Thank God Kesha’s New Album Is Actually Good

Kevin Mazur / Getty Images

Kesha performs during the 2017 Firefly Music Festival in June in Dover, Delaware.

It’s impossible to listen to Kesha’s third album, Rainbow, released last Friday, without considering how miserable the last five years of her life have surely been. Since 2013, Kesha has been embroiled in a very public legal battle with her producer Dr. Luke, who signed her to his label, Kemosabe Records, when she was just 18. Kesha sued him for sexual assault, battery, and emotional abuse, among other allegations, and also asked the courts to release her from her contract. They didn’t, so Dr. Luke is still — if only financially — involved in Rainbow, giving the album an added layer of darkness and vibrancy and rage. On “Learn To Let Go,” one of a few songs that seem to directly address her abuse, Kesha sings, “Had a boogieman under my bed / Putting crazy thoughts inside my head / Always whispering, ‘It’s all your fault’ / He was telling me, ‘No, you’re not that strong.’”

The details of Kesha v. Dr. Luke were very public and incredibly bleak. Kesha’s lawsuit alleges that Dr. Luke dosed Kesha with the date rape drug GHB (claiming they were “sober pills”) and raped her in 2005. In 2014, Kesha checked into a rehab facility for an eating disorder, which her mother blamed on Dr. Luke’s influence. “I’ve watched my beautiful, self-confident, brilliant daughter be berated and ridiculed for her looks and weight to the point that she almost died,” she told People. The suit also alleges that Dr. Luke offered to release Kesha from her contract if she retracted her rape allegation.

Kemosabe Records/RCA Records

The Rainbow album cover.

Kesha claims Dr. Luke was violent with her (leading to her running barefoot along the Pacific Coast Highway to get away from him), and that he restricted her creative control over her own music. Even after all this, the courts did not release Kesha from her contract, so — while Dr. Luke is not directly involved in Rainbow, and is no longer the CEO of Kemosabe Records — the contracts she signed with him even before the agreements she made with Sony means he’ll still benefit financially from her work.

So after all this, when Rainbow dropped last week, and it became clear that it was an excellent record, there was a kind of collective sigh of relief. In the days since the album’s release, most reviews have been jubilantly positive; Rolling Stone wrote that “Kesha channels that drama into the best music of her career.” Vulture called Rainbow “a ray of hope and solidarity, and it stays coolly upbeat and confidently shuffling through genres.” Vanity Fair raved that the album is “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.” Even less glowing reviews of Rainbow still tout the record as a hit that Kesha has earned through sheer force of will.

You get to claim Kesha’s victory too, even if — or especially if — you’ve never gotten a win for yourself.

Most people wanted Kesha to have a win for herself after dealing with a long, public, and personal fight with the man whom she claims didn’t just control her career, but her body and her life. But many of Kesha’s listeners — particularly women, queer, and nonbinary people with their own histories of sexual trauma — didn’t just want the album to be great for her sake; we, too, needed it to be great, because wins are so few and far between for victims of abuse in society at large.

On Twitter, the #FreeKesha hashtag is still a hub for fans to remind each other to keep Rainbow on the charts, as well as a place where fans go after other celebrities for ostensibly failing to buy Kesha’s music after supporting her during her trial. Thousands of them signed heartfelt petitions lobbying for her creative freedom from from Dr. Luke. All around, her fans are holding her up as not only a talented vocalist but an advocate for abuse survivors. A lot of people don’t get any solace after trauma, especially sexual trauma, and certainly not any legal or public vindication on a larger scale — which makes Rainbow’s success all that more vital for the members her fanbase with similar pasts. No matter your trauma, you get to claim Kesha’s victory too, even if — or especially if — you’ve never gotten a win for yourself.

KeshaVEVO / Via

A still from the music video for “Tik Tok.”

Kesha has never been a “perfect victim”: Her image has always been one of a woman who liked getting fucked up and going to parties and meeting boys. Her 2009 video for “Tik Tok” starts with her waking up hungover in a stranger’s bathtub, leads to her getting arrested while singing about drinking, and ends with her in another bathtub at another party, missing a shoe. But Kesha’s comments since then have suggested that much of that pop star persona was a marketing strategy encouraged by her management, rather than an artistic choice on her part. “What’s been put out as singles have just perpetuated a particular image that may or may not be accurate,” Kesha told Rolling Stone in 2013. “I don’t want to just continue putting out the same song and becoming a parody myself.”

