Since 2014, Kesha has been stuck in a long legal battle with former producer and manager Dr Luke (AKA Lukas Gottwald) after she sued him for charges including sexual assault, surreptitiously administering date-rape drugs and emotional manipulation, which he has denied.
The complicated cases (dismissed in California, ongoing in New York City) have effectively prevented Kesha from releasing new music, until now. On 11 August, the 30-year-old pop star will follow 2012’s Warrior with her third album, Rainbow, through Sony/RCA (the parent company of Gottwald’s Kemosabe Records imprint, which he is no longer head of).
Praying is its first single, co-written with Australian artist Ben Abraham (known for his work with Sara Bareilles) and Macklemore associate Ryan Lewis. She accompanied its release today with an essay for Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter, in which she explains the ways in which she “channeled my feelings of severe hopelessness and depression” overcame obstacles, and “found strength in myself even when it felt out of reach.”Video: Praying, from Kesha’s new album Rainbow
Ahead of the track’s release, Kesha hosted an intimate press playback of her new material in a London club. The ongoing case prevents her from discussing any specifics, but Praying’s lyrics are an obvious rebuke to Gottwald, and an account of how Kesha turned her pain into strength. “I’ve never been more excited about a piece of art I’ve ever done in my entire life,” she said of the song. “This is truly from the inside of my guts.”
Introducing four more songs from Rainbow, Kesha explained that the material expressed more vulnerability than anything in her catalogue. (She claims she had little creative control on the two albums she made with Gottwald.) “I’ve never been in touch with a huge part of who I am and who I’ve become,” she told the audience, before regaining her composure. “There was a very long, long, long period of time where I was not sure if I was ever going to be able to put out music again, and that’s all I’d ever wanted to do since I could remember being a person, so when I couldn’t, that was really difficult.”Kesha leaves LA for Europe last week. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock
She continued: “And how I dealt with that was, I dragged my body into my car, and I had my saint of an assistant drive me, or I’d drive myself the days I felt up to it, for about an hour and a half in traffic to a tiny little studio, and I would pour my fucking guts out, and I would lay on the ground and look at the sky and just weep, or laugh, or whatever it was – whatever the feeling of the day was. And that is how I made it through the past four years. That – and with the support of my fans.”
Kesha chose the title Rainbow because “the shitstorm’s over –and this is the beginning of the good stuff.” Sony/RCA has not publicised the arrangement that has allowed Kesha to release music again, though her new material makes plain the emotional impact of her ordeal. Inspired by Pet Sounds – and featuring grand orchestral arrangements from Ben Folds – the title track was written while Kesha was in rehabilitation for an eating disorder (that she claims was a symptom of the alleged abuse). “I wrote this for myself,” she said. “’Cause I was in a really sad, lonely, dark place … I remember sitting on the floor, not knowing what to do with all my emotions, and the only thing I knew what to do was write a song. And this song was like a promise letter to myself that we were gonna make it.”
She introduced Bastards, a country-tinged song recalling the straight-talking Kacey Musgraves, as a song about bullies. The remaining tracks restored the high energy with which Kesha made her name. Woman, a raunchy smackdown featuring horns from the Dap Kings, was written in response to Donald Trump’s “grab ’em by the pussy” remarks. “I was screaming in my car about being a motherfucking woman, out the window, pumping gas, screaming,” she recalled. “I think people were like, she’s fucking crazy, but I was trying not to forget the melody!” (During recording, she got locked in a vocal booth “and almost suffocated to death,” she laughed. “I had to get drilled out and pulled through a window.”)
Throughout the evening, Kesha paid tribute to the fans who have sustained her throughout this period. Two songs felt like specific tributes to them, and to other victims of abuse. An old friend who experienced a “beyond fucked up” childhood inspired Learn to Let Go, a euphoric song co-written with her mother (whom Gottwald has sued for defamation). She dedicated the low-slung Hymn for the Hymnless to fellow outsiders, and explained the importance of having light-hearted material on the record. “Even though I’ve gone through some dark times, that side of my heart is still so light, and I feel like the most important thing I’ve learned is that I wanna hold on to the most childlike part of my heart. That’s the most beautiful side.”
Press album playbacks are usually sterile, awkward affairs. The artists aren’t usually present, though when they are, things can feel even more awkward – prior to releasing 1989, Taylor Swift played songs from her iPhone to a room of seated journalists and acted out the lyrics. But Kesha’s presentation on Tuesday night felt uncontrived and genuinely moving. Her relief and gratitude at finally being allowed to work again were palpable. “Sorry for being emotional,” she said at one point. Then she thought again. “But I’m not actually sorry. ’Cause that’s what this record is about – being vulnerable. This is what I am.”