When you go through a severe hardship many expect you to change your character. Whether it is through a form of growth or regression, society tends to add pressure to those affected by layering their expectations on top of the ongoing burden. If you get divorced, society expects you to change your old ways and definitely to “not give up on love.” If you lose a loved one, society expects you to be strong and resilient, to have faith; they assure you everything happens for a reason. Now imagine having your hardships looked at through a magnifying glass. Having everyone comment on the outcome of your life and what they expect from your future. With Rainbow, her first album in about five years, Kesha had the weight of the world on her shoulders and the outcome was a cathartic, therapeutic triumph.
Kesha’s talent has often been reduced to that of a pop star with catchy dance tunes. This is not an invalid argument given that her repertoire is full of electronic beats, heaps of autotune, and a messy, party girl persona. Perhaps a fictional character manufactured by Sony Music or maybe a personal self-deprecating choice, Kesha’s authenticity during her “dollar sign” era has been questionable. Echoed with vulnerability, heart, and quirky charisma Rainbow allows Kesha to finally show her authentic self.
Kesha opens the album with a ballad, the therapeutic Bastards which talks about being stepped on and pushed around but not letting your aggressors bring you down. This will be an unsurprising recurring theme in the album given the pop star’s well-documented personal and legal struggles. Praying, one of the highlights of the record, is an emotional sendoff to her aggressor. In this song, and in the record itself, rather than opting for an understandable angst she chooses the high road, an elegant and empowering approach that speaks to her character. When she hits that high note towards the climatic end of the song, she soars. Her battle cry, that emotional stylistic choice, allows the listener to make a more intimate connection with the singer. The album’s title track, Rainbow is an inspiring and relatable tale of a moment of self-doubt and finding the light in the darkness. The cathartic nature of the record flows through in tracks like Learn To Let Go where she recognizes the aforementioned pressure to demonstrate the outcome of her experiences.
“I know I’m always like
telling everybody you don’t gotta be a victim
life ain’t always fair, but hell is living in resentment
choose redemption, your happy ending’s up to you.”
– Kesha, Learn To Let Go
But not all songs are about personal struggles and lessons. Fans of Kesha’s fun and quirky side should be relieved to know there are tracks on the album that hit those notes. Let ‘Em Talk and Boogie Feet offer a dive-bar aesthetic tinted with a Rocky Horror Picture Show hue (perhaps I’ve been listening to the soundtrack too much). Nevertheless, they manage to feel authentic and fun, showing that you can reach those themes without autotune or metaphorical glitter. Woman is an feel-good, feminist anthem that is equal parts silly, important, and self-aware.
When you listen to Kesha’s vocal range on top of country, bluegrass, and acoustic tunes, you realize this is the kind of music the pop start should be making. Hunt You Down feels like a classic country tune that you would listen to in one of your grandma’s old vinyl records. Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle To You) brings Dolly Parton and Kesha in a match made in heaven. Dolly and Kesha harmonize beautifully and showcase an emotion that is often hard to translate through music. Godzilla is the classic tale of girl meets scary Japanese monster, society doesn’t understand, girl falls in love with scary Japanese monster. Godzilla feels like an acoustic lullaby that finds the singer sounding incredibly heartfelt. In the end of the song, you realize the monster represents a metaphor for a person who’s often ostracized by a society who isn’t able to see their light. Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine that I would get teary-eyed over a song where someone blames Godzilla for “eating half of her fries.” In the album’s closer, Spaceship, Kesha tells her fans that she’s bound for bigger and better things. It’s a cathartic look into the future that makes you wonder if this is only the beginning of the singer’s career. In the song she delivers a powerful monologue that in the end says “I watch my life backwards and forwards and I feel free. Nothing is real. Love is everything. And I know nothing.” And just like that, the excellent album closes on the sounds of an abduction happening.
Being a fan of Kesha made it difficult for me to be objective in this review. The amounts of pride and inspiration I got from the record might not be shared by others unfamiliar with the singer. But as I read the lyrics, listen to the instrumentation, and felt the emotions the album brought, I realized that putting my fandom aside, this is an amazing pop record. Listening to this record made me feel the way I felt watching my friend graduate and succeed in her career while knowing that just a few years ago, I was holding her hair while she puked. If you have been through the hardships, if you’ve felt the struggles, or if you just want to sing along to something fun, give this album a try.