Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Kesha sheds her party pop persona in favour of Gag Order's higher ambitions

"Gag Order"

Release date: 19 May 2023
Kesha - Gag Order cover
19 May 2023, 20:00 Written by Emma Thimgren

The last decade has been rough on Kesha.

She spent her 20s living hit song to hit song, but after she accused producer Dr Luke of sexual assault in 2014 her career came to a halt. While her claims were dismissed he later countersued for defamation, a case that is still ongoing. Not being able to escape her record deal meant he was still her boss. The next couple of albums were delayed, and when they were finally released you could tell it was a compromise on the truth.

Although her new fifth album is also released under the same record deal, she is more introspective and freer in her expression. Naming the album Gag Order is an obvious proclamation of that, hinting at the lawsuits forcing her into silence. Skirting around the topic she is still able to voice her feelings of being stuck and working through her trauma. “All the doctors and lawyers cut the tongue out of my mouth,” she proclaims on “Fine Line”, no longer smoothing things over.

Kesha credits a spiritual awakening for propelling her into making the new album. It resulted in a cathartic, emotional purge, starting with the album's most catchy song “Eat the Acid”. Although hooky, it’s a far cry from her earlier carefree and gaudy brand of pop. There is nothing quick or straightforward about this raw, electronic project. In interviews she talks about having been caged into a persona of her own making, one she now labels as toxic positivity. Not knowing how to branch out of this armoured caricature the audience had learned to expect, she kept feeding into it. “I can be the soundtrack and the punchline to the story” she sings on the bittersweet “All I Need Is You”. With these revelations in mind, her last two albums make far more sense, as she had one leg in the past and one in the possibility of the future.

Gag Order serves as the afterparty to Kesha's career thus far – the lights have gone out and she’s sobering up, coming to terms with herself. There is no longer the compulsive need for being the entertainer, instead, she invites us to pick apart her darkest thoughts. The music is still ambivalent and rough around the edges. But gratifyingly enough the decision to strip down the songs makes Kesha's skillful songwriting even more evident. There is no need for maximalist productions, her rhythmic phrasing can carry any song.

Producer Rick Rubin even chose to stick with many of the first takes made on her phone, furthering the aspiration of honesty. His contribution of the darker and melancholic undertones in the exquisite, synth-based productions makes space for the lyrics to take centre stage. The roomy and experimental soundscapes offer up unexpected elements that create a true evolution for Kesha, yet he still makes it feel familiar as if this has been her true core all the time.

“I would kill for secrets / All of mine been leaking / I don't got no shame left / Baby, that's my freedom” she concludes on the gospel-inspired “Only Love Can Save Us Now”. Never has Kesha's music felt this inspiringly rich. It has all the potential of once again making her a staple on the music scene, and this time even beyond pop.

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