We Need to Talk About Kesha and Girl Power

She's back and better than ever. After a long hiatus from solo recording due to legal battles with her former producer, Kesha has returned in a big way, releasing some of the best music of her career in celebration of her forthcoming third album, Rainbow (released August 11th). Rainbow's two promotional singles, "Praying" and "Woman," mark not only a creative rebirth for the singer/songwriter, but they also represent a larger trend of female empowerment for this year's pop music.

Kesha released "Praying" as the first song for this new creative era, and it is an impeccable choice. On the surface, the tune is a somber ballad about heartbreak, but the track gets more and more complex as it progresses. It does not cater to a victimization narrative--woe is me, someone hurt me--but rather positions Kesha as the bigger person who has been hurt, but realizes that healing comes from channeling anger into forgiveness. She builds on this idea with themes of independence ("I had to learn to fight for myself / and we both know the truth I could tell") to such expert effect, that the song's crescendo in the last minute (that whistle tone!) is easily one of the best pop music moments this year.

Though Kesha is in a self reflective state of mind, that does not mean she disowns her past as pop's party girl. In recent interviews, she owns each state of her career, and this is an important message for young women, who are often told to reject their hedonistic glory days in fear of being labeled "nasty women." Kesha has no time for this heteronormative misogynist rhetoric on Rainbow's second single, "Woman," which matures her party girl image from the 20-something who brushes her teeth with a bottle of Jack to an independent woman who doesn't need a man to foot the bill for her good time. Just like on "Praying," the Kesha we hear on "Woman" is a powerful creature who can take care of herself.

Of course, Kesha is not releasing music in a vacuum. Perhaps because of our heightened political and social climate, her peers are working with similar ideas. Katy Perry's Witness works as an interesting counterbalance to what we've heard of Kesha's Rainbow. While Kesha's new "woke" period is marked by a more organic sound, Perry has bolstered her messages of strength with a wall of icy electropop. Take her latest single, "Swish Swish." Like much of Witness, it's aggressive and muscular. It's also easy to dismiss the song as a dis of another pop star, but the song's growing audience belies something deeper and more interesting. When you listen to the tune alongside the political awareness of "Chained to the Rhythm," you can also hear "Swish Swish" as a glitter-drenched display of female power. Just like on Kesha's "Woman," the Perry on "Swish Swish" does not need a man to pick up the tab; she can fight her own battles.

We could go on and on about the empowered pop of this era. For example, we haven't discussed Leann Rhimes' pro LGBTQIA messages in "Love is Love is Love" from her under-appreciated new album Remnants, Lorde's ode to lesbian love with Melodrama, Miley Cyrus' hippie politics on "Malibu" and "Inspired," or Betty Who's sexually empowered The Valley. All of these strong, interesting, and creative women are showing listeners how to stand up and be themselves. Kesha has joined this growing narrative, and we are blesssed.

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