Monday, July 24th, 2017

Kesha – Praying

We’ve got the number one slot ready for her…


Leah Isobel: “I hope you’re somewhere/praying” is one of the most perfectly manicured fuck-yous I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard — and written, and thought, and sung — a lot. (He deserves them.) The music nods at large-scale drama but, rather than letting the drum and piano echo into space, the thuds stay close to the ear, like Kesha’s singing to her own heartbeat. (I’m still alive.) She fakes forgiveness but knows that, ultimately, it’s not hers to give. (Do I want to forgive him?) I can’t imagine how humiliating these past few years have been for her, to have a such a profoundly horrifying experience made public knowledge; I can’t express how happy I am that she pulled through, stayed herself, and seems more enthusiastic about life than ever. I missed her. (I once knew someone who probably hated her music, and probably would hate this song too. I hope he’s somewhere praying.)

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Praying” begins with a lie that was spoken to Kesha. What follows, though, is multiple truths. Truths about the pain inflicted upon her (“You brought the flames and you put me through hell”), truths about her struggle to overcome (“I had to learn how to fight for myself”), and truths about her self-worth (“You said that I was done/well you were wrong and now the best is yet to come”). The second verse features a particularly beautiful line: “When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name.” That’s a reality Kesha believes in not because of private details she’ll divulge to the world but because of a confidence in self and the art she’ll create. “Praying” is a huge middle finger to her perpetrator, make no mistake, but everything always points towards Kesha and how strong she is. In the chorus, her decision to be forgiving becomes clear, and we’re forced to recognize the peace she’s come to know. In showing this grace, she unburdens herself and is positioned above her transgressor. As a result, she comes out the undeniable victor. For those who have been abused, there is hope. And Kesha will be the first to tell you that that’s an irrefutable, certain truth.

Mo Kim: I didn’t so much cut ties with the Christian church as I drifted away over time, leaving behind a sea of small miseries too heavy to float over. The pastor who preached peace with one hand and wielded a belt with the other. The retreat where sneering youth leaders baptized their unwilling siblings in rundown pools. The room of worshipers nodding vigorously to a man who wanted to cleanse the earth of fags like me. What can I say? It’s not always one event we salvage out of our unspoken histories, never just one moment at which we learned how much pain a person can inflict on us. And maybe that’s the frustrating thing about trauma: that it slips out of your hands the moment you try to name it, even as it worms into our being in ways that transcend its details on paper. I wonder how much of Kesha’s story we will never know; how much of what she endured at the hands of Dr. Luke has been lost in the shuffle of testimonies and court statements. But I listen to “Praying,” and the music says everything that words cannot. I lose myself the way I once wished I could in worship, in soaring piano lines and drums that sync themselves to my pulse and vocals so sharp I fear they’ll leave chapel wood splinters in my fingers. These sensations feel grounded not only in what Kesha has survived, but also what she has salvaged, building a holy place that can bear the weight of both her pain and her strength. And even as I cannot claim either as my own, I still find myself on the floor every time this plays, knees bruised, hands clasped together. 

Hannah Jocelyn: I’ll talk about the note first; a shout into the insurmountably toxic void, the climax of a harrowing vocal performance that nonetheless feels fully in control, refusing to truly be angry. It’s the song in miniature, which never becomes a kiss-off and remains empathetic despite everything that’s happened to her. Indeed, “Praying” is not just about forgiveness, it’s about the perhaps vain hope that she can forgive at all. The F6 is empowering, symbolically taking back control over her own voice, but it is also despairing. As Kesha says herself right before, “some things, only God can forgive.” On the production side of things, Ryan Lewis properly uses the power that usually just propels Macklemore’s indulgences, wisely choosing to accentuate the already clear dynamics of the song instead of going over the top. There’s the way the drums come in without so much as a warning swell, the haunting counter-melody in the bridge, and the vocal distortion when Kesha finally belts on “the best is yet to come.” It’s not Ryan’s song though; he’s only there to accentuate Kesha’s intensity. 

Alfred Soto: In a singer less powerful and committed than Kesha, the piano melody would send me under the covers. In any other song than “Praying,” I wouldn’t give a shit about autobiographical details.

