It has been five tough years for Kesha Sebert. She has gone through rehab, a legal battle against Dr. Luke, the man who she had worked with for over ten years, for emotional and sexual abuse, and therefore the impossibility to do what she loves most: releasing music as she desires to. Last Friday, her long-awaited third studio album Rainbow was released without the production of Dr. Luke for the first time, and her music sounds better than ever.
Arguably her best album opener, “Bastards” pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the album. Written all by herself, she uses it to both give a message of self-acceptance and not letting others define who you are or get you down as said by the chorus: “Don’t let the bastards get you down / Don’t let the a**holes wear you out,” and also to talk about her own experience with detractors: “I got too many people, / Got left to prove wrong / All those motherf—ers, / Been too mean for too long.” This song is perfect to describe what Kesha is intending to say and do with this record: she has been criticized by countless people for countless reasons, but she is giving them the middle finger, and so should you.
The chorus in “Bastards” is believed to have been inspired by a line in Margaret Atwood’s best-selling book The Handmaid’s Tale, as there is a chapter in it in which the female protagonist comes across the phrase “Don’t let the bastards grind you down” written in Latin. This reference is yet to be confirmed, but it would make a lot of sense since the novel has been greatly received for its message of female empowerment overall.
Highlight lyric: “I know people gonna talk sh*t / But they won’t break my spirit, I won’t let ’em win”
Let ‘Em Talk
After a relaxed and soft first track, Kesha teams up with rock band Eagles of Death Metal to turn up the volume in Let ‘Em Talk. Just like “Bastards,” this song is directed to the haters and encourages everyone to accept that they will always be talking and it should not stop you from doing whatever you want.
This song is fun and upbeat, sort of what Kesha used to do in her early days. It is a personal favorite of mine and will most likely be one of the best songs to listen to and dance during her Rainbow Tour, slated to begin on September 26 of the current year in Birmingham.
Highlight lyric: “Do your thing, don’t care if we make ’em jealous / We’re the kings, life is just our party palace”
“Woman” is the first promotional single off the album, and it is one hell of an anthem. Kesha joined funk and soul band The Dap-Kings Horns to create this powerful, fun song about feminism and what it feels like to be an independent woman, in which she screams: “I’m a motherf*cing woman, baby, alright / I don’t need a man to be holding me too tight.” She has been open about her support for the movement for quite a long time, and she reinforces her point of view with these lyrics.
“I have always been a feminist, but for much of my life I felt like a little girl trying to figure things out. In the past few years, I have felt like a woman more than ever. I just feel the strength and awesomeness and power of being female,” she said in her essay for Rolling Stone about writing and recording it. “That is power. I just really f—ing love being a woman and I wanted an anthem for anyone else who wants to yell about being self-sufficient and strong. (Yes, men, this song can be for you too.)”
A music video was released with the song on July 13 and it has already received over 11 million views on YouTube. It shows Kesha driving a car with singer Saundra Williams beside her and her old band The Creepies in the backseat as a reference to the line “Let’s drive around town in my Cadillac / Girls in the front, boys in the back.” There is a scene in which both women leave the car and the men stay, but then Kesha tells them they can come over to the bar as well as a symbol to say that men can be a part of her movement as well.
Highlight lyric: “Don’t buy me a drink, I make my money / Don’t touch my weave, don’t call me “honey” / ’Cause I run my sh*t, baby”
Being one of the most important songs on the record, “Hymn” is a song for a whole generation, for those people who always felt like outsiders. It comes back to a low-tempo after two upbeat songs and it resembles an actual anthem. This has been a recurring topic in Kesha’s music since the very beginning of her career in songs like Die Young and We R Who We R, both referenced in Hymn in a verse that states: “So we just ride, we just cruise, livin’ like there’s nothing left to lose / If we die before we wake, who we are is no mistake / This is just the way we’re made / You know what I mean, you on the team,” which seems to be directed at her fans who have always supported her, even in the hardest times.
Although a hymn is usually used for religious purposes, Kesha makes it clear that this song does not have a religious message, but one of self-acceptance and loving yourself even if you do not fit in: “This is a hymn for the hymnless, kids with no religion / Yeah, we keep on sinning, yeah, we keep on singing.”
“I personally will never stop fighting for equality for all humans. That is the passion behind this song. 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,” she said in her essay for Mic.
Highlight lyric: “After all we’ve been through, no, we won’t stand and salute.”
“Praying” is the first single off the album and the one that marked Kesha’s comeback on July 6. It is very hard to describe with words the feelings that this incredibly touching and emotional ballad provokes on the listener, even without directly identifying with it. It is, from my point of view, one of the best of the year both sonically and lyrically. This song is clearly directed at someone who has done a lot of damage to her, most likely Dr. Luke; and after so much time she decides to not be resentful but to hope they heal and “see the light,” because they will be the ones who will have to pray to live with what they did to her.
“‘Praying’ was written about that moment when the sun starts peeking through the darkest storm clouds, creating the most beautiful rainbow. Once you realize that you will, in fact, be OK, you want to spread love and healing. If you feel like someone has wronged you, get rid of that hate, because it will just create more negativity. One thing that has brought me great relief is praying for those people,” she said in an article for Lenny Letter.
