MUSIC

Kesha's "High Road" Is a Beautiful Mess

Kesha enlists Brian Wilson, Sturgill Simpson, and old Ke$ha to create a sometimes jarring portrait of herself, past, present, and future.

Kesha's fourth album High Road begins with a near-perfect hook.

"Tonight is the best night of our lives," she sings over an ear-worm of a chord progression, voice awashed in auto-tune. Suddenly the music stops. "B*tch, pick up your phone," a voice says. "We're going out."

It's jarring, tongue-in cheek, and a bit messy, like the rest of High Road. Kesha's always toyed with the limits of pop, balancing kitsch and genuineness, and true to form, High Road ricochets back and forth between pristine euphoria and camp, between childlike wonder and jaded ennui.

On "Shadow," Kesha flips between reflectiveness and crudeness. "Imma love you even though you hate me," she sings. "Hate is the poison, love's the elixir. If you don't like me you can suck my…." Her voice spirals into a choir of eerily beautiful harmonies, perhaps one of the more elegant arrangements that the phrase "you can suck my" has ever been spun into.

Maybe the contrast is the point. Kesha is an artist, but her medium is pop music's cliches and reliable symbolism. She pulls from other stars, sometimes copying Cardi B's flow, arguably adopting a bit of a blaccent in songs like "Honey." The transition from "Honey" to "Cowboy Blues," an ethereal, deeply beautiful acoustic number that mentions cats and talks with therapists and tarot cards, is also startling. At times, walking through High Road can feel like traveling through a bunch of different sets in Hollywood—a party, then a bedroom scene, then a desert under the stars. It's hard not to think of Lil Nas X's kaleidoscopic rendition of "Old Town Road" at this year's Grammys; Kesha's album feels like a similarly endless rotation through a carousel of lights and sounds.

Hovering over High Road is the well-known story of Kesha's past. Her fraught relationship with Dr. Luke dominated the headlines for months, exploding after Kesha accused him of abuse that nearly ended her life and attempted to free herself of her contract with him. The case dragged on and on, and when Kesha was finally able to break the chains, what followed was 2017's Rainbow, crowned by the breathtaking power ballad "Praying."

High Road finds Kesha borrowing from the ragged seriousness of that era, choosing to blend it with the glittery, vodka-soaked, gold-tooth fragments of her past and adding a sprinkle of openhearted optimism. Some of the album is so saccharine and manufactured that it's hard to listen to—the calliope-influenced, "Potato Song" could soundtrack mind-bendingly annoying TikToks—but it redeems itself with moments of beauty that feel like deep breaths. Similarly, the cosmic folky flashpoint "Chasing Thunder" is an inspiring power ballad which offers more scope than the glitchy cliches of the earlier bangers, but it winds up losing some of its power as it progresses instead of building to a truly satisfying chorus.

Few albums contain such an even mix of beauty and stupidity, of ugliness and effervescence. Kesha pulls it off with a wink, taking the high road and shrugging off the heaviest parts of the suffering that weighed over her for the past decade while not denying their existence. She practices self-confidence, but at the same time, she searches for unreliable men as if they could save her—an absent father and a man she briefly met at a Nashville bar both represent paths towards redemption and innocence that went untaken. Now all she has is herself and her scars, and she both celebrates them and mourns what could've been.

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Maybe that's what we need nowadays—a movement towards optimism that doesn't disavow pain and suffering. Maybe we should be like Kesha on High Road, embracing the fact that none of us are just one thing; we're all collages of shallowness, mistakes, triumphs, Netflix binges, wild parties, best friends, transcendent experiences, days spent in bed, heartache, daddy issues, anxiety, clarity, and everything in between.

Kesha certainly thinks so. "You can be a woman who goes out and you party, and you have drinks … and you smoke some weed, and then you get a tattoo," she said to The Atlantic. "And then the next day you go for a run, and then you meditate, and then you go to the studio and write a song about a totally different emotion. That's just what being human is."

MUSIC

A Decade of Kesha: The Pop Star We Don't Deserve

The singer's debut album Animal is ten years old this week.

In 2008, an unknown singer by the name of Kesha Sebert was summoned to sing the brief female hook for what would become a No. 1 hit.

This song was called "Right Round" by Flo Rida, and it topped the charts for six consecutive weeks. Kesha—comically stylized as Ke$ha at the time—was uncredited on the track in the U.S., and critics denounced it for its hokey sample and crass sexual innuendos. But her success wasn't hindered; she swiftly landed a record deal with RCA after "Right Round" dropped, at last given the foundation she deserved to pump out a No. 1 hit (or three) of her own.