William John: Release a ballad promoting empowerment and the need to remember one’s worth, include some big notes, and set yourself for the throngs of pale imitators on music reality television. That’s the conventional narrative. But courtrooms have availed us of specifics in this case, and in such context, “Praying” carries with it so much more catharsis, so much more voltage than other songs of similar denomination. There’s also an unusual contrast between the go-for-broke-ness of the F6, the way the drum thuds enter with all the momentum of an avalanche, the rasp and ferocity of “they won’t even know your name!!!”, and the unexpected chivalry of wishing nothing but the best for that person who has wronged you. One would think that sentiment would undercut the song’s clout; that the message should be “fuck it all and go to hell,” and that’s the end of it. But “Praying”‘s potency is all the more extraordinary for its positing of the perpetrator as the true repository of shame and humiliation. “Praying” is evidently personal and critical to Kesha’s own healing, but if that scream is enough to allow one victim of abuse to realise that their internalised shame is their perpetrator’s cross to bear, and not their own, then the song has served its purpose.

Alex Clifton: I first heard this song at 8:45 on a Thursday morning; I wept openly in my cubicle. I can’t actually listen to this song without crying. This is a song that’s more than Just a Song: it’s emblematic of Kesha’s entire fight with Dr. Luke, and it shows her finally able to control her life again. It’s soaring, glorious, chilling. It’s exactly what she needed to put out, and it’s perfect.

Stephen Eisermann: I have a hard time listening to this song. The rawness in Kesha’s voice, the honesty in the lyrics, the piano melody, and the choral backing make for an atomic bomb in music form. Every time this song comes on I hear a new vocal tic or I hear a lyric differently, and every time I just want to sit with, cry with, and hug Kesha. Here she both takes on her assailant (fuck you, Dr. Luke) head on and with restraint; she is both vengeful and forgiving, or at least she’s trying to be the latter. Best of all, though, is Kesha’s decision to sing her truth. None of this is “pretty,” “beautiful,” or “inspiring;” no, instead, Kesha gives us the ugly truth of rebuilding yourself after relentless sexual abuse. I haven’t ever suffered from it, but I always struggle with hearing songs about bouncing back from serious issues like Kesha’s — it feels as though in an effort to be inspiring, most songs ends up trivializing major issues. Picking up the pieces in the aftermath of such abuse isn’t easy, and it’s about damn time someone plainly said so in a song about one of the worst things that can happen to any human being.

Will Adams: The choir and the big drums and the strings and the triple-forte piano chords don’t mean shit — all the force comes from Kesha herself. Growing steadily from simmering to explosive, her resolve while staring a monster in the face remains intact. No matter any of the song’s weaknesses; this is a triumph.

Edward Okulicz: This track is such a sensational strategic coup, a flat-out fuck you to her abuser that he has no hope of responding to without losing the battle, that it’s beside the point whether it’s a great pop song for anyone else. I find it vocally impressive, emotionally vivid, and extremely believable, but also something of a chore to listen to, and the preying type may not be the praying type. But it’s not me who needs to hear this song. I can only applaud Kesha for grabbing the upper hand in her fight in such brilliant, brutal fashion. May her detractors be tarred and feathered and her album be stuffed with bangers.

Micha Cavaseno: The inherent wrath of Kesha’s last few years makes the strengths of the ballad undiminishable and its weaknesses forgivable. The tragic note is that all of her talent in show as a weapon is now a trapping of redemption. Many will look at the early material in a light of disgust given its tragic associations with Dr. Luke, ignoring that the only way it had succeeded in the first place was her talents. “Praying” ends up discarding humor and a certain kind of visual excess in order to become someone who can be given the respect she’s always deserved. All the same, it’s not her fault that people need the most obvious of metaphors for how hard she’s struggled.

Katie Gill: The most common refrain you hear about Kesha is people not realizing she can sing. Someone’ll pull up a video of her performing “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and the comments are inevitably something along the lines of “this is the ‘Tik Tok’ girl?” With “Praying,” Kesha firmly puts those doubts to rest. It’s an amazing single that straight-up yanks on your heart, especially when you consider the real world struggles that poor Kesha’s had to go through in the past few years. Everybody’ll talk about that amazingly high note after the bridge or how Kesha pushes her voice to new heights and strong, powerful levels, but the soft moments in “Praying” are just as touching. That brief moment at the start of the second verse where she sings “I’m proud of who I am” makes my heart flutter every time. Welcome back, Kesha. We’ve really, really missed you.

