving and then revoking his permission for Kesha to perform at the Billboard Music Awards in 2016, saying he was afraid she would take the opportunity to make a statement publicly about her court case. All she really wanted to do was sing, which she was eventually allowed to do (after signing a document swearing against making a statement about her case) by delivering an emotional rendition of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe”.
She didn’t really need to make a verbal statement about how she was feeling. The somber performance was beautiful, and probably surprising for those that doubted her ability to actually sing. But it was the fragility with which she held herself that made you remember why she was here: she was fighting for her career.
Earlier this year, however, things got a little bit better. Sony cut ties with Luke, removing him from the position of CEO at Kemosabe, and said publicly that Luke no longer represents any part of Sony as a company. This move made it seem a little more likely that Kesha would be able to release music without his direct involvement. As of yesterday, it looks like Sony has kept their promise, because her debut single “Praying” is one of strength and resilience, and instead of speaking ill of her abuser, instead hopes that he has found the light and the wrong in his ways. It shows just how much growth Kesha has gone through since this whole mess began.
In a nutshell, this is a huge triumphant victory for Kesha because she’s able to put out music again. The downside remains that Luke will still profit from the music she releases until her contract is up, AND that while she remains on Kemosabe, her material has to be approved by him. However, it’s a step forward, something she hadn’t been able to do for years, and it seems that with the message of “Praying”, Kesha may be able to finally get her story out there.
Another encouraging thing about this song is that Kesha is stretching her wings, musically speaking. Warrior showed her delving for more rock and roll vibes, and “Praying” shows her growling at times, screeching out a high note and let her rocker chick come out. Her voice is raw and much less produced than heard on her past records, which allows her to switch from defiant strength to shaking vulnerability. And though we haven’t heard them yet, multiple collaborations with rock band Eagles of Death Metal nod towards continuing this streak. There’s also a cover of the song her mother, Pebe Serbert, wrote for Dolly Parton, “Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Candle To You)” featuring Miss Parton herself that will show sides to Kesha that not everyone in the general public may have been privy to.
Finally, Kesha’s return is a welcome sight because she’s still as wacky as ever, as evidenced by the Jonas Åkerlund-directed video that accompanied the song. Just because she’s had to go through some incredibly trying times doesn’t mean you can kill the zany artist Kesha is through and through.
It’s a statement to anyone that thought she wouldn’t make it out of this and still have a notable career that not only will she survive, but she’s not changing for anyone. And it’s refreshing to see the reception to the song, as it quickly climbed the iTunes charts. Because it’s uncommon to see an artist who has been absent for so long in a genre where new faces sprout up every day be able to return with a bang. But Kesha has a story, and trust me, she’s telling it.