You really want to root for Kesha.
That’s not a sentence you might’ve commonly heard in 2010-2012, when the princess of party dance pop ruled the charts. With tracks like Tik Tok, Take it Off and Die Young, Kesha was the guilty pleasure many of us who were coming of musical age back then would indulge in.
Then just as suddenly as she burst onto the scene, she disappeared. You could be forgiven for not really noticing – pop stars tend to come and go. But when she did resurface, it was not in a way most would’ve expected.
Kesha’s ordeal with Dr. Luke is well-documented, and a terrible one to play out in the public eye. It displayed the deep-rooted culture of victim blaming and sex-shaming that women across the world face, even a famous musician. The misogyny was rampant, and the toll it took on Kesha was plain to see. The unfortunate legal outcome seemed like quite the blow.
As it turned out, however, there were rays of sunshine – to form a rainbow. Kesha had a new force of fans rallying behind her, from people who once knew her music to Lady Gaga. Thousands of people stood with Kesha, and it’s clear she drew strength from that. The singer has always been a vocal feminist, and her circumstances have drawn out the warrior in her with gusto. This side of Kesha has come out in full force with her first album since the storm, the appropriately-titled Rainbow.
The singles from the album firmly set the tone – this is not the electro pop we’re used to from Ke$ha, but the eclectic music of Kesha. The lyrics have gotten more singer-songwriter-like, the music draws from a range of influences, from rock to country to glossy contemporary pop. Perhaps most tellingly, however, Kesha uses her natural voice throughout the album sans AutoTune, and her range is truly impressive. Whether it be the bluesy rock bellows of Woman, the soaring vocals on ballads such as Praying and Finding You, the country twinge on Bastards, or the utterly confident popstar on Hymn and the title track, she’s got a lot more confidence in her vocal abilities that shows.
The freewheeling, rawer tracks are more garage rock than pop, with pithy declarations of power (“I’m a motherfucking woman” on the anthemic Woman) and free-spiritedness (“Shake that ass, don’t care if they talk about it / Fuck all that, haters, just forget about ’em” from Let ‘Em Talk). She seems intent on reiterating that through all the ups and downs, Kesha is still about having fun – Boots and Hunt You Down have some hilarious lines and are immensely danceable without the EDM wall-of-sound; these songs are often more apt for a square dance. In that vein, Rainbow also reclaims Kesha’s Tennessee country girl heritage on several songs, from opener Bastards to Old Frames(Can’t Hold a Candle to You), which features the Queen of Country, Dolly Parton herself.
The middle section is where Kesha deals with her chaotic recent past through a number of pop stunners and epic ballads. Hymn has one of her best hooks, floating on minimal production that lends a certain sophistication to the song. It’s a thematic centerpiece too, boldly positioning herself as the voice that sings the “hymn for the hymnless.” This purpose drives her most of the album, gracefully casting aside the man who caused her so many troubles, Dr. Luke on Praying (delivering an incredible vocal performance along the way), refusing to hold on to the past on Learn to Let Go, and reconciling her life so far with her future on Rainbow.
The missteps on Rainbow are, quite honestly, inconsequential in the grander scheme of the album. There are lyrical and musical cliches Kesha slips into on occasion, especially on the country songs, but she sings them with such an earnestness that it’s hard not to sing along anyway.
In the end then, when Kesha tells you she’s “falling right back in love with being alive” and tells you to “put those colors on” and “paint the world” with her, you can’t help but silently promise her you will, and feel a shared sense of purpose – towards love, equality and a passion for life that we all could desperately use.
When the album winds down, you don’t just want to root for her as a survivor – but as a musical artist who’s found her step, and is rising above. And that is the triumph of Rainbow.