To say these past few years have been difficult for Kesha would be an understatement. Her allegations of emotional abuse and sexual assault against longtime collaborator Dr. Luke were dismissed in court, and it seemed as if her music career had been laid to rest. Kesha comes back swinging on Rainbow, but it’s clear that she’s a changed woman — for starters, the infamous dollar sign in her name is no longer. Ke$ha, the raucous party girl with only drugs and sex on her mind, has evolved into a woman unafraid to bear her scars and share her story.
Sonically, Rainbow mirrors this change in moniker as Kesha swaps out heavy synths and auto-tune in favor of live instrumentation and raw vocal cuts. This is immediately evident on the folksy opening track, “Bastards,” in which, backed only by a guitar, she croons softly before exploding into a euphoric “Hey Jude”-esque chant. Some songs, like “Hunt You Down,” embrace country elements with arms wide open, while others stay solidly in her typical pop domain, creating an almost chaotic assortment of musical stylings. While this genre-bending may seem gimmicky, like a vie for authenticity realized by straying away from “shallow” electronic music, Kesha pulls it off with sincerity and tremendous heart. In fact, she does it so convincingly that tracks in her more conventional electronic wheelhouse, like the laid-back “Hymn,” sound incongruous. As a pop song “Hymn” works just fine, but it’s quickly lost in the experimentation and novelty of the rest of Rainbow.
On songs like “Learn to Let Go” and the orchestral title track, Kesha weaves powerful themes of hope and endurance into grand pop tunes. On the latter in particular, her emotional grit shines through as she begs the listener to “put those colors on” and “paint the world.” Imperative phrases like these recur throughout the lyrics of Rainbow. By telling the listener to stay strong and to push through Kesha is reaffirming that message to herself. What she creates is an impressively honest account of a sexual assault survivor’s road to recovery that is destined to empower many others.
Still, the “old” Kesha’s fingerprints are all over Rainbow: tracks like “Woman” and “Let ’Em Talk” are just as carefree as the hits from her dollar sign days, with heavy beats and huge choruses that beg you to shout along. These songs are still impactful — they play into the larger theme of self-love and empowerment by emphasizing joy as part of the healing process. Kesha sounds just as natural and heartfelt on these songs as she does on the rest of the album, proving that her different facets, old and new, aren’t mutually exclusive.
This album, after all, feels very much like an exercise in healing, in moving on but never forgetting. Though musically it is slightly disjointed and by no means perfect, the album is tied together by Kesha’s indisputable spirit and conviction. Ultimately, there is no “old” or “new” Kesha — there’s just the Kesha that has been presented before us, the image that’s made it past boardrooms and focus groups. By allowing us to see this new side of her, Kesha has crafted an album that’s at once gripping and liberating. On Rainbow, Kesha fights to be heard and consequently amplifies the voices of other survivors and marginalized people in her own free-spirited way. That this album even exists is a testament to Kesha’s emotional fortitude; that it works so well is a testament to her far underrated artistry.