Kesha's Rainbow

Album cover for "Rainbow" by Kesha

Album cover for "Rainbow" by Kesha

by Laura McKay

“You mean the girl with the dollar sign in her name?”

Yes. I mean the girl with the dollar sign in her name. She’s not using it anymore, but that’s besides the point.

When Kesha first hit the scene with Tik Tok I was a fan of it. Who wasn’t? I was into it and a few more of her songs for what they were. Fun, sugary pop with silly lyrics presented by a glitter-bomb wielding weirdo. That said, she put out a ton of music that I would quickly change the dial on. Her image and music  were devoid of substance so I and most people looked at her as an artistic right off. I remember a friend in University telling me that she and her mom actually had really cute home videos of themselves singing songs they wrote together. He was sticking up for her as an artist ten years ago. And I was rolling my eyes. Her music just didn’t resonate with the person I was or wanted to be. I hated the parts of myself that I recognized in her: immature, under the influence and lacking creative direction. There are only so many songs you can sing without substance before that becomes your identity. And I didn't like it. So I stopped paying attention.

When news broke about Kesha’s sexual assault case I hated my initial thought.  That nobody was going to support her based on her image. I was partially right. And a part of me thought that despite it being not okay, it made sense that somebody would think they could get away with it with her. Because she never demanded respect as an artist, why would she demand respect as a human?

I became intrigued to say the least. What happened?!? I tried to keep up but the legal jargon and loopholes had my head spinning (right round). I knew things weren't solved but I kept wondering if she would ever make music again, and if she did what was it going to sound like?

I stopped paying attention until I heard it. Praying, the first single off of Kesha’s third studio album and her first in four years, immediately brought me to tears. The kind of tears where you have full body goosebumps and your sinuses close up from sheer intensity. Shaking from my own response I knew it was going to move people. It is an anthem for survivors. And we have never had a song like this. We have never been delivered a message of hope, faith, understanding, kindness and growth like this in the mainstream before. We have had survivors anthems that come from a place of anger (see the outstanding Fighter by Christina Aguilera), but never a place  of  compassion. Rather than cursing her abuser, she sings for his soul with the lyrics “Some days I pray for you at night. One day maybe you'll see the light.” Which happen to be some of her favorite lines on the track.

“Forgiveness is hard. But yeah, I mean I do pray for people at night. Especially the ones that are the hardest because that promotes me healing the most.”

I listened to it over and over and needed to know more. What the hell was going on with the case against Dr. Luke?

It was a rabbit hole I wasn’t expecting to fall down, and crawling back out I struggled to make sense of it all. But here’s my best summation. In 2014, ten months after checking into rehab, Kesha sued Sony and Dr. Luke so that she could get out of her contract and not be forced to make her remaining albums with him. She claimed that he denied her profits from her music and had been emotionally and sexually abusive, maintaining “suffering control” over her life for years, which he and Sony denied. He then countersued for defamation and breach of contract.  It seemed pretty cut and dry to me that he was guilty. A man in power taking advantage of a woman? Unheard of. But what kind of a creep was I dealing with?

Well first of all, there are a list of artists who don’t want to work with him. Charlie XCX, said “I wrote “Sucker” when I was really angry, and it’s about my very cynical view of the music industry...People would always come up to me and say, “Oh, Dr. Luke loves your stuff, well done”—as if that means, “You’ve made it.” That's fucking weird to me.” Sounds like he held a lot of cards in the industry which would only give him more power to be disgusting if we’ve learned anything from Harvey Weinstein.

Becky G, who was eighteen when she signed with Dr. Luke (same age Kesha was which is inherently gross to me), tweeted after being fat shamed by fans (trolls?) “You sound like Dr. Luke. Let me live. U can call me tubs for all I care.”

Remember when I mentioned that Kesha had been in rehab? It was for an eating disorder that she claims was brought on by working with by Dr. Luke. Becky G’s quote substantiates Kesha’s claims that he called her a “fat fucking refrigerator” and is upheld by the 2017 emails leaked by Kesha where Dr. Luke allegedly claims “A list songwriters and producers are reluctant to give Kesha their songs because of her weight.” Then he went on to criticize her for breaking a juice cleanse with a Diet Coke and a piece of turkey. A piece of fucking turkey.

That's the top of the iceberg when it comes to this “Dick-Lick”. Katy Perry’s words. She also quoted him in a tweet, "That vocal comp makes my dick hard!" What. A. Charmer.

