Rainbow, Spaceship, Learn to Let Go

This is part four in an exploration of Kesha’s new album ‘Rainbow’. Find parts 1, 2, and 3.

I’m not going to spend as much time on each individual song as I did on Praying and Boots, but instead will be clumping a few songs of similar themes together where it makes sense. In this case, there are quite a few songs on Rainbow that are about moving on, finding hope, or growing and changing after a challenging time. I’m going to focus on Rainbow, Spaceship, and Learn to Let Go for this post, as all three of these songs circulate around this attitude of healing and growing.

If I were to place these songs, they would be the songs of recovery, the ones that come after trauma, depression, an eating disorder, the darkest places. These are the songs that you can write when you’re coming out the other side. They are the joyful songs of the album, and I love that they coexist on an album with songs as honestly painful as Praying.

This is a side of Kesha that we don’t see very often and I really appreciate that she felt empowered to show it, to let us in to a sweet, naive version of herself. I love that part of her healing is not about being aggressive or strong or any of those things, but just being a kid again. She seems so intensely free in these songs and it feels very hopeful to me in a way that goes beyond the “you’ll find a rainbow” but in a way that says “you get to have joy after trauma.”

In her essay about Learn to Let Go, she writes “I’ve looked at this record, ‘Rainbow,’ as me being myself, Kesha Rose Sebert, my name without the dollar sign, genuinely for the first time ever. I mean that on every level but especially musically ― and that’s really scary for me.” This really comes through, especially in the video for Learn to Let Go, which puts home videos of Kesha as a child next to an adult Kesha reenacting the scenes.

It gives a depth to the song that says “I’m not just letting go, I’m remembering who I used to be, I’m uplifting the parts of myself that give me life.” This video is 100% my favorite of the videos for this album. It is so unself-conscious, so free, so wonderfully joyful. Watch it. Watch it again. It’s so good.

Rainbow was written while she was in rehab for her eating disorder. She describes it as her promise to herself. I personally don’t love it when people say “oh it will get better, just think about the future”, but knowing that this is her reminder to herself, her mantra that she can return to changes it for me. And there are some amazingly honest lines in it:

“And I know that I’m still fucked up
But aren’t we all, my love?
Darling, our scars make us who we are, are”

Even as the message of “you’ll find a rainbow” is far from deep, there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface here, and you can see it in the musicality that happens around the lines “so when the winds are howling strong…”. It’s vivid, orchestral, intense. The rainbow she’s looking for isn’t trite or small. It’s a respite from the chaos you can hear in these lines. I love the imagery of color everywhere, of kaleidoscopes, of seeing everything the world has to offer again. There’s more here than the silly phrases that many people use to describe gratitude or the good parts of life. Instead, there’s a recognition that the world holds layers of wonder and beauty. It speaks to the ways that many people who feel broken or hurt often experience the world differently from other people, which brings me to Spaceship.

Spaceship reads very neurodivergent to me. It’s a song about feeling as if you belong somewhere else, and waiting for your people to come and get you, bring you home. That experience is so common in the autistic community, as well as for others who deal with mental illness. While Rainbow is about finding joy in this world, Spaceship seems to be about finding a place that doesn’t exist in this world: somewhere that is safe and where you feel normal and acceptable. When paired with a lot of Kesha’s more youthful songs on this album, it speaks to the ways that we’re expected to conform as adults, and how often that means losing an innocence that doesn’t need to go.

Even as this album is more musically complex than her past two, it seems to have less “polish”. It’s less produced. It’s more authentic. These songs get to the heart of that and are in many ways the heart of this album. They are not dealing with the past or the trauma, they’re an adult reclaiming their identity and their self, regardless of what has happened or the difficulties of what has happened in their life. I find the vulnerable emotions and unrestrained joy really refreshing.

Praying

This is the third part of a series on Kesha’s new album ‘Rainbow’. Click for parts one and two.

Let’s start by all taking a look at the essay that she wrote to go along with the song. It starts by quoting the opening lines of her video. One of the things that has stuck out to me about this album is the decidedly upbeat tone of it. What has surprised me about that is the fact that it doesn’t annoy me. I think the reason for this is that while this album appears to be coming from a place where Kesha seems ok, it doesn’t shy away from where she has been before. This essay speaks very frankly of depression, and the intro to the video gave me chills: “Please just let me die. Being alive hurts too much.” 

Praying is one of the few songs in which Kesha openly and vulnerably lays out how bad it was for her, and in the essay she is even more open about how in recent years she has struggled mightily with depression. She never mentions why; we all know. The information she provides in the essay goes a long way towards understanding the power of Praying: while the song is about moving on, the essay tells us what she’s moving on from.

The depth of this song doesn’t come from poetic lyrics, but from simplicity. Kesha doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know (especially if you are one of the many people who has dealt with abuse or assault), but what’s important is that she is making art out of it: she has created a beautiful song and she is sharing this experience in a wildly public way. She’s taken a personal and vulnerable experience and become powerful through it.

