This is the final post in a series about Kesha’s album Rainbow. You can find the rest of the series here: 1, 2, 3, 4.
I have not addressed every song on Rainbow, but I think that this post is going to be the final post of the series, because I feel I’ve addressed most of the elements that are important to me. I’m going to wrap up with my favorite song, as well as a short discussion of why Kesha’s choice to release essays in conjunction with the album was, I think, absolutely brilliant.
So let’s talk about Woman.
Just take a moment with that.
Take a moment with Kesha’s fucking gold motherfucking outfit.
Take a moment with every single bird that Kesha flips.
Take a moment with backup singer Saundra Williams and how utterly glorious her side eye is.
Just take a moment.
I’m going to quote a big old chunk from Kesha’s essay about this song, because this essay is one of my favorites.
“I realized that for most of my life I was intimidated to even try and run in the leagues of the people I look up to. With “Woman,” I hope my fans will hear that wild spirit still strong inside me but this time it was created more raw, spontaneously and with all live instrumentation, which I found was a huge reason I loved the records I did love. There were one or two or 12 different people playing real instruments together, and all that real human energy is exciting and very fun to listen to. I wanted this song to capture that organic, raw, soulful sound and keep the imperfect moments in the recordings because I find the magic in the imperfections.”
This song is all about those organic moments, and I think that’s why I love it so much. I love the horns. I love the syncopation in the chorus. I love how many times she says motherfuckin’. This is a song that came straight from someone’s heart, with so much joy that she couldn’t seem to contain it. I LOVE that it is a song about being independent, adult, and responsible without being boring or stodgy, and without feeling a need to put down men (it just says she doesn’t need a man to hold her too tight. You can still have a relationship and be independent).
Perhaps my favorite thing about this song is that it’s tacky. I mean that in a totally loving way. Kesha is wearing an entirely gold, sparkly outfit. It’s ridiculous and my absolute favorite thing. She swears. She is unabashed. But that’s the thing: she doesn’t have to be some kind of put together lady to be an adult who is confident, beautiful, self sufficient, and AMAZING. This song sends the message that independence doesn’t mean one thing. It can mean what feels right and empowering to YOU.
To complement that message, in her essay Kesha writes “I really have to thank Stephen Wrabel and Drew Pearson for helping me through the past few years and making writing songs a beautiful thing again. Both of those men made my art/work safe and fun, and every session with the two of them was so healing.” First, way to give a huge middle finger to Dr. Doucheface without actually ever having to mention him, second, thank you for making me cry at the fact that you had to do art and work in a place that didn’t make you feel safe, and third, kudos for recognizing that THIS was what felt safe and healing for you, then putting that out there. It doesn’t look the same to everyone, but working with these two men was empowering for her, and I so appreciate her speaking openly about her process. Her use of the word “safe” feels incredibly important when we have folks freaking out about phrases like “safe space”.
The final thing I’d like to touch on in regards to Rainbow is Kesha’s choice(s) of media.
Assault and trauma are both incredibly complex things. Many people express their experiences of them through art. That art is often incredibly helpful to other people and can start a dialogue around trauma and assault. What’s interesting about that process is that more often than not the artist does not really join in the conversation ABOUT their art. Kesha has taken control of the dialogue from the start by writing essays that give more depth to her art.
Each of the essays allows readers to see how Kesha herself views the song, the stories behind the songs, and the history of her depression and eating disorder. Songs are not the best medium for a narrative or explanation, which is why I think Kesha’s choice to include essays is really useful to the overall understanding of this album as a process of healing. Combined with the visual elements of four music videos (which is a lot for an album that’s only 14 songs long), Kesha has created something that is truly multimedia. Especially since she released four songs early, each accompanied by a video and an essay, we got a tone for the album that said “this is bigger than the individual songs.”
Not only that, but there is play between the songs. Kesha repeatedly references herself as a kitty or cat (classic jazz language that plays into her change in genre in this album), in Rainbow she sings “You gotta learn to let go, put the past behind you”, a clear reference to Learn to Let Go (which helps us see the relationship between the two: Rainbow is your motivation for Learn to Let G0), and generally creates an album in which you know that the songs do not stand alone but are meant to be taken as a whole.
When Kesha writes in her essay on Hymn: “This song is dedicated to all the idealistic people around the world who refuse to turn their backs on progress, love and equality whenever they are challenged. It’s dedicated to the people who went out into the streets all over the world to protest against racism, hate and division of any kind. It’s also dedicated to anyone who feels like they are not understood by the world or respected for exactly who they are. It’s a hopeful song about all of these people — which I consider myself one of — and the power that we all have when we all come together,” you know that she’s paying attention. She knows that her album is about more than herself, and she is inviting a conversation. She says that she is creating a space for others. It makes the song bigger than a simple squad anthem and into an anthem for the oppressed.
These essays have turned a simple piece of art into a powerhouse of social justice work in my opinion. I am so impressed with everything Kesha has done to make this album not simply musically powerful, but also powerful in its message. I love you Kesha. This album is so important.