A Rainbow After Rain: Why Kesha’s Grammy Nomination Matters

 

 

On November 28, 2017, singer-songwriter Audra Day announced the nominees for the 2018 Grammy awards, an awards ceremony that recognizes significant achievements made in the music industry. Kesha, a pop artist with two number one albums and three number one songs, received her first Grammy nomination in her 12 year career. Many people know Kesha from her raunchy, bubble-gum pop singles like “Die Young” and “Tik Tok” that dominated the airways during the years between 2009 and 2011, but the singer was actually nominated for her song “Praying” in the best pop solo performance category, and her third studio album released during the summer of 2017 titled Rainbow for best pop vocal album.

It’s impossible to listen to Kesha’s album Rainbow without thinking about the situation that pushed her to make it: the major legal battle between her and her long-time producer Dr. Luke. Although we’ve probably all heard about this battle in some capacity (it made the cover of every major magazine and tabloid through 2016 as “pop music's contentious legal battle”), the story bears repeating. For more than 18 months, Kesha was in a high-profile contract disagreement with Dr. Luke, and the case is considered a landmark in terms of addressing the amount of control that an artist has over their career. What many people might not know is that Kesha had actually been trying to get released from her contracts with Dr. Luke and Sony Music Entertainment since 2014, and that the case is the first of it’s kind: the termination of a record contract due to allegations of physical abuse. The singer asserted that during her entire experience working with Dr. Luke, she was subjected to sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. The civil suit filed in 2014 claims that the abuse suffered by Kesha lead her to enter rehab. Although criminal charges were never filed against Dr. Luke, the story centered around allegations of sexual assault and intimidation. Kesha testified that Dr. Luke forced her to take illicit drugs and then made sexual advances towards her, and trapped her in long-term contracts that rendered her unable to control the creative aspects of her music. Dr. Luke filed a lawsuit in return that accused Kesha of defamation and breach of contract, leading to a legal battle lasting five years during which Kesha was unable to create and release new music without, once again, engaging in the parasitic and abusive relationship she wanted to disconnect from.

In 2016, Kesha proposed that she would be willing to release an album for the label RCA under Sony, but only if she was able to create it without any involvement from Dr. Luke. The proposal was denied under claims that she would not be able to make an album while the case was still being pursued. This decision essentially trapped Kesha into only being able to move forward in her career by working in a toxic, destructive relationship. Kesha’s case sparked one of the biggest social media campaigns of 2016, the #FreeKesha campaign, composed of numerous female musicians who had also worked with Dr. Luke, including Lady Gaga, Lorde, Miley Cyrus, and Kelly Clarkson, who all tweeted in support of Kesha, her story, and her freedom to make music under her own creative control.

This leads us back to the summer of 2017 when Kesha released her first single titled “Praying,” a raw and defiant song detailing her anger towards Dr .Luke and the legal battle that left her unable to make music, which was the only thing she wanted to do during the lawsuit. The song was an unapologetically open and honest emotional centerpiece that revealed a side of Kesha that no one had ever seen before. It signaled a change in control, and a long awaited look into the mind of an artist who the world had once come to know as Ke$ha. Along with removing the dollar sign from her name, this metamorphosis came in the form of her album Rainbow, a 14 track, deeply personal and cathartic story of Kesha’s struggles during her ongoing lawsuit and the hope she channeled to get through it. The album, inspired by Kesha’s “true” musical influences, is a medley of different sounds and genres, ranging from country songs like “Bastards,” upbeat and positive dance tracks such as “Woman” and “Let ‘Em Talk,” to mournful and sincere power ballads like “Rainbow” and “Praying.” Each song is completely different, creating a fully-balanced look into an artist only previously known for dance pop. Upon release, it was clear that Kesha’s Rainbow was something fresh and raw, allowing Kesha to reintroduce herself to the world on her own creative terms. Music critics gave the album universal acclaim upon it’s release. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart in the United States and scored an 81 out of 100 on the website Metacritic, which indicates “Universal Acclaim” based on 27 critical reviews. Numerous critics praised Rainbow as an excellent comeback record, with Rolling Stone calling Kesha “a freshly empowered, fearlessly feminist Top 40 rebel,” and Vanity Fair hailing Rainbow as “a blatant, angry response to the singer’s battle with a legal system that has left her feeling frustrated and trapped as an artist—but also a powerful pop album that earns the anticipation.”

It’s quite an achievement for both Rainbow and “Praying” to get nominated for the Grammys during this awards season. However, the importance of these nominations does not only lie in the popularity of the music, but also in the recognition of the circumstances surrounding the music itself. In a year dominated by high-profile allegations of sexual assault and harassment against senior-level executives and household names such as Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Al Franken, Louie C.K., and others, it is clear that times are changing for America’s most prestigious industries. A shift has been made from denying claims to a period of self-awareness, as more and more women publically come out with their stories of abuse and assault, and use their voice to advocate for female empowerment and feminism in the music and entertainment industries. In a year like this, the Grammy nomination of Kesha’s album Rainbow serves as positive recognition of and support for both her harrowing story (and stories just like it) and equality in creative control. It also is a reminder that even with small victories in addressing the issue of sexual assault and harassment in the music and entertainment industries, we must keep pushing for changes in American culture itself. Rainbow is both an anthem of defiance, as seen in Kesha’s fearlessness and fortitude during her lawsuit, and an anthem of hope in bright colors because we can all experience a rainbow, even after the greatest of storms.

 

Images: 1 / 2