In Kelly Clarkston’s recent interview with the Austraillian Kyle and Jackie O Radio Show she said this “He's kind of difficult to work with and kind of demeaning. It's kind of unfortunate... I only worked with him because I literally got blackmailed by my label. They were like ‘We will not put out your album unless you do this’...Unfortunately when you have that poor of character, like so many artists don't like you and don't like working with you. You know, that's not normal.”  

It’s kind of not a direct accusation given all of the sugar coating.  I guess that because he manages to make hits, Sony and whoever The Man is in this situation were willing to throw money at lawyers and whoever necessary to make all of his problems go away so he can keep making music by any means possible, specifically forcing artists to work with him. Too bad for him that Sony didn’t have the same lawyer as the Weinstein Company. Poor guy could have had this covered in his contract. Excuse me while I rage-puke. But regardless, that was all she wanted from Sony. Stop making me work with this dirtbag.

Beyond issues with the artists he produces, Dr. Luke is no stranger to lawsuits. The former SNL musician steals most of his hits. He has countless ongoing lawsuits against him including one for Timber by Kesha and Pitbull. They are also being sued, but rightfully (logic would reason) claim they knew nothing about the harmonica riff that was so clearly stolen from Lee Oskar’s San Francisco Bay. If you are so inclined there are videos online of side-by-side comparisons that are obvious proof of his thievery. (And an endless supply of ones on Kanye. Just saying.)

So we’ve established that he is a crook who is unlikeable and a creep at best and a sexual/psychological power hungry abuser at worst.

But wait. Shit. Evidence against Kesha. Shit. Shit shit shit. I didn’t want to see it. I hate the reality that there are women who delegitimize real abuse by gaining from false claims. I hate it. But it does happen. So I kept reading. And thanks to TMZ, watching.

In 2011 Dr. Luke and Kesha were sued by a former manager and were deposed. In Kesha’s deposition her energy seems cheeky and sassy with an air of seduction, as if she is trying to maintain her stage persona while on the stand. She almost seems defiant. I didn’t like it. When she is asked if she had ever had an intimate relationship with Dr. Luke she responds, “Dr. Luke never made sexual advances at me”. When questioned if he ever gave her a roofie, she responds “No”.  

Well what the hell? When they depose her mother she seems very serious, slowly taking her time to answer that she knew nothing about any date-rape drugs being given to her daughter or abuse that her daughter suffered. But wait? What the hell was the lawsuit about? Why did this come up in a deposition? What is going on?!? I tried. I looked. I came up short. It doesn’t matter why the questions were asked. Why did they say it didn’t happen?

Her current claims are that he called and threatened her the night before her deposition, saying she needed to cover up the assault or he would destroy her. Well shit. That checks out. But there must have been more to it.

Pebe, Kesha’s mom, was a singer and songwriter who raised her kids as a single mom in Nashville. Her biggest accomplishment before writing with/for Kesha was Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You) for Dolly Parton (who does a duet of the song with Kesha on Rainbow).  

The family made their TV debut on season three of the cult hit The Simple Life. Yes. I just called the show where Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie try to live like normal people a cult hit. It’s goddamn pop culture history. Anyway, on their episode Pebe tells the camera  “All the kids play music. We all meditate. We’re I guess what you call free spirits.” Which tells me two things. One: their family is adorable and two: her mom had her ear to the ground enough to find out about a Simple Life casting.

At the risk of drawing conclusions, it seems like Kesha’s mom has always been in full support of her family’s fame and musical success and will do whatever it takes to help support the dream she shares with her daughter.

So when Kesha got the chance to drop out of high school and pursue music she had her family’s full support.

Now the following is all deductive reasoning and intuitional hearsay, but here it is. I feel like Kesha broke down and told someone the truth that this had happened/been happening and it ended up floating through the grapevine faster than she could stop it in the interest of saving herself from career suicide.  Then as she claims she got threatened directly by him to not tell the truth in court and confirming her fears. So of course it stands to reason that she would lie. Without lying she might have killed not only her own career, but her mother’s. And with that, the evidence for Dr. Luke is dismissed in the courtroom of this article.

Currently as it stands in actual court, there is one outstanding lawsuit by Kesha against Dr. Luke with a counter suit for defamation coming from Luke to Kesha. They are in a gridlock. Neither one will budge.

So how did Rainbow happen? Well to simplify I will say that after bouncing back and forth from case to counter-case, Kesha was granted freedom from working with Dr. Luke. But she is still signed under Sony and Kemosabe records, which until recently Dr. Luke was the CEO of. That explains why, according to an interview with Billboard, he will be profiting off of the sales of Rainbow. You sir, are one twisted fuck.

