Music

Kesha's new album Rainbow is a victory in itself amid a bitter legal conflict

The fact of Rainbow being released at all, against the backdrop of Kesha's punishing and still unresolved court battle with Dr Luke, is a powerful statement

Last time I saw Kesha – then styled Ke$ha – performing live at the T in the Park festival in 2011 she was a perfect mess of ripped jeans and glitter who, at one point, was inexplicably joined on stage by a man dressed as a giant penis. A wilfully trashy and provocative electro-pop singer best known at the time for Tik Tok – her relentlessly annoying and relentlessly successful song about partying hard and brushing her teeth with Jack Daniels – nobody was looking to the young Californian in search of anything particularly profound back then, just a lot of good dumb fun.

Quite a lot has changed since, as she’s become embroiled in a drawn-out, complex, punishing and still unresolved legal battle with her former producer Dr Luke. It’s raised worrying questions about the ways women continue to be treated in the music industry.

In 2014 Kesha filed a lawsuit against Dr Luke – a multimillion-selling writer-producer for the likes of Pink, Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson and others – alleging that he had sexually, verbally, physically and emotionally abused her across a long, controlling and apparently very ambiguous professional relationship. Dr Luke in turn countersued for defamation, claiming Kesha was trying to deviously extricate herself from her contract with his Sony label Kemosabe Records. The courts have thus far found in Dr Luke’s favour. But the court of public and celebrity opinion seems to see differently, after watching Kesha carry herself throughout this ordeal with guts, tenacity and integrity, in the face of a system that’s appeared to be stacked against her.

Women across the industry clearly recognise the kind of mistreatment which Kesha is alleging, and see her cause as a rallying cry.

Everyone from Lady Gaga to Ariana Grande, Lily Allen, Lorde and Haim have voiced support for Kesha on social media. Lena Dunham wrote an article expressing solidarity, Adele shouted her out while collecting a Brit Award and Taylor Swift reportedly donated $250,000 towards her legal costs. Women across the industry clearly recognise the kind of mistreatment – by a powerful man against a female artist – which Kesha is alleging, and see her cause as a rallying cry.

It’s with all that weighing on her mind that Kesha returns with her new album Rainbow, and in a mood to vent. “Don’t let the bastards get you down, don’t let the assholes wear you out!” she rages on the matter-of-factually titled acoustic opener Bastards.

Woman is a sweary celebration of female empowerment – “I run my shit baby” she spits with Beyoncé-ian sass, over an ersatz Motown beat. On lights-dimming power ballad Praying she promises “the best is yet to come”.

It’s never been easy as a critic to get behind Kesha’s music, and it would be patronising to start now – Rainbow isn’t up to much, truth be told. But the simple fact of it being made and released at all under the circumstances, at the same time as Kesha has made a return to performing live with the angrily titled Fuck the World Tour, is a powerful feminist statement.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to note that Kemosabe Records is no longer run by Dr Luke, Sony having quietly – and perhaps tellingly – distanced themselves from him. If he wants it, there’s at least always good work going for a man prepared to dress as a giant penis.

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