Throughout history, women have been expected to hide their emotions. They aren’t supposed to be publicly heartbroken or disgusted, and they definitely should never express when they’re angry. In men, anger is seen as a normal emotion, but for women, it’s a sign of mental or hormonal imbalance. It’s unladylike and it’s not polite.
Kesha has a lot to be angry about, and she’s not hiding her emotions or backing down on her vicious new album Gag Order, which was released this past Friday.
For anyone who has been following Kesha’s life for the past decade, it’s obvious what the title Gag Order refers to. The singer has been in a contentious legal battle with her former producer Dr. Luke since 2014, in which she alleged the producer sexually assaulted her, and sued him for the alleged assault, battery, sexual harassment, gender violence, emotional abuse and violation of California business practices. For years, the singer has been trying to get out of her contract with Kemosabe Records, which is owned by Dr. Luke, to no avail. It’s worth mentioning that Gag Order as well as all of Kesha’s releases since filing the lawsuit, have been on Kemosabe Records.
Since filing the lawsuit, and opening up about her alleged assault, Kesha has undergone a transformation. Dropping the dollar sign from her name, releasing less “party” music, and more brutally honest songs like 2017’s “Praying,” off of her first release since the lawsuit, Rainbow, in which the singer expresses hope that both she and her abuser can heal.
But Kesha’s releases since 2017 have mostly been hopeful, focusing on moving forward despite hardships and ultimately finding a sense of peace. That’s not the case on Gag Order. On the new album, Kesha’s rightfully pissed off, and she doesn’t hide it away with cute lyrics
“I’ve been hiding my anger, but bitch look at me now,” Kesha exclaims on “Fine Line,” one of the most furious and self-referential tracks off of her new album, exposing a raw, angry and thrilling side to herself.
This album sees the singer at a transformation point, wanting to break free of the images that have surrounded her throughout her career, that of a party queen and the other of a determined, strong champion of justice, as she sings “Don’t fuckin’ call me a fighter, don’t fuckin’ call me a joke,” on “Fine Line.”
The album isn’t pure brutality, it’s still brimming with hopefulness and positivity, but the pain that the singer’s experienced isn’t glossed over, either, including on the opening track, “Something to Believe In.” The album opener is a hypnotic, electronic, repetitive track that sees the pop star sing about her life crumbling down, essentially, in the lyrics “I sit and watch the pieces fall, I don’t know who I am at all.”
The song works as an effective opening track for the album, both musically and thematically. It features a slowly-building cacophony of synths, and a constant drum beat, as well as the constant repeating lyric, “You never know that you need something to believe in when you know it all. You never know that you need something to believe in.”
The song seamlessly blends into “Eat the Acid,” the album’s lead single, which is one of the supremely interesting album’s highest points.
“Eat the Acid” explores religious themes, when Kesha sings about talking to God, and sings “I searched for answers all my life. Dead in the dark, I saw the light. I am the one that I’ve been fighting the whole time. Hate has no place in the divine.” This isn’t the first time Kesha’s tackled religion, although it’s typically been through a relatively non-religious lens, most notably in the song “Hymn” off of Rainbow, in which she sings “This is a hymn for the hymnless, kids with no religion. Yeah, we keep on sinning, yeah, we keep on singing.”
Instead, “Eat the Acid” sees the singer at her most spiritual, showcasing a more ethereal side to Kesha. The song references a spiritual awakening that the singer had during the COVID-19 pandemic, and also centers around her experience taking LSD and doing transcendental meditation. The song features autotuned vocals over a building otherworldly synth track, creating a soporific mood that echoes the singer’s mindset as she wrote it.
On the acoustic album closer “Happy,” shows that even through all of her rage, there is still a forward-looking Kesha, as the pop star sings “And I refuse to be jaded, still painting rainbows all over my face.”
While the singer’s two releases prior to this, Rainbow and High Road both tackled dark topics, there’s still a bit of levity throughout both releases. On the other hand, “Gag Order” sees Kesha exposing her most brutal and dark emotions.
The tonal shift between Kesha’s previous work and Gag Order might be jarring to some fans, who recall the star’s heyday singing about waking up hungover after a raucous party, and her “crazy beautiful life.” Gag Order is a dark look at a traumatized woman. But it should also inspire fans. Despite Kesha’s trauma, she’s still fighting for a bit of hope, and she’s finally reached a point in her career where she can be herself—whether it’s fun, happy, distraught, joyous, or just really pissed off, and whatever other emotion she wants to express.
Gag Order is out now.
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