In the aftermath of the lawsuit’s details becoming public and Dr. Luke’s lawyer calling the suit “a continuation of her bad and offensive acts,” it would have made sense for Rainbow to be a chance to rewrite Kesha’s image entirely. Women who’ve been victimized generally have to be perfect — poised, ladylike, sober — in order for their claims to have public legitimacy. Rainbow, however, balances Kesha’s public images of being both survivor and party girl without relying too heavily on one or the other.

There are plenty of nods in these songs to Kesha’s last five years, her abuse, and her recovery. “Bastards,” “Praying,” and “Learn To Let Go” all feel like direct responses to her abusers and detractors. But saying that this is a record addressed to or about Dr. Luke, specifically, feels reductive; instead, it’s a more nuanced look at how a woman is crawling out from under the label of “victim” without erasing swaths of her personality or character or history. There are a lot of nods to her old shtick, too: “Boots” starts off with her talking about having boys in different cities; “Boogie Feet” is an incredibly fun song about dancing; “Godzilla” is literally about dating Godzilla; and “Hunt You Down” includes Kesha cutely cooing to a love interest: “Don’t make me kill you.”

Kesha made an album where her anguish was just one part of the narrative, instead of the whole story.

Kesha also duets with Dolly Parton on a cover of “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle To You).” The meaning of the song and the duet is incredibly layered: Kesha’s mother, Pebe Sebert, was one of the songwriters of the original version in the late ’70s. But the duet also suggests that Kesha is channeling Parton’s trademark sexy, don’t-give-a-shit attitude, while also getting some support from a woman whom people also once refused to take seriously as an artist. “I wanted to call the album Rainbow because after the storm, there’s a rainbow,” Kesha wrote for Refinery29. “This was my way of telling myself that i was going to make it through. I made the decision to take the dollar sign out of my name. I did away with my cynical self-deprecating ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude and the matching Twitter name @keshasuxx. I let myself be 100% genuine, vulnerable, and honest.”

There’s something joyful about a woman refusing to relegate her art to being solely about her trauma, especially when her trauma is one that demands constant explanation. Sexual assault survivors and women who have been exploited by men are often forced to explain what happened to them over and over in order to get people to believe them. But instead of writing a record dedicated to that explanation, or even to her own grief over being locked in an unwinnable war for the last five years with the very people tasked with developing her career, Kesha made an album where her anguish was just one part of the narrative, instead of the whole story. “This whole album, for me, really is a healing album,” she told NPR. “It’s healing from so many things from my past and just trying to get back to the most childlike, naive, purest version of myself that I can find.”

In this sense, Kesha is much more successful at the “purposeful pop” Katy Perry was trying desperately, and failing, to accomplish with her 2017 album, Witness. For a while, Perry and Kesha had similar public personas, both technicolor party people who made fun pop music about boys and hanging out and dancing. Recently, Perry decided to swerve into more socially conscious music, an attempt to make fun music that had heft. It was not well received, maybe because the “purpose” behind Perry’s work was unclear. For Kesha, we already have a point of reference because her trial was so public, and her desire for personal and creative freedom so clear. Perry livestreamed her therapy sessions for all to watch in some warped attempt to create intimacy, but Kesha doesn’t need to manufacture affinity with her listeners.

Rainbow isn’t perfect. Some songs veer into mawkish expressions of self-confidence and closure, and Kesha still dabbles in cultural appropriation. (The video for “Praying” is rife with Sanskrit-stylized text, and artwork for the single features Kesha wearing a third eye. There’s also something truly unbearable about a white lady singing “Don’t touch my weave,” as Kesha does in the feminist war cry of “Woman.”) Those choices aren’t defensible, but Kesha’s fans are especially prickly about criticism. Rainbow is foremost an album about healing after trauma — and women get so little of that in the world that it’s not surprising people might want to give Kesha a pass on something that would otherwise be picked apart.

