The last time Kesha released an album, the year was 2012. Back then, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart were still dating, Barack Obama had just started his second term as president and people were using the term #YOLO unironically. Kesha’s name also still flaunted a dollar sign, exchanged for the S. It was a dizzying era of stupid optimism. For the better part of a year, Occupy Wall Street remained the biggest political story in the papers, a movement founded on kicking billionaires out of Washington. Kesha tied up young people’s enthusiasm for both life and personal liberty and reflected it in a hipster Valley Girl persona and pop-synth music, the majority of which celebrated whiskey and glitter.
In the five years since, though, Kesha became enmeshed in a highly publicized legal battle with mega-producer Dr. Luke, her mentor, whom she alleges sexually assaulted her, drugged her and made disparaging comments about her weight, leading her to seek treatment for an eating disorder. Dr. Luke has denied all allegations and has not been convicted of any of those crimes, but these legal complications have prevented Kesha from releasing new music, as she’s required by her contract with Sony to create it with Dr. Luke. That binding stipulation prompted fans to create the hashtag #FreeKesha, which exploded on Twitter and was shared by Lady Gaga and Adele.
The greatest form of resistance in the face of the oppressor is survival.
The world is a much different place today than it was when Kesha released her last LP. YOLO has gone the way of the Hamster Dance, K-Stew is dating a woman and we have elected a self-professed serial abuser to America’s highest office—a man who allegedly used his power as a tool to prey on women, as Kesha alleges Dr. Luke did. But despite change in climate, and despite Jerry Seinfeld somehow still not knowing her plight, Kesha demonstrates in her newest single, “Praying,” that she is very much the same artist. She’s older, yes, less Autotuned and has stopped crimping her hair so much. But aside from that, she’s the same sparkly unicorn-esque clubrat she’s always been, albeit more somber and reflective.
The impactful “Praying,” her newest single, is proof of that, but more important, it’s proof to her fans—and the world at large—that perhaps now more than ever, the greatest form of resistance in the face of the oppressor is survival. That’s a powerful statement coming from someone whose livelihood and self-worth has been threatened by the legal sanctity of a signature on paperwork.
While more stripped-down than most of her radio hits for which the public recognizes her, the video for “Praying” is, in many respects, part and parcel with the rest of her pre-2012 era. The video opens Lemonade-style with a voiceover spilling over a mock funeral, the artist asking “Am I dead? Or is this one of those dreams?” Images of her mauve-lipped corpse appear under a neon cross and a pig’s head. In fact, Kesha spends much of the video being chased by anthropomorphized pigs in Western button-down shirts, which is fairly on brand, but also quite scary when you consider the imagery literally: a woman being chased by men dressed as pigs.
Unlike her past songs produced with Dr. Luke, which tend to celebrate the virtues of doing gummies and driving fast, “Praying” is a middle finger to not only her “mentor” but to any powerful male figure who fails to recognize a woman’s worth. “You almost had me fooled / Told me that I was nothing without you,” Kesha snarls. “You said that I was dumb / But now you’re wrong and now the best is yet to come.”
In our current political climate, such messages of defiance ring loud and clear. They’re a clarion call to every woman who has ever been under a powerful man’s thumb, and who has emerged stronger as a result. (You can almost imagine Melania karaoke’ing this song while vacuuming the carpets of her Trump Tower penthouse.) When Kesha belts, “When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name,” it’s in our best interest to listen. Those words are the battle cries of every woman who have been abused—emotionally or sexually.
Ultimately, “Praying” isn’t only a fuck you to Dr. Luke, or even the patriarchy. It’s a quieter message of something that resembles a perverse form of gratitude. “You brought the flames and you put me through hell / I had to learn how to fight for myself,” Kesha sings. She never asked for the flames or the fire, but she knows that walking through them and coming out on the other side, fiercer and louder and more dazzling than ever, has made her stronger. In a time when the news cycle—and the courts—continue to beat down women, here’s an idea that should be taken to heart: No matter how powerful the abuser and how devastating the abuse, the best form of resistance is not just surviving, but thriving. Kesha’s message after five years is clear: If you fuck with us, you better start praying.