Flo Rida - Right Round (feat. Ke$ha) [US Version] (Official Video) www.youtube.com

Prior to her collaboration with Flo Rida, Kesha had already been hustling for quite a while. She spent seven years writing over 200 songs that'd eventually be whittled down for her debut album, Animal, which turned ten years old this week. Before "Right Round," she'd been heavily active in the pop music sphere, working on songs with Britney Spears and appearing in the music video for her friend Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl." And songwriting was in Kesha's DNA: Her mom, Pebe Sebert, wrote Joe Sun's "Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You" in the '70s, which would be covered by Dolly Parton and become a hit. With the release of her breakout single, "Tik Tok," a new patron saint of partying had arrived.

Kesha came up with the idea for "Tik Tok" after half-drunkenly stumbling home from a night out. Her living situation at the time was a house in L.A.'s Laurel Canyon, where she crashed with a constantly-rotating cast of bohemian roommates. "I woke up one day after we went to a party, and I was surrounded by ten of the most beautiful women you've ever seen," she told Esquire of "Tik Tok"'s conception. Which is to say: She woke up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy.

YouTube www.youtube.com

These themes of shameless partying permeated Animal to the point that some critics and naysayers deemed her inauthentic, crude, and unsophisticated. But even while covered in glitter during her live performances, there was an endearing, welcoming quality to Kesha; she grew up poor and proved that you didn't have to be flush with cash to have a glamorous night. She flaunted her self-described "garbage can chic" aesthetic, taking the bus to the bar and smuggling in liquor to avoid steep drink prices.

But glitter, alcohol, and boys aside, Kesha knew from the beginning that she wanted to serve as a symbol of liberation for her young female listeners. "For girls, I think [Animal is] an empowering record," she told Seventeen. "It's funny, it's cheeky. I think people need to have fun with whatever they're doing—makeup, their clothes, music, live shows—anything you don't need to take too seriously, don't take too seriously." During her concerts, she'd don a backpack confetti cannon, and she refused to wear high heels because she couldn't safely dance in them.

Kesha stood for the girls who didn't give a f--k and lived as they please. That's why it was especially horrifying when news broke in 2014 that Kesha had sued her longtime producer, Dr. Luke, for sexual assault and battery, sexual harassment, gender violence, emotional abuse, and violation of California business practices. Dr. Luke countersued Kesha for defamation, and all of Kesha's claims were dismissed.

Kesha vs. Dr. Luke: A timeline www.youtube.com

The singer returned in July 2017 with her first single in four years, "Praying," a soulful ballad that became associated with the #MeToo movement. "This song is about me finding peace in the fact that I can't control everything — because trying to control everyone was killing me," she wrote in an essay accompanying the song's release. "It's about learning to let go and realize that the universe is in control of my fate, not me. It's from our darkest moments that we gain the most strength...I hope this song reaches people who are in the midst of struggles, to let them know that no matter how bad it seems now, you can get through it. If you have love and truth on your side, you will never be defeated. Don't give up on yourself."

Kesha has always preached strength and freedom in her music. Whether wrapped up in the excitement of heading to a raging party or in the euphoria of healing from trauma, the decade since Animal has proven that Kesha is a dynamic force not only in pop music, but womanhood.

Kesha - Praying (Official Video) www.youtube.com

MUSIC

14 Most Anticipated Albums of 2020

Halsey, Dua Lipa, Tame Impala, and more.

While it's plenty fun to revisit music of the last year (or decade), it's equally exciting to point our focus to future releases.

2020 is coming soon, with no shortage of both indie and major-label releases in the early months to keep our ears busy. Below, we've picked just a few that we can't wait to hear.

The 1975: Notes On A Conditional Form (Interscope/Dirty Hit, 2/21)

After dropping their acclaimed A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships late last year, the modern indie pop legends return this year with their fourth studio album. They've released three songs from it so far, including opener "The 1975," featuring teen climate activist (turned Matty Healy's friend) Greta Thunberg.

The 1975 - People (Official Video) www.youtube.com


Grimes: Miss Anthropocene (4AD, 2/21)

The follow-up to Grimes' 2015 magnum opus, Art Angels is "a concept album about the anthropomorphic goddess of climate change." She's released five singles, most recently "4ÆM."

