Monday, September 25

Second Take: Kesha’s new sound is a good balance of poignant and peppy


(Courtesy of Kemosabe Records)

(Courtesy of Kemosabe Records)


The pop sensation who once sang about brushing her teeth with whiskey has turned to rainbows and fringed jackets.

Kesha’s return to the music scene marks a turning point in her creative evolution –while her recent releases display the confidence and assertiveness that made her famous, the emotional rawness of her new material is unparalleled by previous releases.

 

I have been a Kesha fan since the days of her debut single, “TiK ToK.” Time and time again, I would belt out the song’s chorus throughout my house much to the annoyance of my entire family. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to hear that Kesha would finally be releasing music again in July.

When I first heard “Praying” – Kesha’s first solo single release since “Crazy Kids” in 2013 – I was astonished with the profound evolution Kesha had made both in her lyrics and in her vocal performance. Lyrically, the song takes on a less playful tone than her earlier repertoire of songs, despite having a similar message.

For example, “Praying” and 2010’s “Sleazy” are both empowering anthems about taking the high road. Yet lyrically, “Praying” comes off as far more mature and vulnerable. On “Sleazy,” Kesha proclaims “I don’t need you or your brand new Benz” and “I’mma take it back to where my man and my girls is,” whereas “Praying” takes on a more eloquent tone, noting that Kesha “can make it on (her) own.”

Kesha’s growing maturity as an artist is reflected in her powerful vocals on “Praying.” It’s no secret to more die-hard Kesha fans that the singer has a powerful and impressive voice – less popular songs on previous albums like “Stephen” and “Only Wanna Dance With You” demonstrate a complex and controlled vocal quality. Her vocal talents have never really been hidden – it’s just that “Praying” highlights them to a fuller effect and has accomplished more mainstream success.

“Praying” takes the power and quality of her voice to another level – on the opening verse, Kesha’s voice sounds smooth and crisp. However, she doesn’t take any major vocal risks until about halfway through the song, where she transitions into a higher, somewhat rough vocal range. Through the rest of the song, Kesha’s voice has a more poignant and serious quality to it, matching the song’s clear reference toward her bitter legal battle with Dr. Luke.

And then Kesha does something we’ve never heard her do before. About three minutes into the song, she belts out a piercing whistle tone that lasts a good five seconds – an impressive feat for someone who many in the media dubbed as “untalented and “a wannabe.”

“Praying” is an important song for a number of reasons – it provides an anthem of empowerment to listeners who have been through abusive situations similar to the one Kesha allegedly experienced. However, one of its major flaws is that it seems to cater to the critics that bullied Kesha earlier in her career – the Guardian, the same outlet that called Kesha a wannabe and “a degenerate Hannah Montana” back in 2009, recently noted the strength and vulnerability that Kesha shows on “Praying.”

In a sense, “Praying” felt a bit formulaic, calculated to prove to critics that Kesha’s music is more than just a series of fun party tunes. The new sound on “Praying,” though bold and still enjoyable to listen to, feels a bit forced, which is why her two follow-up singles, “Woman” and “Learn To Let Go” are so important. The songs are stylistically very similar to her older music, playful and upbeat songs that listeners can dance to, yet lyrically they are equally as liberating and vulnerable as “Praying.”

 

“Woman” is a beautifully written and arranged feminist anthem – it represents a liberation from the patriarchal bindings that held Kesha back for so long: the media that tried to tear her down for being an outspoken, fun-having woman and the man who allegedly abused her for nearly 10 years.

On “Learn To Let Go,” Kesha continues to voice her newfound independence from the struggles of her past, using intelligent and interesting imagery about exorcising the demons inside of her to convey a message of independence and self-autonomy.

After hearing the first three singles from her upcoming album “Rainbow,” I am unequivocally excited and hopeful for Kesha’s full return to making music. “Rainbow” and its lead singles represent a new era in Kesha’s career, one in which she is free to fully reach her creative potential.

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Music | Arts editor

Warner is the assistant editor for the Music | Arts beat of A&E. He was previously an A&E reporter.


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