You may remember Ke$ha from the smudged eyeliner, glitter-crusted, grungy reputation of her “TiK ToK” days, but after five years of relative radio silence and no major releases, Kesha has returned with a new album, Rainbow, and without the dollar sign. After years of lawsuits with her former producer Dr. Luke over sexual harassment and emotional abuse (among other concerns) and time spent in rehabilitation for an eating disorder, Rainbow sees Kesha through to the other side—resilient, free, blissfully at peace, and oh-so-weird.
Kesha’s artistic freedom stands out as one of the most obvious differences between Rainbow and previous discography. In her new release she showcases multiple different musical styles, as well as her wide vocal range—most notably in “Praying,” where she sustains a high note that has gained its own online following. The song discusses past traumas, expressing forgiveness and proving the strength it takes to not seek revenge without being self-righteous. Kesha comes across as genuine--pain evident through vocal grittiness in some passages.
On another extreme, “Boogie Feet” at times retains the whiny and singsong quality of past songs like “Die Young” and “We R Who We R,” but lyrically it stands apart. While these past songs could be played un-ironically after 3 a.m. in a house party, “Boogie Feet” is simply too bizarre for that genre. It promotes dancing for joy to celebrate being alive, with no motive of being attractive or fulfilling external expectations. The lyrics are silly instead of sexy, and blend well with her tone of voice.
A hymn to self-care, “Learn to Let Go” presents a realistic perspective on recovery and growth. The artist admits the difference between repeating a mantra and making change happen in one’s life. Notably, she says “choose redemption, your happy ending’s up to you”. Considering the journey she has taken over the past few years—standing up to her abuser and to her eating disorder—the message carries more gravity.
Some have criticized Rainbow for lacking unity—after all, it includes collaboration with Dolly Parton, the troubles of falling in love with Godzilla, a feminist anthem to independence, and similarly far-flung song concepts abruptly back to back. However, I think that the title track “Rainbow,” situated at the center of the album, is the glue binding it together.
Kesha uses this song to highlight the importance of living her truth in its multi-faceted entirety, limiting her self-expression for no one. In the same way, the album allows her to share so many more sides of herself to the audience than when her label and heavily styled brand directed her work. While she had been constrained before to monosyllabic material, Rainbow doesn’t follow any rules, pulls material from many genres and adapts it to fit who she wants us to see right now. This release presents a portrait of Kesha Rose Sebert as complex, healing and confident—a confidence and self-acceptance she encourages her listeners to try on for themselves.