The least we wanted for Kesha — and through some transference, for us — was an album that would reestablish her as a force of nature, and stand as proof that someone with bad intentions can’t tear you down all the way. We wanted (and continue to want) something similar for Britney Spears, ever since her very public mental health crisis in the late 2000s. Since then, she’s released three albums which have been considered critically uneven but enthusiastically received by her loyal fanbase. (It’s likely Kesha would’ve been supported by her base regardless of whether Rainbow was any good, but the fact that it is good makes it even easier to celebrate.) Taylor Swift, meanwhile, recently won her countersuit for $1 against a radio DJ whom she claims groped her in 2013. Swift has hardly been a media darling in the last few years, but she’s never had a more sympathetic audience than while fighting against the kind of trespass so many women have experienced before.

We needed the album to be good because we wanted her to win, but we wanted her to win so we could regain some faith ourselves.

That same protectionist sentiment around Kesha might seem overblown, if not for the long history of women having to stand by each other after a sexual assault or a rape or abuse, because the system doesn’t work or because it’s so impossible to be believed or because your history suggests you might have been asking for it. If Rainbow were bad, or even mediocre, it would feel like one more collective trauma. We get so little; it’s such a relief for her — for all of us — to get this one thing. We needed the album to be good because we wanted her to win, but we wanted her to win so we could regain some faith ourselves.

At the beginning of August, Kesha performed “Woman” live at YouTube. Wearing a pink suit with yellow planets adorning the jacket, Kesha sways while holding up two middle fingers and singing, as she puts it, “about being a badass motherfucker.” Near the end, she mock-collapses, trying to keep singing while two men hold her up, wrapping her in a glittering cape. When she sings, “I’m a motherfucking woman,” she pushes them both off and sings her song on her own. The imagery is hardly subtle, but subtlety isn’t really necessary here. The power of this message comes from its directness, and how easy it is for all of us to take a piece of it for ourselves. ●

Olivia Bee / Via Shore Fire Media

Scaachi Koul is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto.

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Kesha Has Tweeted In Support Of Taylor Swift During Her Sexual Assault Trial

Swift originally reported the alleged assault to David Mueller’s employers, who fired him from his job at KYGO radio station. Two years later, Meuller filed a lawsuit against Taylor, seeking up to $3 million in damages, denying that he assaulted her and claiming he was wrongfully fired. She responded by countersuing for $1, alleging sexual assault.

Pop Your Popcorn, Because Mariah Carey's Ex-Choreographer Just Gave A Very Shady Interview

He then explained what he tried to do for Carey, when he was under her employment:

Working with an artist like Mariah, who’s not a mover first, it’s always a challenge to get them to think physically and not just vocally. You always have to keep in mind that they’re a singer first…I wanted to give Mariah a modern push to revamp her, give her a fresher, more modern feel, make her more aware of her body and her lines, and not look like her feet hurt when she’s walking.

Emphasis mine, because damn.

Here's The Story Behind Those Daily Post-It Note Messages Supporting Taylor Swift At Her Trial

Carly Chapple was at her desk early Tuesday when she looked out the second-story window and saw a group of Taylor Swift fans lining up outside the federal courthouse in Denver.

It was the first day of testimony for the case in which Swift says DJ David Mueller groped her butt at a meet-and-greet in 2013 — an allegation Mueller says is false and ruined his career.

Inspired and excited by the commotion across the street, Chapple, who works for the website Craftsy, got to work doing what she knows best — crafting.

“I was here working really early and thought it might be fun to put a sign or something up on the window,” she said. “And I had some Post-its, so I just kind of went with it.”

“FreeTay” was her first creation.

When her co-workers arrived, they endorsed the idea of supporting Swift and encouraged Chapple to keep it going. The messages have since become a daily fixture of the trial as fans line up each morning for a seat inside the courtroom.

Chapple and her co-workers now meet every day to plan their next Post-it message as Swift fans and non-fans alike rally behind the pop star and her message of taking a stand against assault.

“We are just a group of creative women just supporting another creative woman,” Chapple said. “We do love her music, but we are really doing it to support her as a woman and as a creative person.”

Mueller had been suing for up to $3 million, but he was dealt a major setback Friday when a judge threw out his claim against the singer.

Swift, meanwhile, is asking for $1 for her sexual assault claim in what her attorney said is a symbolic gesture to show other women “you can always say no.”

