Kesha Makes a Powerful Return with “Praying,” But Is the Vid Problematic?

Good thing she took the dollar sign out of her name because this song is priceless

Ishani Nath

After an almost four-year hiatus—and a devastating legal battle against mega producer Dr. Luke—Kesha has returned to the music industry with her new single “Praying” and a new outlook on life.

The new single, the first off her upcoming Rainbow album, is a far cry from the singer who would “wake up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy.” Instead, Kesha uses her struggles to create a powerful pop ballad that directly addresses what she’s been through.

“I have channeled my feelings of severe hopelessness and depression, I’ve overcome obstacles, and I have found strength in myself even when it felt out of reach,” Kesha wrote on Lenny Letter. “It’s a song about learning to be proud of the person you are even during low moments when you feel alone. It’s also about hoping everyone, even someone who hurt you, can heal.”

The song begins with a monologue, which also intros Kesha’s candid piece on Lenny Letter, that details the singer’s rock bottom:

Am I dead? Or is this one of those dreams? Those horrible dreams that seem like they last forever? If I am alive, why? If there is a God or whatever, something, somewhere, why have I been abandoned by everyone and everything I’ve ever known? I’ve ever loved? Stranded. What is the lesson? What is the point? God, give me a sign, or I have to give up. I can’t do this anymore. Please just let me die. Being alive hurts too much.

There is no question that the song is largely inspired by Kesha’s lengthy battle against Dr. Luke, in which the singer accused the producer of verbally, emotionally and sexually abusing her for a decade. Kesha first took the producer to court in 2014 in an effort to void her contract and enable her to continue her career elsewhere. In response, Dr. Luke filed to countersue the singer for defamation and breach of contract, sparking a bitter legal battle that kept Kesha out of the recording studio for years.

Fans were quick to applaud the 30-year-old singer for the new anthem of strength, perseverance and forgiveness.

Fans also expressed their excitement that Kesha’s new album, Rainbow, will be released on August 11. However, while the resounding response to the song and its inspirational lyrics was positive, the “Praying” video left some social media users less than pleased. Some pointed out that the text in the five-minute video is modelled after South Asian script and took issue with the third eye painted on her forehead, which is symbol seen in Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism.

“It’s pretty evident that this song is deeply personal for the “Tik Tok” singer, so I’m especially confused by the references to Hinduism and South Asian culture,” says Ashni Mehta, a long-time contributor for Brown Girl Magazine. “While I am truly excited for her first album in 5 years, I have to ask why she was covered in coloured powder and why she made the choice to present her name in a font which clearly alludes to Hindi/Sanskrit writing. Using imagery from a culture she has no ties to only detracts from her message and makes the whole song feel more disingenuous.”

This is not the first time that Kesha has faced accusations of cultural appropriation. In the past, the singer was criticized for wearing headdresses during various performances and in the “Your Love is My Drug” video in addition to Native American jewellery and face paint—however, some experts feel that Kesha’s newest video is not as problematic as those in her past.

“Cultural exchanges often fall into murky waters of what is and isn’t acceptable. Personally, when I saw the video I viewed it more as cultural appreciation than appropriation,” says Meera Solanki Estrada, the founder and editor-in-chief of South Asian magazine Fusia. “I look at the criteria of context, respect and relationship to the culture being borrowed from. Sanskrit is a philosophical language and the theme of praying and reflection including the actual title of the video are contextual and fitting to such scripture being used. I’m also assuming Kesha has that insight and relationship with the culture to understand that, hence she chose it.”

So while her new song “Praying” is evidence that Kesha has clearly gone through a lot and emerged a stronger artist and human being, the video shows that in some ways, she is still the same Kesha.

Related:

What’s the Difference? Cultural Appreciation vs. Appropriation
Miley Cyrus Interview: “I Needed to Change So Much”
Activists’ New Book Humanizes Sexual Assault Victims 

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