How Kesha Found God in a Hopeless Place
At what point does an extraterrestrial look toward the skies for signs of God and not her home planet? Thats the subject of Praying, Keshas first single in nearly four years, which comes on the heels of her protracted legal battle with former producer Dr. Luke and sexual assault allegations against him. This crisis of faith might seem out of place for Kesha, who once discussed her sexual encounter with a ghost and whose forthcoming album Rainbow features a bold, psychedelic cover replete with flying UFOsbut it delivers a unique brand of spirituality that never strays too far from the ethereal goddess we were first introduced to as she brushed her teeth with a bottle of Jack.
It was a little over a year ago that a judge denied Keshas request for a release from her contract with Dr. Luke after shed accused her producer of ten years of sexual assault, battery, gender violence, and emotional abuse, going so far as claiming shed attempted suicide due to his relentless body-shaming of her. Fans immediately rallied alongside her, prompting a Free Kesha movement, but it had no effect on the judges decision, which stated: Youre asking the court to decimate a contract that was heavily negotiated and typical for the industry. I dont understand why I have to take the extraordinary measure of granting an injunction. So while Kesha is now free to record new music, she still owes Dr. Lukes label Kemosabe Records three albums and Rainbow will be released under it. Its easy to see then why Keshas latest offering is concerned with the loss of controlone that only a higher power can remedy.
Loss of faith and the self has been always been ripe for pop music, particularly given the connections between baring ones soul as a pop artist and spiritual confession. Its even prominent in the work of singers who dont identify as religious, like George Michaels biggest hit of his career: 1987s Faith. In an interview with British GQ he once confessed, I cant bear Catholicism, and he often bore a single crucifix dangling from his ear as he swiveled his hips in tight denim jeans and a leather jacket. Kesha follows in the tradition of the late queer icon, having come out as bisexual in 2013 and often possessing a similar rock and roll swagger.
But pop music shows us its possible to be religious without the sturm und drang of Biblical texts and antiquated rituals. In an essay to her fans on Lenny Letter, Kesha described her personal relationship with religion: For me, God is not a bearded man sitting in the clouds or a judgmental, homophobic tyrant waiting to send everyone to eternal damnation. God is nature and space and energy and the universe. My own interpretation of spirituality isnt important, because we all have our own. What matters is that I have something greater than me as an individual that helps bring me peace. This is one of the reasons why I love swimming way, way out into the middle of the ocean and just letting the sea carry my body. It is my greatest form of surrender to the universe, a full-body prayeror meditation. The beauty of entering Keshas universe is God can be an entrancing EDM beat, a Lovecraftian aberration, or simply a universe weve yet to physically encounter but can travel to in meditation.
The first time I saw Kesha in concert was during Rihannas Last Girl on Earth Tour in 2010. As much as I loved Rihanna, I became completely enthralled by Keshas punk rock, no fucks given demeanor. She oozed a confident sexuality with over-teased 80s hair, plenty of glitter, and tongue-in-cheek songs like Tik Tok. But bubbling beneath the party anthems were songs like Dancing with Tears in My Eyes that tapped into the soul of someone looking for faith, love and solace in their music. With Praying, she has found that solace and now wishes it not only for her tormenters, but her loved ones. I hope youre somewhere praying, praying / I hope your soul is changing, changing / I hope you find your peace / Falling on your knees, praying, she sings.
That sadness has always lingered beneath Keshas expertly crafted pop songs, whose glittery sheen made most people underestimate her. Its unfortunate that Keshas merits as an artist didnt truly come into the public consciousness until they were openly debated amidst her legal woes. But its evident from Praying that the journey hasnt broken her. The video is bursting at the seams with dazzling visuals and potent lyrics like: You brought the flames and you put me through hell / I had to learn how to fight for myself / And we both know all the truth I could tell / Ill just say this is I wish you farewell. Its a kiss-off to not only Dr. Luke, but also those malevolent self-doubts that ate away at her soul as she fought to validate not only her music, but her mere existence.
Describing what this new era means to her, Kesha said: In the past, Ive always felt like I was trying to prove something, trying to be someone I thought people wanted me to be, but on this record, Im just telling the truth about my life. This album is me. The most raw and real art I have ever created, and now its my gift to you.
The beauty of listening to Praying is you can tell its a gift for her as well.