If you would have asked what I thought about Kesha a few years or even just a few weeks ago, the image that would have come to my mind was a pop star who parties all night and brushes her teeth with Jack Daniels (which, in case you don’t know her song Tik Tok, is how she described her life). I’d heard about the legal battles with her former manager and felt bad for her based on the little I knew of the situation, but I hadn’t given much consideration to her life outside of music.
That all changed when Kesha released her first single in almost four years and began sharing her story. She wrote about her struggles with an eating disorder and how anxiety and depression made her feel like she had nothing, describing days and months when she didn’t want to get out of bed and had horrible night terrors, unable to feel at peace. Yet somehow dragged herself to the studio every day with the hope of turning her emotions into music.
“I wrote this for myself,” she said. “’Cause I was in a really sad, lonely, dark place … I remember sitting on the floor, not knowing what to do with all my emotions, and the only thing I knew what to do was write a song. And this song was like a promise letter to myself that we were gonna make it.”
“Praying” is an honest and raw song; as my millennial friends would say, it gives you “all the feels.” I try to avoid hyperbole but I honestly can’t think of a song that has blown me away like this song did the first time I heard it. Adele’s “Hello” comes close, but even that incredible song pales in comparison (it’s worth noting that Adele’s video is sepia-toned while Kesha’s is in full color).
Kesha doesn’t use her former manager’s name in the song but some of the lyrics are clearly about him (e.g., “you brought the flames and you put me through hell” and “some say in life you’re gonna get what you give”), but aside from a few fiery lines aimed at an unnamed a–hole, “Praying” is like healing water flowing from a crack outside of a dark cave, slowly building pressure until it breaks open and becomes a beautiful waterfall.
If you have personal experience with mental illness you probably have your own version of Kesha’s story, and hopefully you have (or will soon) learn the wisdom she gained by turning toward something other than herself (in her case, God¹), finding the courage to overcome shame and the desire to hide, admitting your need for help (which she calls prayer²) and discovering that your darkest moments are when you gain the most strength.
Kesha says “Praying” was written “about that moment when the sun starts peeking through the darkest storm clouds, creating the most beautiful rainbow. Once you realize that you will in fact be OK, you want to spread love and healing.” (The title of her new album is Rainbow and it comes out August 11.)
Her hope for the song is that it “reaches people who are in the midst of struggles, to let them know that no matter how bad it seems now, you can get through it. If you have love and truth on your side, you will never be defeated. Don’t give up on yourself.”
That is a message worth sharing and an artist worth supporting, not to mention a song worth listening to…
¹ “God is not a bearded man sitting in the clouds or a judgmental, homophobic tyrant waiting to send everyone to eternal damnation. God is nature and space and energy and the universe. My own interpretation of spirituality isn’t important, because we all have our own.” – Kesha
² “…I have something greater than me as an individual that helps bring me peace. This is one of the reasons why I love swimming way, way out into the middle of the ocean and just letting the sea carry my body. It is my greatest form of surrender to the universe, a full-body prayer — or meditation.” – Kesha
[The quotations above, and most others in this post, are from lennyletter.com]