Grimes – 4ÆM www.youtube.com


Georgia: Seeking Thrills (Domino, 1/10)

British producer Georgia Barnes' second album is due at the beginning of the year. If '80s-indebted synth-pop is up your alley, check out her fantastic single "About Work the Dancefloor."

Georgia - About Work The Dancefloor (Official Video) www.youtube.com


Frances Quinlan: Likewise (Saddle Creek, 1/31)

Frances Quinlan is best known as the lead singer of Philadelphia indie rockers Hop Along, but her inimitable voice still packs a punch as a solo act. Her first album under her own name comes out next month. Check out a single from it, "Now That I'm Back."

Frances Quinlan - Now That I'm Back www.youtube.com


Tame Impala: The Slow Rush (Interscope, 2/14)

The Slow Rush is Kevin Parker and company's first album since 2015's instant-classic, Currents. The Australian band has released three singles so far: "Borderline," "It Might Be Time," and "Posthumous Forgiveness."

Tame Impala - Borderline (Audio) www.youtube.com


Halsey: Manic (Capitol, 1/17)

Manic is Halsey's third album. It includes her No. 1 hit "Without Me," as well as features from Alanis Morrisette, Dominic Fike, and Min Yoon-gi of BTS.

Halsey - Without Me www.youtube.com


Beach Slang: The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City (Bridge Nine, 1/10)

Last year, James Alex released the mellowed-out, acoustic-focused Everything Matters But No One Is Listening as Quiet Slang. Now he's back with his full punk band, Beach Slang, with their third studio album. It features Tommy Stinson of the Replacements on bass.'

Beach Slang - Bam Rang Rang www.youtube.com


Kesha: High Road (Kemosabe, 1/10)

After the stream of empowerment anthems that comprised 2017's Rainbow, Kesha is returning to her party-pop roots for her fourth album. Singles "Raising Hell," "My Own Dance," and "Resentment" are out now.

Kesha - Raising Hell (Official Video) ft. Big Freedia www.youtube.com


Mura Masa: Raw Youth Collage (Polydor, 1/17)

Grammy-winning British producer Mura Masa's second record is on the horizon. It features guest vocals from pop darling Clairo, idiosyncratic rapper slowthai, lo-fi R&B upstart Tirzah, and more.

Mura Masa, Clairo - I Don't Think I Can Do This Again (Official Video) www.youtube.com


Bombay Bicycle Club: Everything Else Has Gone Wrong (Island, 1/17)

After taking some time off, London indie pop band Bombay Bicycle Club are back with their first new album since 2013. So far, you can hear "Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You)," "Racing Stripes," and the album's title track. Read our interview with bassist Ed Nash about the band's return.

Bombay Bicycle Club - Racing Stripes www.youtube.com


Okay Kaya: Watch This Liquid Pour Itself (Jagjaguwar, 1/24)

Norweigan singer-songwriter Okay Kaya's second album is out soon, intertwining her themes of melancholy and anxiety into dark, eerie pop. She's released three singles so far: "Ascend and Try Again," "Baby Little Tween," and "Asexual Wellbeing."

Okay Kaya - Ascend and Try Again www.youtube.com


Wolf Parade: Thin Mind (Sub Pop, 1/24)

Indie rock stalwarts Wolf Parade are back with their fifth album, their first since departure of multi-instrumentalist Dante DeCaro. They've already released two songs from it, "Forest Green" and "Against the Day."

Wolf Parade - Forest Green [LYRIC VIDEO] www.youtube.com


Andy Shauf: The Neon Skyline (Anti-, 1/24)

Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf is soon releasing his sixth solo album. The singles "Things I Do" and "Try Again" are out now.

Andy Shauf - "Try Again" www.youtube.com


Dua Lipa: Future Nostalgia (Warner, TBA)

Dua Lipa's second studio album doesn't have a set release date, but we know it's coming in early 2020. If the two lead singles so far—"Don't Start Now" and "Future Nostalgia"—are any indication, it won't be a disappointment.

Dua Lipa - Don't Start Now (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com

MUSIC

From Lizzo's Tiny Purse to Selena Gomez's Shaky Return: The Internet's Hottest AMA Takes

In terms of memes, the AMAs didn't disappoint. In other respects, of course it disappointed. It's the AMAs.

As we know, the Internet is the world's most accurate and knowledgeable arbiter of talent, and Twitter users and entertainment bloggers are the definitive arbiters of taste and quality.

Also, the AMAs are notorious for selecting top-tier talent, never catering to the whims of the music industry and their own moneyed interests, but rather elevating the voices of artists who deserve to be honored...That said, here's what the Internet had to say about the AMAs.

