Kesha’s ‘High Road’ is “pure, debaucherous joy”.

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RCA Records, Kemosabe Records

The cover of Kesha's fourth studio album, ‘High Road’.

Mason Montano, Music Editor

A staple artist of the late 2000s and early 2010s, American singer-songwriter Kesha was known for her nihilistic style and image that was characterized by heavily autotuned rap-sung vocals; simplistic electro pop beats; and raunchy, carefree lyrics pertaining to sex, drugs, and partying.

She initially debuted as “Ke$ha” in January 2009 when she appeared on American rapper and singer Flo Rida’s hit single “Right Round” before making her solo debut that August with her smash-hit single, “Tik Tok” — topping the charts in over 11 countries and peaking at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for nine consecutive weeks.

Her debut album, Animal, was released in January 2010, and both it and its companion EP, Cannibal, which followed in November of that year, were met with massive success, solidifying her place in the mainstream pop world, however, after the release of her sophomore album, Warrior, in November 2012, Kesha’s career was halted by a series of conflicts in her personal life. 

In March 2014, it was revealed that she had spent two months in a rehab facility recovering from an eating disorder, and that October, she sued her former producer; American producer and songwriter Lukasz Gottwald (professionally known as “Dr. Luke”); for physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that had occurred over their 10 years of working together. 

Their still on-going legal battle received widespread media attention, with massive support for Kesha generating on social media and spawning the #freekesha and #boycottdrluke hashtags, and up until early 2016, she was unable to release any new music due to a New York Supreme Court justice’s egregious ruling against her request to be released from her contract with Kemosabe Records — Dr. Luke’s label — thus keeping her under his control. (Disgusting).

Kesha would eventually make her first high-profile public appearance since the start of the lawsuit at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April 2016 during Russian-German producer and DJ Zedd’s set, where she performed a new version of his song “True Colors”. The studio version was released later that month and was not only her first release in three years, but her first since dropping the “$” in her name, separating herself from the past in favor of a fresh start.

Her official comeback single, “Praying”, arrived in July 2017. The powerful piano ballad is about finding the strength to forgive someone even though they’ve hurt you in the past, directly referencing her situation with Dr. Luke, and served as the lead single from her third album, Rainbow, which followed in August of that year.

Rainbow was a sonic departure from her previous work, featuring stripped-down production inspired by country and soft rock; raw vocals with no autotune; and deeply personal lyrics that saw Kesha at her most vulnerable. 

The record was her way of taking the power back after having been silenced for so long while addressing the struggles in her personal life with a newfound sound, image, and purpose; however; Kesha would soon return to what she described as “pure, debaucherous joy” with her fourth studio album, High Road

Released in late January, High Road sees Kesha revisiting her pop origins and features a combination of the acoustic production and honest lyricism of Rainbow with the rap-sung verses and raunchy pop beats of her first two albums, creating a delightful hybrid sound that is reflective of her artistic growth, only this time around, the subject matter swaps out sex, drugs, and partying for self-empowerment and self-reflection.

The second single, “My Own Dance”, was the first pop song that she wrote for the record and serves as a rebuttal to her critics during the Rainbow era, who panned its drastically different direction in comparison to her previous work, but the track also acts as a reclamation of her old sound, with Kesha asserting that she’ll go back to making pop music but only if she can do it her way and on her own terms.

Other throwback-y songs like the lead single, “Raising Hell” with American singer and rapper Big Freedia; the title track; and “Kinky” remind us of why we fell in love with Kesha in the first place over 10 years ago with their catchy hooks and outrageous lyrics. 

The latter is a promiscuous bop about sexual freedom that’s especially worth noting due to the fact that “Ke$ha” is credited as the featured artist, signifying a reconciliation with her past persona.

But High Road isn’t all party anthems, and its tender moments can be found toward the record’s middle and end with acoustic ballads like “Cowboy Blues” and “Father Daughter Dance” — two intimate tracks that describe situations from Kesha’s private life. 

The former tells the story of the one that got away, specifically a cowboy from a dive bar in Nashville, Tennessee, and on the latter, Kesha opens up about her childhood, describing a broken household with an absent father — something that she’s never really discussed in her music before, at least not in this much detail.

While High Road, as a whole, doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s touching moments like these that show that even though Kesha will always be the number one party girl, she’s far from one note and has truly evolved as an artist.

High Road is available now across all online and streaming platforms.

Stream High Road on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/4HZ195qaMlhiKebUtF36ni?si=xoYpKknOSO6hNXs7ECz6-Q 

Watch the music video for “My Own Dance”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOpYSB3mAWc 

Kesha in the music video for “My Own Dance”.