Outside the courtroom on Tuesday, with the “FreeTay” message on full display, 17-year-old Dani Kuta told BuzzFeed News that Swift’s stand in court was more than just about one alleged groping incident.

“Women get sexually assaulted every single day and this is a big deal, it’s common, and the fact that she can fight it with her fame, then I think anyone can,” she said.

On Wednesday, the Post-it message on Craftsy’s second-story window spelled out “Haters r gonna Hate.” On Thursday, “I Knew You Were Trouble.” And on Friday, the employees posted “Fearless” — all of them drawing inspiration from Swift’s library.

Craftsy is keeping mum on what they plan for Monday, when closing arguments in the case are expected to begin. But the employees said they hope the messages contribute to a sense of support and inspiration for Swift.

“We think they are a really strong and powerful messages to send support to her,” Chapple said.

Aaron Carter Asked Chloë Grace Moretz Out On Twitter TWICE And I Feel Weird, No Offense

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So, I’ve gathered you all here today to ask: What do we think about this?

  1. vote

    I hope they date. They’re mad cute!

  2. vote

    No thanks. I’m all set!

  3. vote

    Creep alert!

  4. vote

    She liked him when she was 4. This is weird.

  5. vote

    “Aaron’s Party” is a legit good song.

J Balvin's Fast-Rising “Mi Gente” Takes Aim At US Pop's Language Bias

Rodrigo Varela / Getty Images

A little more than a year ago, J Balvin, the 32-year-old Colombian reggaeton superstar, set out to prove that a new generation of Latin music could be as big and accessible as anything produced by its neighbors to the north. He followed the example of American hitmakers, some of whom had commissioned him to infuse their songs with secret sauce, and turned the tables — hiring US pop impresario Pharrell Williams to coproduce, write, and sing for him in Spanish. Their collaboration, the slick and swaggering “Safari,” didn’t realize Balvin’s ambition of breaking through the English-language barrier that can be a glass ceiling for foreign pop stars. But now he’s back with a new song, and a new strategy, that just might crack it.

Mi Gente,” Balvin’s recent hit with French DJ and electronic producer Willy William, has quickly become one of the most popular songs in the world. It’s the first fully Spanish song to top Spotify’s Global Top 50 chart, dethroning another Latin export — Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito (Remix)” — which features an English verse from Justin Bieber. “Mi Gente” was released just over a month ago, but it’s already the biggest crossover hit of Balvin’s career, currently perched at No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbing. It has over 340 million views on YouTube, and on Shazam’s global songs chart — an up-to-the-moment barometer of consumer interest — it’s spent over a week at No. 1.

“It’s crazy, and the fact that it’s in Spanish from beginning to end is even better,” Balvin told BuzzFeed News. “Numbers don’t lie.”

“Mi Gente,” which translates to “My People,” is as much a diplomatic mission as it is a pop song. Its lyrics pose a dauntless overture to the broadest possible cohort — a paean to open bars and open borders, a nativist’s nightmare. Balvin spends the song’s entirety narrating the world’s least pretentious party. “Mi música no discrimina a nadie,” he sings in the first verse, Spanish for “My music discriminates against nobody.”

Following his experience with “Safari,” Balvin recalibrated. Rather than cast himself as the equal of his contemporaries in US pop and hip-hop, he would leapfrog them, leveraging the borderless nature of streaming services to take his vision for Latin music to new horizons. Watching the recent surge in popularity of dancehall-derived rhythmic pop, and the persistence of EDM — a genre in which lyrics are often secondary — he saw an opening for reggaeton to reassert itself.

“As Latinos, I still see a lot of people in this industry that think, Ah yeah, it’s Latino, so it’s not a big deal,” Balvin told BuzzFeed News. “But we are a big deal. Check it out: We are making the global music right now.”

“I still see a lot of people in this industry that think, ‘Ah yeah, it’s Latino, so it’s not a big deal.”

In William, the French DJ and producer, Balvin found the perfect confederate. “Mi Gente” is essentially a remake of William’s “Voodoo Song,” released in March, which consists mainly of a boom-cha-boom-cha dancehall beat and a prominent vocal loop that’s been digitally transmogrified to sound like a snake charmer’s flute. When a mutual friend sent Balvin the track in January, he was immediately drawn to it and saw collaborating with William as a win-win: The two could expose each other to new audiences and new markets, but neither had a built-in advantage in the English-speaking world. If the song became a hit in the US, or other countries where Latin music isn’t dominant, people would be forced to recognize the category’s inherent power.

