In the week since the release of Kesha’s first single in four years, “Praying”, much has already been written about the track. This time around, there seems to be less of a focus on the music itself, and more about its placement in social culture and its political positioning. It’s not just a single, it’s a reflection of a very monumental moment in time. It’s safe to say we are enduring an extremely uncomfortable era with our current social climate. Massive displays of bravery performed by influential individuals are becoming fewer and far between. Showing vulnerability almost seems to be passé, and maybe that’s exactly why the world is listening when Kesha steps up to the plate.
It’s no surprise that I’ve been a Kesha fan since day one. Long before the court trial, the hiatus, and the metamorphosis from pop star to social crusader, the dollar sign-donning singer was always a favourite of mine. I even wore glitter and feathers to see a couple of her arena shows back in the day, and during a breakup I identified with her kiss off mentality that seemed to be just as relatable as it was empowering. I had no idea back then that the same person who sang “Party At A Rich Dude’s House” would go on to inspire me in a much more meaningful way years later with her courage and bravery. Kesha’s impact is undeniable, not just to me but to many others.
When she released a statement and ended up in a subsequent court trial against her former producer back in 2014, I remember a really frustrating conversation I had with a colleague that I respected. When the Kesha topic came up, he asked me “Yeah, well why should we believe her? There’s no proof.” I ended up writing about my thoughts for a university publication. The truth is I care deeply about this topic not just because I’m a fan of Kesha the artist, but I care in solidarity as a friend, brother, son, colleague, co-worker, and ally of many women who have lived to tell similar stories of abuse, rape, and mistreatment. On an even more intimate and personal level, I stand by Kesha as a survivor of rape on a personal level as a survivor myself.
Last week, Spotify notified me that Kesha had released a new track called “Praying”. I stopped in my tracks, pressed play, and closed my eyes as I rode to work. I had been waiting for this moment for years, wondering what she would do next. The connection I have with this song is powerful. Back in my 20s, Kesha’s party tunes soundtracked my fun, wild years of going out and being frivolous. With this new demeanor, I almost feel like she and I have grown together.
I listened intently, and then replayed it countless times for the rest of the day. I sent the song to everyone I could think of, posted it on social media, and cried when I saw the moving, powerful music video. I knew “Praying” would become much bigger than a ‘new single’, and that Kesha the artist would finally be seen as something more than what she’d been presented as publicly during previous album cycles. I’m happy for her in this new chapter that she can live so authentically, and support and inspire so many others who are suffering and struggling through similar personal narratives.
“Praying” represents a milestone not just for Kesha, but also for survivors everywhere. It’s poignant in the blatant face of mass misogyny. It’s defiant and steadfast in a really meaningful way due to the stance Kesha took in writing the song and the way she presented it. It’s evident from even the first line that this song is her way of processing and dealing with the painful trauma and subsequent personal toil she’s lived through, but she’s not taking anyone down with the track. In fact, she’s using the opportunity to pull herself back up and wish the person who hurt her the most. That’s an incredibly difficult, but impressive, stance to take. In a way, it’s almost the anti-kiss off, and she looks that much more bad ass for going this route.
In her Lenny Letter, printed the same day “Praying” was released, Kesha wrote “This song is about coming to feel empathy for someone else even if they hurt you or scare you. It’s a song about learning to be proud of the person you are even during low moments when you feel alone. It’s also about hoping everyone, even someone who hurt you, can heal.” Interestingly, Kesha chose to not write a diss track or a do the ‘obvious’ choice that might occur to many other individuals, to villainize someone who hurt you, or sing about being hurt or looking for pity.
When you look at her past work, it’s even more enlightening that Kesha chose this angle. This is the same artist who famously took ex boyfriends down a peg by singing personal digs against them, who has now elevated herself by focusing inwards and taking this opportunity to look within for peace and comfort. “Praying” is poignant because of its unflappable stance. It is in her vulnerability that Kesha is strong. It’s a juxtaposition that only makes sense after knowing her story and then listening to the song. For those of us who have lived through similar events, it’s startlingly real, refreshing, and relieving.
There is no right or wrong way to process surviving rape and abuse. However, Kesha’s response is certainly an example of exemplifying an inspiring, determined attitude. She is an impactful and influential individual, and has chosen to use her clout for social justice. Previously Kesha made huge impacts with LGBTQ rights and animal activism, and she continues in that territory with the headstrong bravery she has demonstrated through her personal life and now her body of work as well.
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), someone is sexually assaulted in the USA alone every 98 seconds. RAINN also reports that one in six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. Most of us have at least six women in our lives that are important to us. Statistically, at least one important person in all of our lives has unfortunately had to endure some form of rape or abuse. This is an issue that hasn’t gone away but continues to grow and get uglier because of our negligence towards it.
When I was raped, I didn’t tell anyone for a very long time. I didn’t want anyone to know because I was ashamed of what I happened. The first person I told didn’t believe me. “You’re a 6’2” man,” he told me. “How is that even possible?” For me, the real pain in the physical experience I lived through was terrible but was nothing compared to the subsequent effects it took on my life. I couldn’t sleep for a long time, I began shutting out loved ones, I lost the ability to focus, and had a really hard time trusting people in general. I didn’t know where to turn or who to trust, and became so isolated and insular in a really unhealthy cycle.
As Kesha wrote in her Lenny Letter, “It is in these moments when even the most cynical among us are forced to turn to something other than ourselves — we turn to prayer, or something like it. You look past your shame, past your desire to hide, and admit you need help.” We all find solace in different ways. For me, I came to a low point where I knew my life was not sustainable in its current state. At these critical breaking points, we either begin to climb out of the trenches or it’s all over. I’m grateful that in my case, I had the will and the resources to pull myself out. I’m happy to see Kesha do that now too, in such an impactful and influential manner.
Taking a horrible situation and finding rebirth with the empowered yet selfless stance. Forgiveness is a big deal, but finding inner peace after survival is monumental. It’s awful people endure this pain, but the more we talk about this issue, the better off we all are for it.