Kesha’s “Rainbow” insists that life’s traumas can’t kick the fun out of you

Perhaps the greatest surprise is how much like the old Kesha Rainbow sounds. 

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For a while, the one thing everyone knew about Kesha was that she cleaned her teeth with whiskey. When “TiK ToK” became the world’s bestselling single in 2010, lyrics about “feeling like P Diddy” and lusting after Mick Jagger lookalikes turned her into pop’s wild child, dripping in glitter and booze. Her outrageous party anthems were packed with hyperbolic humour and a streak of self-awareness.

But an ongoing legal dispute between her and Dr Luke, her producer and alleged abuser, became the focal point of her career. (Dr Luke maintains his innocence.) After Kesha sued him for sexual assault and gender discrimination in 2014, he counter-sued for defamation. Rainbow, released 11 August, is her first major release since the disputes began.

This disarming record seems to be the product of her traumatic past few years. The lead single, a steadily building piano ballad called “Praying”, shows off her vocal and emotional range, while “Bastards” is a fireside acoustic sing-song about not letting people get you down. She speaks powerfully to the guilt and confusion that come with being a survivor of assault on “Learn to Let Go”, referencing the voices that whisper, “It’s all your fault.”

Perhaps the greatest surprise is how much like the old Kesha Rainbow sounds. The best tracks are party songs bursting with fun. “Let ’Em Talk” sounds like a song Lindsay Lohan would perform at the end of a 2002 teen movie (in the best way). Laughter rings out on the irresistible “Woman”, about a ladies’ night out, and the yodelling country-and-western track “Hunt You Down” revels in its depiction of a woman who will (maybe) kill her man if he cheats. On Rainbow, Kesha insists that life’s traumas can’t kick the fun out of you. Isn’t that the sweetest triumph of all? 

Anna Leszkiewicz is deputy culture editor of the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear