Seven years ago, I met Kesha outside the MTV studios in London and promptly burst into tears. She wrapped me up in a strong hug, and didn't even seem to flinch at my embarrassing teenage meltdown. Even now, I'm actually surprised that seeing Kesha in person was so emotional for me that day; I had already been to her Myspace Secret Show in February 2010, where my face was practically shoved into her vagina by the mosh pit's tussle while I severely panicked that the drawing pins I'd used to create a $ sign on my homemade shirt would stab me—ah yes, it was the best of times, it was the glitteriest of times.
Like most other teens in late 2009, I had been getting gracefully shitfaced at several house parties to the over-the-top synth of "TiK ToK" and the remainder of the trashy pop gems on her debut album Animal. I went in a bit deeper than a lot of my mates, though; I'd made the executive decision to skip school so I could go out and buy Animal first thing on it's early January release day, and I was now known to everybody as "Ha$an." I played Kesha literally on repeat—her album taking the coveted spot as my Top Played Artist on Last.fm—but for some reason, I never grew sick and tired of it, even as the years went on.
While Kesha and I haven't exactly gone down the same paths professionally (I am still waiting for the inevitable moment when I become an international pop diva), our personal lives may have run along similar lines. Kesha has allegedly suffered abuse at the hands of somebody she thought she could trust, and so have I. Behind the number one hits of her albums Animal, Cannibal and Warrior, she has alleged in a civil suit—dismissed by a judge in 2016—that she was sexually abused by her long-time producer, Dr Luke. Kesha wrote in her recent Lenny Letter personal essay that she has also been battling severe depression and eating disorders. I have done the same. I was raped. "I can only pray to one day feel happiness again," Kesha bleakly sighed last August, after yet another court hearing.
And so seven years later, Kesha has got me bursting into tears again with her first comeback single "Praying." The track knocks into your chest in that way powerful, relatable anthems tend to, and it's everything and nothing like what she has done before. It still sparkles with the staple of every great Kesha track: an evocative chorus you can shout along to while punching your arms in the air. Except this time, those fluff lyrics about being a dirty drunken mess covered in glitter and brushing your teeth with a bottle of Jack have been traded in for brutally honest confessions; " You brought the flames and you put me through hell / I had to learn how to fight for myself."
With its sweeping strings, hammering pianos and a gloriously uplifting, gospel-dipped chorus, "Praying" is the dark intimacy of curling your legs up on the floor while leaning into your close friends in someone's living room near sunrise during the hours after the pounding electro of Animal's club. Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, the most effective description of "Praying" comes from Kesha herself. She defined it as "that moment when the sun starts peeking through the darkest storm clouds, creating the most beautiful rainbow"—which might sound cheesy or obvious written down, but it's that exact imagery which immediately springs to mind.
As a survivor of abuse, "Praying" does the most amazing job of encapsulating all of those ups, downs and jutting angles of the healing process. It's a song that rises from somewhere near your gut, a place that can so often burn and fizzle with the bile of self-loathing. It bubbles from the blood that balloons out of yet another self-harm wound. It secretes itself like the sweat that prickles along the back of your neck when another wave of anxiety hits. Most of all, it comes from your tears, and from those cherished days of bravery, where you don't feel repulsive to the world and you're glad you woke up alive. It's undeniable that "Praying" really is every fiber of Kesha's being—you can hear that shine through in the sheer anger of her vocal delivery ("Well, you were wrong, and now the best is yet to come!").
About Rainbow, the upcoming album from which "Praying" has emerged as lead single, Kesha had this to say: "On this record, I'm just telling the truth about my life. This album is me." Of course, the "I'm an authentic storyteller" selling point is a contrived message that every single pop star has trotted out before—Bangerz-era Miley, what's good? These record labels are frequently trying to sell us utter garbage by promising authenticity (see: Britney Jean).
But in a world where Miley Cyrus is given awards for wearing black culture as a costume to later set aside and hang up in her wardrobe, and where Katy Perry's idea of "purposeful pop" blinks with all the entry-level naivety laid bare by her 72-hour livestreamed emotional marathon to promote recent album Witness, "Praying" doesn't feel like artificially constructed laboratory pop. In light of Kesha's story, it feels like the most sincere pop by a major label recording artist I've heard in years. "I have never been happier with a body of work as I am with this record," she wrote, in her Lenny letter.
Kesha has kept the authenticity flowing with "Woman," the cool and ballsy sister of "Praying" who can ring up the legendary Dap-Kings for a quick feature. Similarly to "Praying," "Woman" is still peppered with those heavy declarations of inner strength ("I run this shit, baby / I run this shit"). But she's also serving this message in the sassy, carefree-but-not-actually-carefree sounding style her other super-fans knew and loved Kesha for during her days as "Ke$ha." Sure, on the surface, the track could be mistaken for another empty radio pop track, but to me, I feel like "Woman" is actually Kesha's way of giving us the much-needed strategy guide to how to stitch those badges of power, worth, and sexiness back on to yourself after you're done 'praying'—just three of the countless qualities stripped from you after abuse.
What resonates with me the most about both of these songs are what they stand for. Bravery. Triumph. Overcoming. Being a survivor. They're songs that lift you out of whatever shit you're in. I am proud of Kesha for fighting for her beliefs, and the right to share her side of the story. Unlike Kesha, I have not yet found what she "had thought was an unobtainable place of peace"… but "Praying" gives me the hope that one of these days, I will.
You can find Hasan on Twitter.
If you are a survivor or abuse and in need of support or someone to talk to, please click here for a list of helplines in the UK within the Survivors Trust network, or call the RAINN national helpline free in the US on 800-656-4673.