Why not wait to release it until he doesn’t stand to gain anything? Because who knows how long that could take and she's already waited four years. She released it because as an artist, she had to. It’s reminiscent of her first exposure to the music scene, singing on Flo Rida’s Right Round,  for which she was uncredited and unpaid. In an act of badassery she refused to be in the music video, telling Esquire that she wanted to make a name for herself on her own terms. And she is back on her own terms. Kesha herself has put her entire album on YouTube. She don’t give a fuck. She just wants to be heard.

And holy shit is it worth taking a listen.

It is a strong, unexpected, female-charged journey through acceptance, taking a stand, becoming a woman, falling in love, intuitional spirituality, acknowledging and loving the child you once were and so much more. It puts her damaged past to bed by tucking it into lyrics and sharing from a much more mature perspective.

Rainbow starts with Bastards, where she references Margaret Atwood's book The Handmaid's Tale, singing “don't let the bastards take you down...Been underestimated my entire life. I know people gonna talk shit, and darling, that's fine. But they won't break my spirit, I won't let ’em win”.

In an interview with Zach Sang she shares that with creating Rainbow, the key was showing up.  “Rainbow was just my like... my white whale. The invisible hope that I would hold on to all day and all night....  I was like… At least I'm going to put out rainbow one day... The hope never died and I think that that's really important for my fans to know because I feel like you can't let it go… it was like really just praying that one day it would happen… trying to Manifest this thing that meant so so much to me and some days it felt obtainable and some days it felt like it couldn't be the furthest thing from obtainable. But even on those days I would go to the studio. And I think and I think that's really important... It's just showing up. I just showed up and by showing up I wrote songs. Like I said before some sucked but some are good. And that's why I have a record.”

One of my favorite tracks off of this record is the consciousness-focused pop-driven Learn to Let Go. Quoting the Buddah in the chorus and title, this song is a goddadmn delight. Upbeat, inspiring, connected she sings; "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...I think it's time to practice what I preach-Exorcise the demons inside me. Gotta learn to let it go.”

Now if you want something dance friendly yet horn driven, look no further than Woman feat the Dapp Kings. The song declares that she’s a “Motherfucking woman”. Fun Fact: she refuses to make a radio edit so there will be an aggressive bleeping if you ever hear it  on the radio. If she performs it on late night she substitutes the line “I’m a motherfuker” with “I’m a nasty woman”. Love it.

Another favorite for me is Spaceship. After hearing stories of Kesha claiming she had been raped by ghosts (which I absolutely believe happens) years ago, I started to think she might be my kind of people. When I heard that Kesha had an Alien Encounter in Joshua Tree I couldn't wait to hear the song she had written about the experience. I was expecting something very obvious and futuristic sounding. Instead what I got is a stripped-down bluegrass jam with an insightful monologue towards the end which I am downright looking forward to having played at my funeral.

She speaks of the inspiration for the song; “Totally sober Sally, just a lady in the desert. Then I look up in the sky and there's bunch of spaceships. I swear to God there were like 5 to 7 and I don't know why I didn't like try to take a picture it.  I just looked at it. I was sitting on the Rock and I was like what in the hell is that? And I was trying to figure it out and then they went away. And then I came back and then I was like... maybe they are fires on a mountain that are super high in the sky... Then they came back in a different formation and I was like those are fucking aliens. Those are spaceship.”

Her next level beliefs are reflected in Hymn, another personal favorite. An anthem for anyone who has ever felt spiritual without feeling religious: “This is a hymn for the hymnless, kids with no religion. Yeah, we keep on sinning, yeah, we keep on singing...I know that I'm perfect, even though I'm fucked up. Hymn for the hymnless, don't need no forgiveness 'Cause if there's a heaven, don't care if we get in...If we die before we wake, who we are is no mistake”.

And then there is the title track Rainbow. It's about finding the other side of  personal darkness and remembering that your heart once was pure and beautiful (and can be again). She sings “Yeah maybe my heads fucked up but I'm falling right back in love with being alive. Dreaming in white light… And deep down, I'm still a child. Playful eyes, wide and wild. I can't lose hope, what's left of my heart's still made of gold.”

Speaking on the album she says,“For me this was like going back and trying to heal my heart as best as I can and connect back with that innocence and that colorfulness and that fun and wildness the naivete. I want to connect with my childlike heart.”

I found more in this album than I ever could have then I ever could have predicted from an artist whose credibility has long lingered in question. Feeling almost like a saturn’s return gift from the universe, Rainbow is more that I could have asked for.

Jessica Salgueiro