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Kesha the Rainbow Phoenix



George Washington University


Kesha the Rainbow Phoenix

What's left of her heart's still made of gold

Jonathan Kandell


Pop icon Kesha has triumphantly risen from the ashes, blessing fans with her rawest album yet, Rainbow. The fourteen track passion project has dominated the charts on nearly all streaming platforms, signifyin the messianic return of the beloved wounded Warrior. Rock-inspired feminist anthems like Woman (feat. The Dap-Kings Horns) and Hunt You Down, soulful shouts of harrowing pain and forgiveness in Learn To Let Go and Praying, and confessional odes to the teenage misfit (Hymn and Spaceship) irrefutably attest to Kesha’s ability to flawlessly and ferociously unite her wild-child spirit and vocal prowess into a singular, transcendent work of art.

The evolution of Kesha Rose Sebert is one that’s easily scoffed at by closed-minded cynics. Her brazen party anthems (Your Love is my Drug and Blow, for example) viciously fueled haters, who labeled her a “drunk party slut with a mic”. Like McCarthy and communism, critics were trigger-happy to deem Kesha’s music as “heavily autotuned”, denouncing the artist as merely a “pop phase”. This only fueled her fire.

She Falls

With a number one selling pop record under her faux-boujee belt, Kesha returned to the studio for her second album, Warrior, in 2013. Determined to flip haters a glitter-covered middle finger by boasting her talents in both original songwriting and vocal ability, Kesha crafted over 70 unique pieces for her record label, Sony Music Entertainment’s, consideration. None of these would ever see the light of day, due to one nefarious record producer’s ironclad contract and twisted obsession with squashing any ‘brand’ of Kesha that wasn’t his own.

Dr. Luke, a prominent behind-the-scenes figure in modern music, had his blood-soaked hands in creating some of pop’s greatest bops, including California Gurls by Katy Perry, Since U Been Gone by Kelly Clarkson and Miley Cyrus’s Party in the USA. And while his tracks may be upbeat and carefree, what goes on behind the mic is anything but. Over the course of his career, the musical master of manipulation has created a sizable number of enemies, commanding that Charli XCX "...better lose some weight if she wants to be a pop star.", and angered America’s sweetheart Kelly Clarkson enough to the point of forgoing “hundreds of thousands of dollars… if not millions!” for refusing to share co-writing credits with Dr. Luke. “'I don't want my name near his. I want to pretend this didn't happen in my life and I want to forget it.'" is what Clarkson had to say on the subject in a Z100 interview.

Kesha’s lawyers pushed to release Kesha from her contract, insisting that throughout her time with Sony, Dr. Luke repeatedly utilized his wealth and power in the industry to "sexually, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused Ms. Sebert to the point where Ms. Sebert nearly lost her life," all in the service of him being able to "maintain complete control over her life and career."

Specifically, the suit alleges sexual assault, sexual harassment, gender violence, civil harassment, violation of unfair business laws, infliction of emotional distress (both intentional and negligent) and negligent retention and supervision. Dr. Luke denied these claims and countersued for defamation, going so far as to sue Kesha’s mother, Pebe Sebert, for vocally denouncing the producer’s character.

With a multifaceted and complicated legal battle ensuing, the outcry to #FreeKesha clogged Twitter timelines and Instagram feeds, garnering support from various celebrities. Strong words of encouragement from pop’s top female icons like Adele, Kelly Clarkson, Lorde and Taylor Swift (who donated $250,000 to help Kesha with consuming legal fees) helped to spread awareness for the injustices against Kesha.

Pictured above: February 16, 2016 Kesha Rose Sebert is delivered the traumatic and controversial verdict- she would be forced to remain in her contract with Sony and her alleged assailant/producer, Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald.

The strain of the legal battle and a previously undiagnosed eating disorder led to a panicked phone call from a gas station to her mother- Kesha was shattered. She recalls her emergency trip to the hospital in an interview with the Huffington Post, explaining that doctors “were surprised I hadn’t had a stroke - because I hadn’t consumed enough.” To save her life, Kesha was sent to a rehabilitation center on January 1, 2017.

She Rises

After beginning treatment, Kesha begged the head of the facility for just one hour of keyboard time a day. It was her music, now temporarily freed from the clutches of Dr. Luke, that allowed her to persevere. Day by day she crafted Rainbow and healed alongside her work. “Falling in love with being alive” and recognizing “that our scars make us who we are”, lyrics she preaches in the title track, became easier to understand when put to her own, unrestricted music. Kesha explained to Rolling Stone, “‘Rainbow’ was just my promise, my letter to myself that things would get better. It was my mantra, because at the end of a storm comes a rainbow.”

Surviving her storm and regaining her mental, physical and emotional health, Kesha emerged from therapy to find a shining rainbow awaiting her: Dr. Luke’s contract had not been renewed by Sony. This allowed the Rainbow Phoenix to simultaneously honor her contract with Sony and feel safe in returning to the studio for the first time in four long years.

