Kesha has returned with a new single for the first time since 2012’s “Warrior.” By shedding “Ke$ha,” she has taken creative control and the result is incredibly surprising. Little did we know that behind the pop manufactured auto-tune was a powerful voice filled with intensity and raw emotion, just waiting to break free. Not that we didn’t love the care-free wild child with catchy hits like “Tik Tok,” but this side of Kesha is remarkably refreshing.
This song arrives in the midst of a tense and very public legal battle between Kesha and her producer, Dr. Luke. In 2014, she filed suit against Dr. Luke for “mental manipulation, emotional abuse and sexual assault.” He retaliated with his own lawsuit for defamation, calling her sexual assault claims “outright lies.” After a New York judge denied her injunction (making her unable to break her contract with Dr. Luke’s record label) Kesha felt that her career was “effectively over” seeing as her brand value had fallen “past the point of no return.”
If “Praying” is any indication of what her next album “Rainbow” (releasing Aug. 11) will be like, it’s safe to say her career is far from over. It’s a bit of a risk for an artist to release a ballad as their first single (unless you’re Adele) but the overpowering message of this song ensures that it was a winning gamble for Kesha.
She faces her depression head on, following years of emotionally draining court proceedings, and has come out with something heartfelt and beautiful. In an open letter, she states: “It’s from our darkest moments that we gain the most strength… I dragged myself out of bed and took my emotions to the studio and made art out of them. And I have never been happier with a body of work as I am with this record.”
Ironically, since she is still bound to Dr. Luke’s Kemosabe Records (part of the Sony group), he had to give his approval for the upcoming album. However, this time around she worked closely with Ryan Lewis (of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis), Ben Abraham, and Andrew Joslyn. With “Praying,” it’s clear that Kesha is getting the final say with Dr. Luke. She reveals, “‘Praying’ was written about that moment when the sun starts peeking through the darkest storm clouds, creating the most beautiful rainbow.” It’s a song heralding hope for new beginnings and a brighter tomorrow.
True to Kesha’s love of glitter and colour, the music video is bright, colourful, and packed with religious imagery. But, don’t be fooled by the myriad of colours and her sparkling cape. There are monsters chasing her, butterfly nets ensnaring her, and a contemplation of suicide in the opening voiceover monologue: “God, give me a sign, or I have to give up. I can’t do this anymore. Please just let me die. Being alive hurts too much.”
Her vocals are most powerful when she makes specific references to Dr. Luke, for example, “And you said that I was done/Well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come.” This could be a direct reference to the fact that she was told her career would not recover in the aftermath of the legal dispute. She ends the verse with “When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name,” again directed at Dr. Luke.
Perhaps, the most breathtaking scene is where she smashes the TV boxes with the red labels “Truth,” “You’re too thin,” “Buy More TVs,” “Be Like TV,” etc. She literally and figuratively smashes the “norms” in an explosion of colour. The most brilliant aspect of this ballad is the way that it slowly builds momentum until she belts out the chorus with such passion and conviction that you are guaranteed to experience shivers.
The most important take away from this video is the fact that she is able to pull herself out of the darkness that was engulfing her, and appreciate the colours of life once again. As she’s lying on the driftwood, with dead eyes, a small bird joins her and catches her attention. The bird, the pop of colour in her black and white abyss, is a reminder that she is not bound by her negative emotions. This small interaction prompts her to sit up and look around. She realizes that the water isn’t threatening. She is able to touch it with her hand and even walk on it. Forgiveness sets her free as she follows the light of the rainbow- a sign of new beginnings.
Some may say this is a “new” Kesha, but in fact, this may have been who she was all along. In her own words: “In the past, I’ve always felt like I was trying to prove something, trying to be someone I thought people wanted me to be, but on this record, I’m just telling the truth about my life.” As the end of her music video indicates, this is just “the beginning” of Kesha’s redemption.