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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

RedFestDXB 2018: Kesha opens up about putting the past behind her

US pop-star Kesha talks to us about her personal album Rainbow and its themes of forgiveness and mental health

Kesha. Photo by Olivia Bee
Kesha. Photo by Olivia Bee

RedFestDXB is a case of unfinished business for Kesha. The American pop star, who will close the festival on Friday, was meant to headline there in 2014, but was forced to pull out – to be replaced by British singer Jessie J – after checking into a facility for treatment for an eating disorder and anxiety.

What wasn’t known at the time was that, according to a court case filed the same year, this followed a long period in which the singer alleged that she had experienced abuse at the hands of her pop producer Dr Luke. (He denied the allegations and subsequently counter-sued.)

Kesha is now putting one of the modern music’s industry’s most acrimonious court cases behind her – but first, she had to let some things off her chest.

With Dr Luke – the man behind Tik Tok and her guest turn on Pitbull hit Timber – no longer manning the desk, Kesha’s third album is wildly divergent from the formulaic pop of previous releases.

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Her love for rock and country music is displayed within the 14 songs that make up Rainbow. That musical honesty is more than matched with Kesha’s visceral lyrics, which directly deal with the scourge of mental illness and recovery from trauma. With such weighty subject matter, the 30-year-old admits she had no expectations on how the album would be received.

“Every day, I just wanted to go in and write something that felt honest, and I thought less about the audience than I have in the past,” Kesha says. “I always want to make my fans happy, but this album was different in that I really just wanted to write something from my soul – for myself – and not really think about what the world would think about it after it was done.”

As it turned out, the public and the music industry had a lot to say. In addition to the critical plaudits and two Grammy nominations, Rainbow has firmly entrenched itself as part of the #MeToo movement and continued a much needed public conversation about mental health.

In the album title track, a tender piano ballad, Kesha is consoling as she advises: “You gotta learn to let go, put the past behind you/Trust me, I know, the ghosts will try to find you.”

In pop highlight Learn to Let Go, Kesha arrives to the sounds of tribal drums with the revelation that she has: “Been a prisoner of the past/Had a bitterness when I looked back/Was telling everyone it’s not that bad/’Til it hit the fan”

The lyrics are not an exercise in naval gazing, Kesha cautions. Instead, by being up front about her faults, she hopes others will be inspired to discuss their own struggles.

“I decided to be brutally honest on this album, and part of my journey was the fact that I was dealing with some intense anxiety and an eating disorder,” she says. “Mental health is a very serious thing that affects so many people around the world in our modern age, and I think that we should all try to get rid of the stigma around talking about it.

“If you are dealing with something, the best thing you can do is talk about it and ask for help. If I hadn’t decided to work on myself, I may not be here right now. Asking for help is the bravest and strongest thing you can do, and there are lots of people and places that can help you.”

But there are some things that you can only do alone. In album centrepiece, the gospel-tinged Praying, Kesha details the struggle in forgiving others and herself. It is easy to look at the declaration – “And I don’t need you, I found a strength I’ve never known/I’ll bring thunder, I’ll bring rain/When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name” – a stinging attack on Dr Luke. Instead, she says the track is as much about conquering secret fears within.

Praying is such an important song for me,” she says. “It’s a song about redemption, about never giving up on yourself, and forgiving those who have hurt you. As someone who has been at some really low places in the last few years, writing and recording this song was such a therapeutic process.”

Kesha performs at RedFestDXB on Friday at 10pm at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. Doors open at 6pm with the first act on at 6.30pm. For more information and tickets, visit www.redfestdxb.com

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