By Sean Hannah (@Shun_Handsome)
“Am I dead or is this one of those dreams, those horrible dreams?” asks Kesha at the beginning of the video for Praying, her first single since 2013’s Crazy Kids. As she bemoans her existence and questions her faith lying afloat the decrepit remains of a dinghy in an Ingmar Bergmanian moment of introspection, she entreats for death. “Being alive hurts too much.”
Kesha Rose Sebert’s legal strife has been highly publicized (yet only sporadically discussed) over the past few years, with journalists and fellow artists almost unanimously siding with her over much-maligned producer Dr. Luke. In light of her allegations of his sexual and emotional abuse, it’s impossible not to read Praying as a response to the tribulations Sebert has incurred since the lawsuit’s inception in late 2014. But the track isn’t a gesture of submission and wound-licking, it’s a song of survival and resilience. This is Kesha’s Lust for Life.
The singer’s supplication for her life to end is a necessary valley; only at her nadir can she summon the strength to “fight for [her]self” and attain inner peace. As such, we see Kesha taking the high road here. While she can be caustic toward Dr. Luke (“When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name”), her overall message is one of forgiveness: “I hope your soul is changing, changing/ I hope you find your peace.”
Praying is a marked departure from her previous singles. Eschewing former themes of prurience and hedonism, Kesha displays a seldom seen openness in the form of a sobering, contemplative ballad. Stentorianly sung over dour piano chords, Kesha’s affirmations may border clichéd at times (“some things only God can forgive”), but they never lose their cogency. This has always been a talent of Sebert’s—her ability to convey a particular sentiment or construct a specific scene in her music often allows for the inclusion of well-worn turns of phrase, but never to detrimental effect.
Per the iridescent text at the end of the music video, Praying is a new beginning for Kesha, a second act following the years-long adversity pervading her professional life. Whether it was out of maturity or catharsis (or both) that the song was written, Kesha effectively distances herself from a pernicious past without indulging in needless self-pity or petty invective against her adversary. If the last three years have been “one of those horrible dreams,” then Praying is Kesha’s much-needed awakening.