In an interview with NPR, Kesha explains "This whole album, for me, really is a healing album," she says. "It's healing from so many things from my past and just trying to get back to the most childlike, naive, purest version of myself that I can find — the most free-spirited, un-jaded version of myself."

Pictured above: Country icon Dolly Parton with her song writer, Pebe Sebert, and a young Kesha Rose.

In channeling lyrics about the pain of the past, Kesha trades bitterness for a strong, mature retrospective outlook regarding the events that dramatically changed her life. In a very clear message to Dr. Luke, Kesha’s song Praying acknowledges her newfound strength with “Oh, but after everything you’ve done // I can thank you for how strong I have become // ‘Cause you brought the flames and you put me through hell // I had to learn how to fight for myself.” She continues her advocacy for absolution in the appropriately named Learn To Let Go, assuring that “I think it’s time to practice what I preach / Exorcise the demons inside me / Gotta learn to let it go / The past can’t haunt me if I don’t let it / Live and learn and never forget it”.

Dolly Parton’s appearance in the revitalized jam Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle To You) was a very special ordeal for the entire Sebert family. Kesha’s mother, singer-songwriter Pebe Sebert, had co written the original chart topping song for Parton back in 1980. The song had been a Sebert family staple ever since, as Kesha explains to NPR that securing “[Parton] on this album is a really, really, really big deal for me… every time I listen to [Old Flames], it gives me full-body chills and it makes me tear up because she's a f****** legend; she's an icon.”

Confessions of newfound confidence in herself, and to inspire listeners to share in that same empowerment, take unwavering root in the new album. In Bastards, Kesha preaches “Don't let the bastards // get you down, oh no // Don’t let the assholes wear you out // Don't let the mean girls take the crown //Don't let the scumbags screw you 'round // Don't let the bastards take you down” and continues that ‘if you don’t like me, fuck off’ credo in Let ‘Em Talk (feat. Eagles of Death Metal), encouraging fans to “Do whatever makes you happy // And screw everything else if you ask me, hey yeah // 'Cause life is short and we only got one shot // So let's go balls-out, give it everything we got”.

Invigorating women to embrace their badass womanhood in the aptly titled Woman (feat. The Dap-Kings Horns), Kesha successfully offers a feminist anthem that preaches independence and self-care. Lyrics like “I crash and crave you when you leave” (Your Love is My Drug) and “Without you // I don’t even have a pulse // all alone it’s dark and cold // with every move I die” (Dancing With Tears In My Eyes) have evolved into the all powerful “Don't buy me a drink, I make my money // Don't touch my weave, don't call me "honey" // ’Cause I run my shit, baby //... I'm a motherfucking woman, baby, alright //I don't need a man to be holding me too tight // I’m a mother fucker” (Woman), corroborating the idea of a new Kesha while maintaining that fun-loving party girl persona we all know and missed.

Kesha finally addresses her beautiful abnormality in Hymn and Spaceship. Her ‘misunderstood misfit’ identity that Dr. Luke previously disallowed her from publicly exploring on her other two albums resonates highly with her Animals (think Gaga’s Little Monsters). “If we die before we wake // Who we are is no mistake”, a lyric from Hymn, has stretched far and wide across the social media app Tumblr, resonating with fans of all ages. Spaceship sounds as if it jumped straight from Kesha’s diary, a soulful admission of feeling like a social outcast just waiting for her similar interstellar brothers and sisters to retrieve the starry eyed girl they forgot on Earth.

There are two notable highlights from the album that I feel I need to address. One of which has rocked the internet, Kesha’s intense scream at the final bridge in Praying. The second half of the musical duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis co-created the song with Kesha. In an interview with Billboard, Lewis explains that the iconic high note came out of “f--king nowhere. I stood right up out of my chair… Then she proceeded to do it at least five more times. I don't think Kesha even knew her voice had such a range. It was one of my favorite moments in the studio, ever." Although she doesn’t always do it live, be assured that the note is 100% genuine and without autotune assistance.

The final message of Kesha’s album is her outro in the final song, Spaceship. Crackling through a speaker as if she’s calling from her finally returned mothership, Kesha says goodbye and goodluck in a spirited, whimsically peculiar poem.

“As I leave this Earth and sail into the infinite cosmic universe, the wars, the triumphs, the beauty, and the bloodshed, the ocean of human endeavor, it all grows quiet, insignificant. I'm nothing more than recycled stardust and borrowed energy, born from a rock, spinning in the aether. I watch my life backwards and forwards and I feel free. Nothing is real, love is everything, and I know nothing.” -Spaceship

Kesha is back, better than ever and here to stay. Her rise, her fall and her resurrection culminate into one inspiring, unfeigned album that demonstrates the complexities of one of pop’s toughest icons. Thank you, Kesha, for being the Animal, Warrior, and now Rainbow that we always knew you could be.