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Song Review: Kesha’s ‘Praying’

Variety logo Variety 7/7/2017 Eve Barlow
© Provided by Variety

Three years is a long time to sit in silence — feeling wave after wave of emotions, waiting for the moment when you can unleash your first words to the world again. No one knows this better than pop singer Kesha, who last year, did manage to release some music (a feature on Zedd’s ‘True Colors’) and toured a bit, playing a run of shows under the banner “Kesha And The Creepies: F— The World Tour,” but mainly, she was the subject of media headlines amid her complicated and salacious legal battles with former producer Dr. Luke. The biggest takeaway from the multitudes of filings and courtroom drama was that, even in today’s climate, it’s still treacherously difficult to be a young female musician navigating the male-dominated waters of the major music industry.

To recap: where Kesha previously nailed her shtick in two albums’ worth of material that celebrated being the drunk, feral wild-child at the party, the songwriter was anything but liberated behind-the-scenes. Since October 2014, she’s been embroiled in a horribly public fight for independence from Dr Luke after suing him for emotional distress, unfair business arrangements and accusing him of sexual assault. That was followed by a brutal to-and-fro tennis match of charges against each other. Kesha fans around the world have rallied behind her, as have public figures and pop peers. Galvanized by the support, she revealed while on her tour last year that she had recorded 22 songs and was working on a forthcoming third album. “Praying,” released today (July 6), is the first taste of what that long-gestating LP – titled “Rainbow” – is going to sound like.

They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but on “Praying,” Kesha pushes through her demons and possesses a remarkable level of empathy and understanding. Indeed, her capacity for forgiveness is a worthy returning message for those who have given her courage and momentum through these darkest of days.

“Am I dead? Or is this one of those dreams?” asks Kesha in an introductory voice-over at the beginning of a brightly optimistic music video. “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.”

Once the track kicks in (“Praying was written with Ryan Lewis, Ben Abraham, and Andrew Joslyn and produced by Lewis, of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis fame), the gospel-tinged ballad builds a wall of defiance with every new verse and refrain until Kesha’s voice is at its loudest, strongest and most momentous ever. “’Cause you brought the flames and you put me through hell,” she sings with full conviction, seemingly referencing Dr. Luke. The song’s narrative is that of a journey to self-belief again after years of dejection, bullying and undermining. It’s a brave move in and of itself, but to then cast her anguish and hurt aside and come at her assailant with a message of peace is enough to induce goosebumps in even the harshest of cynics.

“I have channeled my feelings of severe hopelessness and depression, I’ve overcome obstacles, and I have found strength in myself even when it felt out of reach,” she wrote in an accompanying letter published on Lena Dunham’s Lenny website this morning. Being forced to endure a bout of creative silence has resulted in a Kesha that’s even more purposeful, as unveiled with this gambit. If the presentation of “Praying” seems to be excessively religious, it’s understandable given the unholy journey Kesha’s had to wrangle with to get here. At the same time, Kesha seems to have made it through to the other side after living under a toxic vicious cycle. As every action forces a reaction, you hope for — and with — her that this is the beginning of a far more positive chapter.

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