Kesha paints the world with Rainbow: Pop star's triumphant comeback rewarded with Grammy nomination

Prahlad Srihari

Jan,26 2018 11:35:31 IST

Editor's note: In the run up to the 60th Annual Grammy Awards on 28 January 2018, Firstpost will be taking a closer look at all the major albums and artists from among the nominees.

From #FreeKesha to #MeToo: Kesha turned her transformative struggle into cathartic music with Rainbow.

From #FreeKesha to #MeToo: Kesha turned her transformative struggle into cathartic music with Rainbow.

If someone had told me a few years ago, I would be listening to a Kesha album from start to finish of my own volition, rather than in some crude CIA torture-by-music circumstances, I would have told them...well, you get the point.

But then, she hit that high "whistle" note on 'Praying' and induced a global epidemic of 'the chills' and we were all left wondering, “WT*? Who knew KESHA had such a vocal range?”

The cathartic centrepiece of the Nashville-raised singer's third studio album, Rainbow, not only shut down her critics but left them in awe of her. It not only brought her back into the spotlight but marked a clear artistic evolution. The album was an emphatic declaration of independence for Kesha, who was embroiled in a protracted legal battle with her former producer Dr Luke since the fall of 2014. In the lawsuit, the singer accused the producer of abusing her — physically, emotionally, and sexually — throughout their professional relationship. Dr Luke vehemently denied the allegations, and local courts dismissed the claim. A court ruling then denied Kesha the ability to record music outside of her record deal and nearly destroyed her music career. So, it's hard not to think of this bitter battle when discussing the narrative of Rainbow.

However, Kesha, rather than submit to her fate, dictates it with an empowering album that perhaps acts as a necessary catalyst for dialogue in a post-Weinstein climate. It encourages other survivors, like her, to keep on fighting.

Kesha's hate-crime and human rights claims against producer Dr. Luke — who she says sexually and emotionally abused her for years — were thrown out by a New York judge. AP

Kesha's hate-crime and human rights claims against producer Dr Luke — who she says sexually and emotionally abused her for years — were thrown out by a New York judge. AP

In 'Praying', you hear the pain in her emotionally-raw battle cry as she sings about overcoming adversity and finding strength in forgiveness. “You brought the flames and you put me through hell/ I had to learn how to fight for myself,” she reveals in its affecting gospel-fueled lyrics. “This song is about coming to feel empathy for someone else even if they hurt you or scare you,” Kesha wrote in an essay for Lenny Letter. “It’s a song about learning to be proud of the person you are even during low moments when you feel alone. It’s also about hoping everyone, even someone who hurt you, can heal.”

She sings about her experience unapologetically from the album's very first track, 'Bastards': "I got too many people/ I got left to prove wrong/ All those motherf**kers been too mean for too long/ And I'm so sick of crying, yeah/ Darling, what's it for?/ I could fight forever, oh, but life's too short"; before singing in the refrain, "Don't let the bastards get you down/ Don't let the a**holes wear you out," a sentiment and aphorism referenced even in The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's prescient parable on sexual violence.

Kesha's defiance shows up even in the following tracks, the up-tempo 'Let ‘Em Talk' (featuring Eagles of Death Metal), the soul-funk stylings of 'Woman' (enhanced by the staccato horns-filled brass sections of The Dap-Kings Horns), the electro-pop 'Hymn' or the anthemic 'Learn to Let Go'. Kesha's triumphant call to arms is best expressed in her gleeful profanity as she champions her inability to be tamed. The first half of Rainbow is an attempt at self-healing and liberation as Kesha speaks her truth.

The second half sees her embrace her Nashville roots and classic rock influences — with limited success. The highlights include the orchestral title track (an apparent nod to Beach Boys' 'God Only Knows'), 'Godzilla', a cute ballad about an imagined affair with the vengeful Japanese monster and the Dolly Parton cover ‘Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Candle To You),’ where Kesha even upstages the towering ad-libs of the veteran country singer. Two of the album's weakest tracks are 'Boogie Feet' (another Eagles of Death Metal collaboration) with its glam-rock antics and 'Boots', which reeks of the obnoxious cheerleader vibes, a remnant from the old Ke$ha shticks (before she dropped the infamous dollar sign).

Rainbow album cover

Rainbow album cover

Kesha rose to fame yodel-rapping unintelligible pop dance bangers, which mostly explored the manifold significance of one of life's greatest challenges: partying till the break of dawn. She was pop music's wild-child. Cloaked in a dozen layers of autotune, she sounded like she was perpetually hungover. In her breakthrough hit 'Tik Tok', she sang, "Before I leave brush ma teeth with a bottle of Jack/ 'Cause when I leave for the night I ain't comin' back," and in the delightful, man-eating, Jeffrey Dahmer-referencing 'Cannibal', "Now that I’m famous, you’re up my anus!". The irreverent lyrics rarely left anything up to the imagination. But as was later discovered, this was an image that her label and producer Dr Luke had constructed for her.

And Rainbow is a triumphant and feisty "F**k you" to all the Dr Lukes, doubters, critics and haters who held Kesha back the last five years. As she completes a new chapter by putting her struggles behind, I, for one, can't help but feel excited for the next.

Kesha earned her first-ever Grammy Award nomination in 2017. She has been nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album (Rainbow) and Best Pop Solo Performance ('Praying').

Updated Date: Jan 26, 2018 13:41 PM