Reader average: [7.36] (58 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

13 Responses to “Kesha – Praying”

  1. couldn’t get my thoughts in order in time (I actually couldn’t, I was at a show and then remembered I had like 45 minutes of transcription due this morning) but:

    – there is a narrative forming, inevitably, that what Kesha escaped was not abuse but electro-pop, that in the minds of more people than would admit it, “Tik Tok” was as much of a sin as anything else Dr. Luke did. Which should be fucking insulting to survivors, artists and art, but the idea is that entrenched.

    So in songwriterland, redemption sounds like staid piano ballads, the Legit Artist returning from Prodigal Popland, via a presumably-simpatico acoustic producer. (The fictional versions of these redemption stories — and there are a lot — usually have the artist going it alone as a singer-songwriter; the industry versions in press releases and whatnot often lean on the producer, for obvious reasons.)

    This one is a bit harder to dismiss than most because from all indications Kesha hated at least some of the music she was making before — “Die Young,” at least. but that music, and how completely and fully she inhabited it, meant a lot to a lot of people (and a LOT of marginalized people), who generally weren’t the ones worshiping her Bob Dylan cover at the expense of everything else. And whether Kesha buys into all this or not, she’s clearly leaning into the narrative — you have to, if not in court then certainly the court of opinion.

    – given the fact that Kesha had to fight, a lot, to get producers, I hesitate to say this, but the production on this is… not great, particularly the treatment of her vocals in the beginning, the mechanical song-assembly stuff. obviously Kesha more than compensates, it’s just that Ryan Lewis is bad. (the Dap-Kings song is a million times better. And also an effective fuck-you, both in the song and in getting to work with *them*, leaping into Amy Winehouse/Sharon Jones territory, instead of tossing out some crap by, I don’t know, Savan Kotecha.)

    this is a lot of words for what’s basically Maxwell’s blurb

  2. I overrated this — it’s at best a 6 now, largely reliant on Kesha’s performance.

  3. SO much beautiful writing here <3

  4. yeah katherine’s comment is pretty on the money. there’s certainly a kind of respectability politics involved in all this.

    and just as, as katherine put it, this song is kesha (perhaps out of necessity) ‘leaning into the narrative’, it’s hard not to see y’all ranking this #1 as buying into it as well…

  5. I mean, that implies that I don’t also think Kesha’s other stuff is great, which I do. But yeah, I understand and agree with what Katherine and Maxwell said too.

  6. er, ambiguous phrasing there but you know what I meant

  7. The tragedy here is that “they won’t even know your name” is a doomed threat. You’ve mentioned his name enough times for that to be very clear. The context here is inescapable and so the song’s success will always be in doubt, but that’s his fault. Do people really love this song for itself or are they just “buying into the narrative”? I’m not 100% sure either, and the respectability politics of electro-pop vs piano ballads surely doesn’t help clearing anything up. But the narrative is powerful here in a way it just wasn’t with Zedd’s True Colors, and I believe that’s because Praying is genuinely great song. Even if it can’t escape the context, it transforms it into something beautiful.
    Also, everyone who scored it highly justified it in their blurbs, and I don’t see anyone here saying anything about her overcoming her shameful pop past. Implying Kesha somehow doesn’t deserve the recognition she got only puts her further into the narrative that the horrible abuse she went through trapped her in. (Although, to be clear, I don’t think that’s what Katherine and Maxwell are doing.)

  8. yeah I should have been more clear that would have been what my *blurb* would have said

  9. you guys know exactly who and where you are.

  10. if this is a threat it’s a weird-ass one

  11. I feel like end result is so powerful that it makes poptimist genre wars feel inconsequential. Her other songs she’s released from Rainbow show that she’s not lost her pop sensibilities and former musical personality, too.

  12. omg I’m a human man in Los Angeles what does it mean????

  13. Don’t threaten me with a happy ending.