Given that she's spent the past three years embroiled in lawsuits surrounding her producer's emotional, sexual, verbal, and physical abuse, and likely even longer subject to that harassment, it's not exactly surprising that Kesha's first song in four years begins with a voiceover that asks: "Am I dead? Or is this one of those dreams, those horrible dreams that seem like they last forever?"
But "Praying," Kesha's new single and accompanying video released on Thursday, still has a semblance of the old, ever glittery and neon pop star: She's still wearing blue lipstick and surrounded by technicolor tones as she's pictured in a coffin in the video—though the scenery gets much bleaker as she adds "Please just let me die. Being alive hurts too much," cuing the piano music to start up.
The lyrics that follow seem to unequivocally address Dr. Luke, from verses that say "you put me through hell" to "you said that I was done" to "when I'm finished, they won't even know your name." They're messages that Kesha detailed further, also on Thursday morning, with an essay in Lenny Letter which never addresses Luke by name, but makes it clear the song is about her recent "feelings of severe hopelessness and depression," which have been accompanied by sleeplessness and night terrors—as well as inspiration for her upcoming record. "I dragged myself out of bed and took my emotions to the studio and made art out of them," Kesha wrote. "And I have never been happier with a body of work as I am with this record."
The essay also elaborates on her feelings on god, who's referenced throughout the song, and particularly in the introductory voiceover, where Kesha—who also happens to be an ordained minister—asks: "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?" (In Lenny Letter, she makes it clear that to her, "God is not a bearded man sitting in the clouds or a judgmental, homophobic tyrant waiting to send everyone to eternal damnation," but rather "nature and space and energy and the universe.")
Lenny Letter's cofounder, Lena Dunham, has used the platform to defend Kesha before, and last year introduced the singer when she performed a Bob Dylan cover with Ben Folds last year, after legal issues forced her to cancel her performance at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards. Dunham is hardly the only celebrity who's stood by Kesha throughout the last few years: Everyone from Taylor Swift to Lady Gaga to Adele have also been vocal about their support for the "Free Kesha" movement.
Not that everyone has spoken out without consequences: Dr. Luke has filed two defamation suits accusing Kesha's mother, Pebe Sebert, of libel over the last few years after she gave interviews detailing her take on her daughter's alleged sexual assault. Now, though, it's Sebert's turn to clap back: Rainbow, Kesha's album out on August 11, features some of Sebert's songwriting, as well as contributions from Folds, Eagles of Death Metal, and Dolly Parton.
"Praying" is the first single off Rainbow, and Kesha cowrote it with Ryan Lewis, most known for his work with Macklemore, instead of Dr. Luke. However, Luke's Kemosabe Records, which she's been with since 2005, was still involved and may even profit from the song—even though Sony cut its contract short with the label in April of this year. And while it truly doesn't seem like Kesha and Luke will ever pair up again, the singer does seem to be feeling a hint of forgiveness—or at least pity. Her essay takes care to point out that "Praying" is also about "coming to feel empathy for someone else even if they hurt you or scare you."
"If you feel like someone has wronged you, get rid of that hate, because it will just create more negativity," she continued. "One thing that has brought me great relief is praying for those people." In other words, she's praying for you, Dr. Luke.
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