“You’re the party girl, you’re the tragedy / But the funny thing is I’m f—ing everything” Kesha screams on “My Own Dance,” the third track off her newest album, High Road. Kesha, one of pop’s shining stars throughout the past decade, has opened 2020 trying to answer the question that every fan wants to know—without all the glitter eye makeup and scandal, who is Kesha?
On High Road, Kesha settles on a voice that feels the most uniquely her own. Released early in her career, albums Animal (2010), Cannibal (2010), and Warrior (2012) gave us classics such as “TiK ToK,” “Your Love Is My Drug,” “Die Young,” and “We R Who We R.” As popular as these songs were and still are, Kesha (or rather, Ke$ha) was a caricature of a pop singer, getting into trouble and singing about wild nights.
This public party-girl persona followed Kesha until 2014, when she filed a lawsuit against her producer Dr. Luke, accusing him of sexual assault and gender-based hate crimes. Kesha was out of the spotlight for years, fighting in court. In 2016, a judge dismissed Kesha’s claims against Dr. Luke, but celebrities including Taylor Swift still rallied around the singer.
Shortly following the ordeal, Kesha released her fourth album in 2017, Rainbow, on which she tried to reconcile the experiences she had been through over the past few years.
But finally, on High Road, Kesha seems to have found herself. The 16-track album is a celebration of love and self-acceptance, interspersing past mistakes and hardships with Kesha’s distinct fun-loving dance bangers.
The track “Tonight” starts off the album, beginning with slow piano chords that build to a ballad. The reflection and drama don’t last long, however, as a booming bass helps transition “Tonight” into a full-fledged pop jam, with a droning voice repeating, “Bitch, we going out tonight.” The track embodies Kesha’s new musical direction, moving from Rainbow’s soul-searching to joyful, spunky fluff.
Even though Kesha’s learning to love herself on the album, she’s no saint. Kesha treats this album as an ode to the haters, cussing them out as she goes along. Her newfound morality of self-love doesn’t come from perfection, she admits on “Father Daughter Dance” that “I really just don’t know how to love, how to trust,” but she still sticks to it.
High Road’s biggest draw is its creativity. Kesha has never been one to shy away from unique sounds or lyrics, and this album does it well. On “Birthday Suit,” Kesha sings suggestive, flirty lyrics over a melody that sounds like a video game from a retro arcade.
“Raising Hell,” a single released ahead of the album’s release, features Big Freedia, famous for popularizing the bounce genre of Louisiana hip-hop. Kesha and Big Freedia play off a classic gospel choir and sing, “Only God can judge this holy mess / Bitch, I’m blessed.”
On “Kinky,” Kesha sings alongside “Ke$ha,” her previous stage name from her first three albums. The song is an obvious but inventive way for Kesha to embrace her past on this new record while still proving to listeners that she’s changed for the better.
Kesha also jumps on the country pop bandwagon with High Road, following in the footsteps of Kacey Musgraves, Lil Nas X, Halsey, and others with her tracks “Cowboy Blues” and “Resentment,” the latter featuring Sturgill Simpson, Brian Wilson, and her good friend Wrabel. Although the new style is very much out of the ordinary for the pop singer, Kesha’s vocal tone and honest yet silly lyrics bring an interesting dynamic to these country songs.
In fact, “Cowboy Blues” is Kesha at her best. She sings over a simple acoustic guitar, “Do you ever lie in bed with your three cats / And get obsessed with some boy you met / One time, three years ago in Nashville?”
Although every song on the record doesn’t pack the same punch, High Road is a success for Kesha as she learns how to talk about fun and wild memories without losing her authenticity or vulnerability. High Road is irreverent, warm, and creative—radiant with Kesha’s newfound self-love. Marrying the two narratives of her past musical career, High Road is a triumphant return to Kesha’s party pop past with a healthy dose of introspection and an affirmed sense of self.
Featured Image by RCA Records