Arguably one of the most influential artists of the decade, Kesha has been dominating airwaves since she burst onto the scene in late 2009. Songs like “Tik Tok”, “Blow”, “We R Who We R” and “Die Young” were massively successful, cementing Kesha as the glitter covered queen of the party kids. However, after only two full length albums and one EP, Kesha’s career was put on hold when she accused her producer and longtime collaborator, Dr. Luke, of mental, physical, and emotional abuse. This caused a trainwreck of a legal battle between Kesha and Dr. Luke, which resulted in Kesha being forced to stay in her contract with Dr. Luke, meaning that he had, and still has, complete control over her career.
In what many saw as an attempt to save his public image, Dr. Luke’s team released a statement saying that Kesha was allowed to record and release new music. While everything Kesha did would still need to be approved by Dr. Luke, it seemed as though she was being allowed to work with other producers and finally put out music that she wanted to. Kesha has always written all her music, usually along with a co-writer or two, but it had become abundantly clear, especially during her album cycle for Warrior, that she was not always happy with the songs that were chosen as singles. Many wondered if this would be the beginning of a new era for Kesha. She was no longer working with Dr. Luke creatively, meaning he would not be producing or co-writing any more of her music.
The world finally got to hear new Kesha music, without Dr. Luke, with the release of “Praying”, a powerful song about forgiveness and perseverance, which was released on July 6, 2017. She then announced that her new album, Rainbow, would be coming out on August 11, 2017, making it Kesha’s first album in nearly 5 years. The album became a massive success, debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart, and becoming her most critically acclaimed album to date. Critics and fans alike praised the album for being a serious departure from Kesha’s previous works, both sonically and lyrically, but many of things we have grown to know and love about Kesha’s music remained very much present in Rainbow. So, how different is Rainbow from the rest of Kesha’s discography?
When comparing Kesha’s lead singles, “Tik Tok”, “We R Who We R”, “Die Young”, and “Praying”, the later without a doubt stands out from the rest. Lyrically, vocally, instrumentally, it shows Kesha in a different light from any of her previous lead singles. It is also her first lead single that Dr. Luke had no hand in. If an album was to be judged by solely it’s lead single, we would say that without a doubt, Rainbow is Kesha as we have never seen her before. However, after further dissecting Rainbow, as well as Kesha’s previous bodies of work, there are some striking similarities that are hard to ignore.
Around the time of Rainbow’s release, many people were shocked by a few things, perhaps the biggest of which being Kesha’s talent as a vocalist. Vocally, “Praying” is stunning, with Kesha’s delivery getting more raw and aggressive as the song goes on, perfectly complementing the production. She even hits a whistle note in the climax of the bridge, a feat Kesha hadn’t achieved in her career thus far. While “Praying” is obviously an example of Kesha’s vocal talents, and other songs on the album such as “Bastards” and “Finding You” echo that same sentiment, her former works aren’t without their impressive vocal performances as well. Songs like “Blind” and “The Harold Song” show Kesha putting on a more somber and subdued vocal performance in the verses, that lead up to Kesha powerfully crying out on the chorus. The song “Last Goodbye” from Warrior is also extremely impressive, as the simpler guitar driven production let Kesha’s more textured and emotive vocal presence shine through.
Another thing that shocked many about Rainbow is Kesha’s skill as a songwriter. With a lead single as powerful as “Praying”, it’s no surprise that many people were extremely interested to see what else Kesha had to offer as a lyricist. While Rainbow has it’s fair share of stunning lyrics in songs such as “Learn to Let Go” and the title track, her former works also have their fair share of beautiful and powerful lyrics. “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes” details a night where Kesha has made a mistake and feels like she ruined a love, and is now fighting to get through the night, and “Love Into the Light” expresses Kesha’s longing for kindness and love, sending a hopeful message of letting go of hate and holding onto love.
Lastly, many people were shocked to hear Kesha take on more rock and country influences on Rainbow. However, Kesha’s mother, Pebe Sebert was a country songwriter, and has written songs that reached the likes of Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. Sebert also frequently writes songs with Kesha, having quite a few writing credits throughout Kesha’s discography. Kesha was raised in Nashville, and commonly names rock and country artists as her primary musical influences. While perhaps the country and rock influences are more apparent on Rainbow, with her two huge rock inspired collaborations with The Eagles of Death Metal, “Let ‘Em Talk” and “Boogie Feet”, as well as the country tinged, “Hunt You Down” and “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You)”, a duet with the one and only Dolly Parton, the rest of Kesha’s discography has some hidden rock and country gems as well. “Wonderland” is a fantastic example of Kesha taking on a country influence, with Kesha singing about going back to a metaphorical wonderland, when life was simpler. Kesha also has dabbled in rock with the songs “Gold Trans Am” and “Dirty Love” the later of which features rock and roll icon Iggy Pop.
While many have hailed Rainbow as a new Kesha that the world has never seen, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Many of the things that surprised people about Rainbow had actually been present in Kesha’s music all along. Looking back at all of Kesha’s album singles, the vast majority of them have followed a similar narrative, consisting of upbeat and danceable production, with lyrics about partying and having a good time. There is nothing wrong with these songs, but it helps make sense as to why so many people thought that Rainbow is such an extreme departure from her previous works. Because the vast majority of people only know Kesha from her singles, the average, everyday listener wouldn’t know her more emotional songs, because those were never the songs released as singles. In reality, the vast majority of Kesha’s songs aren’t about partying, but the few that are, happen to be the songs that Kesha is known for. Underneath the ripped fishnets and glittery persona, there has always been a talented woman who didn’t always get the credit she deserved. While Rainbow is in many ways similar to her previous works, the biggest difference seems to be the foot that Kesha is putting forward. The Kesha we see on Rainbow isn’t really new at all. She has always been there, just under the surface, and her time has finally come to step into the spotlight.
You can listen to all the songs mentioned here in the playlist below!