We have all gone through hard times when it seems like there is no way out. In this song, Kesha encourages everyone to acknowledge that pain and the fact that it will hurt for a long time, but she also spreads a message of not letting that negativity take over because it will become your biggest enemy. She is feeling empathy for that person who got her in these hard times, she is letting herself be proud of how she has survived, and she is praying for a better world.
The music video for “Praying” is just as touching as the song, alternating between black-and-white scenes that symbolize her lowest points as she recites in a literal coffin: “Am I dead? Or is this one of those dreams? Those horrible dreams that seem like they last forever? If I am alive, why?” and ones full of color that are filled with religious metaphors where she destroys TVs with messages (filmed in Slab City) like “Don’t be yourself,” “You’re too thin,” “Standards of beauty,” “Women need a man,” and “Weapons of mass deception.” There are also two characters of men wearing pig masks who seem to be in control of her at the beginning, but she takes down at the end as a symbol of getting rid of her demons.
Highlight lyric: “Cause you brought the flames and you put me through hell / I had to learn how to fight for myself / And we both know all the truth I could tell / I’ll just say this is I wish you farewell”
Learn to Let Go
“Learn to Let Go” was the final promotional single to be released before the album release with an incredible music video to go with it. This pop-rock song continues with the theme of Praying of embracing the bad things that have happened to you but moving on and letting go of them.
For this song, Kesha chose to release a statement to the Huffington Post in which she explains, “‘Learn to Let Go’ is more than a song title… it’s become one of my mantras over the last few years. As much as our past creates who we are, we can’t let it define us or hold us back. And especially if you’ve been through something hard, and we all have, you can’t hold on to resentment because it’s like a poison. You have to learn to let go of those bad feelings and move forward.”
Back in 2014, Kesha decided to take the dollar sign off of her name and her brand and decided to change her username on Twitter from @keshasuxx to @kesharose. In the past, her songs made the public believe she was just a party girl who did not care and just wanted to have fun (part of the concept her ex-producer wanted). For Rainbow, however, she got rid of that attitude and that sound to be her real and true self. In Learn to Let Go, she references this by saying “Been a prisoner of the past / Had a bitterness when I looked back / Was telling everyone it’s not that bad / ’Til all my sh*t hit the fan”
Highlight lyric: “I’m done reliving my bad decisions / I see now maybe there’s a reason why / I’ve been through hell and back / Yeah, honestly, it’s all made me who I am”
“Finding You” was co-written with the help of Justin Tranter, the well-known songwriter, singer and board member of GLAAD. This is the first love song on the album and it is about having a lover who she wants to be with even in the worst of times, and even after death. It is one of my personal favorites, especially because of the way her voice sounds, and it reminds me a lot of songs off of her sophomore album Warrior like “Wherever You Are” and “Past Lives.”
Highlight lyric: “Let’s run away, baby, drive straight into the moonlight / Kiss me and tell me you’re mine like no one’s watching / Like time is stopping”
Being both the title track and the heart of the album, “Rainbow” is one of the most special on the whole record. It amplifies the theme of self-acceptance from “Praying” and “Learn to Let Go” in an emotional and vulnerable combination of Kesha’s voice and piano. This was the first track she wrote, and she did it all by herself when she was at rehab, which marked the beginning of the era for her.
“Since those difficult and emotional days in rehab, I started imagining that one day I would put out a new record and I would call it Rainbow. For a long time, I didn’t know if that idea was just a fantasy, a ghost to keep me waking up and actually getting out of my bed, or if it could actually come true,” she said in her essay for Refinery29. “This idea, and the support I received from fans and total strangers, is what helped me get up every day. I know that this album saved my life.”
I feel like this song truly represents what Kesha has become for herself and for her fans. As the song says, she has “painted the world” and she has made such an impact on so many people that have told her that her music had saved their lives. Now, Kesha has found a way to save her own life through music, and it is truly inspirational.
Highlight lyrics: “I can’t lose hope, what’s left of my heart’s still made of gold”
Hunt You Down
“Hunt You Down” is quite obviously country-based and seems, at the beginning, like a love song with lyrics like “I wanna be your favorite and always by your side / I wanna talk forever with babies down the line.” But after the pre-chorus it turns out to be about her obsession with her lover, as she says she is always watching them and if he cheats on her, she will be forced to even commit a murder: “You say you’ve had your fun / But that you’re done and I’m the one / Just know that if you f*ck around / Boy, I’ll hunt you down.” It is a very fun song, and even if you are not a particular fan of the genre, it will probably make you want to square dance to it.
Kesha has already been receiving backlash for the first verse of this song, which mentions the racial slur “g*psy.” Its intention in the song is to refer to a free-spirited woman, and although this word is used by lots of people that are not aware of its history, it has been marked as a pejorative term to Romani people.