Kesha’s voice in this song is something else entirely and is what creates a truly transcendent experience here. She writes about learning how to trust her voice throughout her prior tour, and that in this album she really wants to show it off. In Praying she does amazing things with her voice. There are layers of meaning when you understand that she was not confident of her instrument, her very body, until just recently, and then you hear her carrying an amazing ballad with the lyrics “You said that I was done. But you were wrong and now the best is yet to come.” She is not only asserting that, she’s fucking proving it with the musical quality of this song.

My favorite thing about Praying is that when you first hear it, it sounds a bit like a song of forgiveness. I don’t think this coulid be further from the truth. Even if Kesha says “I hope you find your peace”, the very next line is “falling on your knees”, implying that he needs to ask for forgiveness, he needs to change, he has not earned his peace or his forgiveness yet. She even says “Some things only God can forgive”. No, this is not a song about Kesha being the bigger person because FUCK the idea that she even needs to be. This is a song of Kesha saying “sometimes I think about you but mostly just to remember that I’m so much better without you.” She is speaking from the position of power, where for most of her relationship with Dr. Jerkwad she had little to no power.

Speaking of Dr. Jerkwad, my favorite thing about this song is that she doesn’t even bother to hide the fact that she’s talking about him. We all know it, we all know that she’s giving him the middle finger, and we all know that this song is her getting the final word.

The second half of this song is a fucking ANTHEM for all the people who have been hurt and abused, who were told that they were worthless. I have been amazed time and again at how much applause the line “I’m proud of who I am” gets (yes I’ve watched multiple live performances of this song). I can only imagine singing that line when you’re a woman of color or a trans woman or a disabled woman, feeling that those words get to be yours. Feeling that you get to tell the world, which has oppressed you for so long, “when I’m finished, they won’t even know your name.”

Whenever I hear Praying, I like to imagine an army of oppressed people singing that line to Neo Nazis and White Supremacists. I like to imagine singing it to my abusive ex. I like to imagine singing it to the asshole who raped my best friend. So rarely do women really get to be angry at their abusers, or throw threats of any kind at their abusers. Honestly it’s really fucking refreshing. Even more refreshing is a song that can move from raw depression to this kind of empowerment. Praying is pretty fucking amazing.

Boots

This is the second of a series about Kesha’s new album Rainbow. For the first post, click here.

Boots seems to be out of place in Rainbow. It doesn’t address the past, pain, or moving forward. But listening to Boots feels delightfully powerful to me. After sexual assault, it’s easy to feel like your sexuality, and especially your joy in your own body and sexuality has been stolen. I’ve known too many people who before sexual assault were joyfully, intensely sexual, and their sex life was a major part of their identity. Following assault, they have described the experience as “I don’t know how to do it anymore.” There’s insecurity, fear, and a sense that the ability to enjoy their own body has been taken away.

Which is why I love Boots.

Kesha has always been an artist who is unabashedly hedonistic. Her earlier albums were about drinking, partying, and sexing. Typically these topics have been reserved for male artists, and one of the reasons I love Kesha is that she isn’t afraid to say “yes I party and I have a good time, and you still need my consent.” Boots feels like a return to some essential parts of Kesha. I’m glad that Rainbow is a more mature album overall, and I think it’s got a lot more depth, but Kesha also strikes me as a simply joyful and fun loving human being (check out little Kesha’s dance moves in the Learn to Let Go video for reference). One of the hardest things about depression and trauma is finding things that make you joyful, reclaiming things in an untainted way.

Boots to me is that anthem. It’s the recognition that Kesha is still a sexual being and someone who is happily so. It feels so wonderfully joyful to have a song on this album about healing in which she reclaims her sexuality. When assault can rob someone of their connection to their body, can leave them with PTSD, can mean that sex more often than not ends in tears or flashbacks, a song that finds joy again is so powerful.

Even more importantly, when she made her accusations there were some folks who decided to make a big deal out of the fact that she sang about partying and sex. That doesn’t fucking matter. She can love sex and still be assaulted. She does not have to be some kind of “gold star” victim to be a victim, and this song in context shows that she is not willing to give up her open, loud sexuality just to get people on her side.

In this respect, one line sticks out to me: “If you can’t handle these claws you don’t get this kitty.” I’ve seen friends criticize this kind of sentiment as a way for excusing bad behavior, but in this particular album it doesn’t read that way. Claws are associated with aggression, fighting back, defending yourself, and the kitty language has some obvious parallels to pussy and sex. To me this line reads as a message to people who want to ignore her boundaries; you do not get her body if you are not willing to respect her boundaries. I hear Kesha saying “I will fight back if you try to take what’s not yours.” In the middle of a song about reclaiming sexuality, that is a fucking anthem. It’s a slap in the face to Dr. Buttface.

My final impression of Boots is the recognition that not all of healing is painful or difficult. Some days you feel joyful. You find people that make you feel better. It might be simply be a distraction, and that’s ok. Feeling good sometimes is HUGE, and it doesn’t invalidate that you might be depressed or that you’re really struggling. It feels so good within this album to have a moment of unabashed sensuality. It’s a good reminder to all of us who have been hurt that our bodies don’t have to be dangerous or feel broken. It’s possible to reclaim them. And that is fucking awesome.