“I see the magic inside of me”
On Kesha’s Comeback and the Healing Power of Pop
words by mel reeve
photos by olivia bee
Making pop music as a way to explore trauma, particularly that caused by male violence is not new. When you’ve had your voice taken away through abuse, a public creative act like writing music can be empowering for both yourself and others, particularly when the chances of a conviction are so low – only 5.7% of reported rape cases end in a conviction for the perpetrator. Women who make art that is evidently informed by their personal experiences often have their work held to an unrealistic standard, particularly when it comes to authenticity.
Roxane Gay described recently how she gets called a diarist because she writes non-fiction, while men who do the same are lauded as artists and creators. Another recent example can be seen in Beyoncé’s Lemonade, which was scrutinized for its authenticity – because it dealt with deeply personal topics but was still pop music. For some it was only the release of Jay Z’s own album on the subject of his infidelity that confirmed to them that Lemonade wasn’t just a cynical piece of marketing. My frustration with this attitude does not mean can’t critique or even criticize popular art made my women, but it is time to interrogate the standard we hold this art to, and what it means to make pop tackling serious, personal issues.
Kesha’s “Praying” is as real and powerful as it gets. It’s her first original solo release in nearly five years and at its core is a song about survival. It’s about the emotional and physical abuse Kesha survived at the hands of her producer, who as a final part of his control over her stopped her releasing music, denying her of her livelihood and her passion. The video version opens with this monologue;
Am I dead? Or is this one of those dreams? Those horrible dreams that seem like they last forever? If I am alive, why?
If there is a God or whatever, something, somewhere, why have I been abandoned by everyone and everything I’ve ever known? I’ve ever loved? Stranded. What is the lesson? What is the point? God, give me a sign, or I have to give up. I can’t do this anymore. Please just let me die. Being alive hurts too much.
For me this is both a moment of genuine vulnerability and of powerful artistry. I’ve seen people suggesting that because the credits for this song include more than just Kesha’s name, it somehow dilutes what she is communicating. I don’t see why something being written in that context has to result in the meaning being diluted, and I question whether we would be being asked to make a judgement on its authenticity if it wasn’t the work of a woman. Kesha’s musical life has been in stasis for so long, during which time the media has drawn every mention of her name back to the court case between herself and Dr Luke, that there is an incredible bravery in her first release addressing this directly. It’s also a sound business decision; I don’t see why it can’t be both.