Highlight lyric: “I’m like a little kitty and I can see at night / I got eyes like a hawk, babe, I’m watching all the time”
Eagles of Death Metal join Kesha once again in this record, this time for another upbeat song: “Boogie Feet.” Unlike others one Rainbow, this one is not deep at all, but that is okay because it is not meant to be: it is a song about just dancing your problems away and living every day like it is your last. The production is quite good and the instruments do most of the job, but it is still one of the weakest tracks if we compare it to some of the masterpieces in the rest of the album.
Highlight lyric: “Life’s a hello, a goodbye / The last laugh, then you die / I boogie ’cause I’m alive”
As we get closer to the end of the album, Kesha gives us an amazing club banger titled “Boots.” This song has country inspirations and it is about a girl who is used to being a free spirit and not getting attached with anyone, but one day she meets a guy and completely falls for him. Its production was partly in charge of Ricky Reed, who has also worked on Jason Derulo’s Talk Dirty and Fifth Harmony’s BO$$, and it is quite simple but engaging, which definitely sets it as a potential future single off of Rainbow as it could be huge on radio.
It is also one of my favorite tracks on the album overall, and it reminds me a lot of the style Lady Gaga went with in her latest album Joanne in songs like “Dancin’ In Circles” or “Sinner’s Prayer” that give a more fresh and interesting feeling to country music.
Highlight lyrics: “I have boys in every country code / Just a rollin’ stoner on a roll / I’d bring the cowgirl out and cock them guns / Always leave before the cowboy comes”
Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle To You)
Back in the 1970s, when Kesha was not even a project, her mother Pebe Sebert wrote a song called “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle To You” for country singer Joe Sun, which went on to be such a hit to the point that Dolly Parton decided to cover it and include it in her album, taking the song to the #1 spot in the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. In 2012, Kesha covered this song for her EP Deconstructed.
Now, the story of this song comes full circle as Dolly Parton, Kesha’s long-life idol, collaborates with her in a brand new rendition of the song.
“The fact that I actually got to sing “Old Flames” with her on this album is a really, really, really big deal for me — I dream really big but I wasn’t sure if this one would ever actually happen. Still, every time I listen to it, it gives me full-body chills and it makes me tear up because she’s a f*cking legend; she’s an icon,” said Kesha to NPR. “I’m just so grateful and humbled. This album is special for so many reasons but this just like tops the whole thing off.”
Taking into account the fact that Kesha is reconnecting with her true self and her roots for this record, including this song in the album gives it an even more important meaning. Parton’s voice, although not very present, sounds as good as always and blends really well with Kesha’s, so hopefully, we can expect another collaboration in the future.
Highlight lyric: “But old flames can’t hold a candle to you / No one can light up the night like you do / Flickering embers of love / I’ve known one or two”
Besides the previous song, which was a cover, “Godzilla” is the only track that Kesha did not write for this album. Only lasting eight seconds over the two-minute mark, this is the shortest one on Rainbow and it is a mix of bizarre and cute. It is very simple and down-to-heart, as she sings with the help of a guitar and a relaxing melody about someone who everyone seems to be scared of or dislike, but she still falls in love with.
Highlight lyric: “While everyone else is running and screaming / I just love being with you / I guess they don’t see all the things that I’m seein’ / That make you so uniquely you, you, you, you”
Last but certainly not least, Kesha closes her album with “Spaceship.” This song, to me, is the best in terms of lyrics. It is about someone who has felt like they have never truly belonged in Earth, so they sense that a spaceship is coming back to rescue them and take them to that place where they know they should be. It could also be a metaphor for death and closure. Just like Praying, I can say this song provoked a lot of feelings on me, I think many people can relate to this thought of being out of place and Kesha defines it perfectly.
There is a moment where Kesha sings “I knew from the start I don’t belong in these parts / There’s too much hate, there’s too much hurt for this heart / Lord knows this planet feels like a hopeless place / Thank God I’m going back home to outer space.” I believe that she must have felt this way a lot in these past few years, struggling with depression and being stuck in a battle not only legal but also inner of feeling that there is too much evil and injustice in this world for someone like her.
Highlight lyric: “As I leave this earth and sail into the infinite cosmic universe, the wars, the triumphs, the beauty, and the bloodshed, the ocean of human endeavor, it all grows quiet, insignificant. I’m nothing more than recycled stardust and borrowed energy, born from a rock, spinning in the ether. I watch my life backwards and forwards and I feel free. Nothing is real, love is everything, and I know nothing.”
The outro of “Spaceship,” as seen in the highlight lyrics, really feels like the best closure for Rainbow, which is not just a collection of fourteen songs put together, but it is an experience. After hearing this album over and over, especially to write this review, I got deeper into what she really wanted to do with this album. Kesha has been writing and singing about outcasts, pain and her experiences in her whole career, but after hearing Rainbow it is clear that a part of her both musically and personally is freer than before, and it is amazing to be a witness of it.
Once again, I am thoroughly impressed by Kesha Sebert once again. She is one of the greatest artists of our generation and she can be a great role model to lots of people. I encourage you to hear this album from start to finish, I am sure that it will make you feel something real.