This spring, Balvin and William met in Miami to write and record, a process that William described to BuzzFeed News — in broken English — as answering the question “How do we make it more bigger — more international?”

“He brought his vibe, I brought mine; he helped me write some Spanish lyrics, and I helped him with some melodies,” William continued. “It’s really difficult for a French guy [alone] to break into the US market, but [“Mi Gente”] is a French guy singing in Spanish, and a Colombian guy on a big dance track, and together we’re on the US charts.”

The Media Nanny

Willy William.

It’s too early to say how high the song will climb. “Mi Gente” has recently been added to dozens of Top 40 radio stations — a critical step toward mainstream ubiquity — where its lack of an English vocal could translate to long odds. “Despacito,” this summer’s other crossover Spanish smash, didn’t reach the stratosphere until pop radio threw its weight behind the English-friendly Bieber remix. The only fully Spanish song to ever top Billboard’s singles chart was Los Lobos’ cover of “La Bamba” almost exactly three decades ago.

Rob Thomas, programming director at the Top 40 station i101 KSKR in Roseburg, Oregon, is one DJ who is pulling for “Mi Gente,” even though he says he doesn’t “understand what the heck they’re saying.” In Roseburg, an hour outside of Eugene, Thomas says Top 40 listeners are typically slow to embrace unfamiliar sounds. But “Mi Gente” is off to a strong start. “I think ‘Despacito’ really reopened that door for a lot of people,” he said. “It was kind of like, ‘Hey, we’re here; we’ve got good songs too.’”

That’s music to Balvin’s ears.

“Daddy Yankee and Fonsi created new roads,” he said. “And now we created another new road. And then there will be another one. And, god willing, the Spanish [music scene] is going to become global — really global.”

He was buoyed by the thought, which put him in mind of his own formative experiences with foreign-sounding music. “When I was a kid, I used to listen to Tupac, and Biggie, and all these rappers,” he said. “I didn’t know what they were saying, but I was feeling it.”

Reggie Ugwu is a features writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

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23 Throwback Pictures From The Early Days Of Hip-Hop

In metropolitan centers like New York City and London, a new style of music and fashion was brewing among youth in the late 1970s and ’80s. Inspired by the creative and freestyle attitude of graffiti and breakdancing, these bold expressions laid the cultural foundation for years to come. These pictures capture some of the styles, trends, and iconic moments from the early days of hip-hop.

A Man At A Metallica Concert Peed On A Family During A Show In Arizona

A New Mexico man was arrested for disorderly conduct and indecent exposure after a 10-year-old girl and her parents said he urinated on them during a Metallica concert.

The concertgoers were attending Friday’s gig at the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Arizona, when Daniel Francis Daddio, 44, from Albuquerque, allegedly urinated on the family, whose seats were in front of his, around 9 p.m.

The family is unnamed in court documents, but quotes from the father’s statement to Arizona state troopers describe the moment when “all three of his family members felt warm liquid washing over their backs and legs.”

When the dad turned around to see where the liquid came from, “he observed Daniel Francis Daddio standing behind them in the row of seats just above theirs with his penis out of his pants and in his hands… Daddio was urinating on all three of his family members,” the documents state.

The horrified father told authorities he “confronted Daddio concerning the urination on his 10-year-old daughter, at which time Daddio just shrugged.”

After the parents notified stadium employees of the incident, two Arizona state troopers arrived to investigate.

“Two troopers responded and they contacted the wife and daughter. Minutes later, the two witnesses pointed out a man walking out of stands into concessions area and informed troopers he was the man who urinated on them,” Bart Graves, a public information officer for the state troopers, told BuzzFeed News.

Daddio was arrested at 9.30 p.m. He was “heavily intoxicated at the time of his arrest” and denied the incident occurred, according to court documents.

Troopers found a ticket for the Metallica concert in his possession that confirmed his seat was located directly behind the family.

Daddio could not be reached for comment. He appeared for his initial arraignment in the superior court of Maricopa County on Aug. 5.

It’s unknown if the incident occurred during a performance of One, with its lyric often misheard as “tied to machines that make me pee.”