1. Selena Gomez's performance was off-key—but it wasn't her fault

After nearly two years away from the stage, Selena Gomez returned to perform her new song "Lose You to Love Me." The Internet immediately responded with harsh criticism, calling her performance off-key, but many leapt to her defense, arguing that nerves and her long absence from performing played a role.

Apparently, the performance was plagued by technical difficulties from start to finish, and Gomez also had a "panic attack" before the show, according to E! News. Fortunately, Gomez seemed to be doing well later in the night, and, after hearing about the technical difficulties, fans have swarmed to her defense.

2. Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello gave us more of the same

Heterosexual icons Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello are milking their "Señorita" success for all it's worth, and they brought the same recipe to the AMAs. Unfortunately, the repetition caused fans to actually listen to the song instead of being mesmerized by Cabello's hair and Mendes' biceps, which caused some confusion and doubts.


3. Lizzo's purse was the best part of the entire show

Lizzo's tiny purse made headlines in TIME magazine, CNN, Harper's Bazaar, Jezebel, Buzzfeed, and many other major news sources, many of which argued that the purse was "the best part of the entire show," so if anything, that ought to tell you something about the show. It also inspired a flurry of delicious memes.

Admittedly, the purse was pretty iconic. Maybe we can all resolve to belch extra-tiny amounts of fossil fuels into the atmosphere next.


4. Taylor Swift "avoided controversy"

Taylor Swift won Artist of the Decade at the AMAs and, after asking the entire Internet for help and gaining sympathy and support from everyone from Elizabeth Warren to Cher, it turned out that she was able to triumph over adversity in order to perform her old hits. She also won all five of the awards she was nominated for and became the most awarded artist in the history of the AMAs.

5. Post Malone is adorable

Post Malone won the award for Favorite Rap/Hip Hop album for Hollywood's Bleeding, but he also won the award for king of good vibes when the camera caught him dancing along to Shania Twain's medley.

All in all, Posty had a great night. He performed with Ozzy Osbourne and Travis Scott, and during his album acceptance speech, he solidified his place in awards show history with a peculiar closing line. Just as he was finishing up, he said, "We love you very much and I love grapes."

This sparked a flurry of speculation about the meaning of that cryptic phrase and also caused the Internet to conclude that Post Malone is someone who would be really fun to have a beer with. Maybe we should just elect Post Malone for president; after all, the mark of a great elected official is how fun they'd be to have a beer with. Right?



6. BTS won big, and the ARMY can sleep well tonight

The K-pop powerhouse group won all three of the categories they were nominated in, taking home the awards for Favorite Social Artist, Tour of the Year, and Favorite Duo or Group. Fans were ecstatic, especially since BTS has been slighted by awards shows (cough, the Grammys) in the past.



7. Kesha, Green Day, and Shania Twain returned

The AMAs provided plenty of nostalgia to tug on the heartstrings of their older viewers. Kesha returned to blow everyone away with her hit "Tik Tok"; Green Day celebrated the 25th anniversary of the release of their album Dookie and reinvigorated emo with their performance; and Shania Twain blew everyone (most of all Post Malone) out of the water.9. Halsey threw shade at the Grammys

We all know that the AMAs are just a somehow more watered-down Grammys, and Halsey reminded us that though she won the award for Favorite Pop/Rock Song for her smash hit "Without Me," she's bitter over her Grammys snub and disillusioned with the trappings of fame and awards on the whole.

In spite of her speech, most people were impressed with her performance.

8.Lil Nas X made everyone emotional

Despite being 20 years old and set for life thanks to the success of his very first single, the wunderkind (clad in an instantly iconic neon green suit) reminded everyone that it's never too late to shine.


9. Ciara and Megan Thee Stallion invented knees

Ciara hosted, performed her new single "Melanin," rocked every one of her looks, received her first platinum plaque as a music label owner, twerked with Megan Thee Stallion (who also delivered some priceless moments), and cemented her place as an eternal star and a person entirely immune to the passage of time.





10. Billie Eilish is really scary and very talented—but she's not alt-rock

I don't think I'm alone in saying Billie Eilish is the embodiment of everything that terrifies and amazes me about Gen Z teen girls. During her first awards show performance, she literally lit the stage on fire.

Despite her talent, viewers were quick to criticize the category she won in (alt-rock).

Then again, music is perpetually changing, genre is just about as real as gender (which is to say it's not real and was created by capitalism), and all of us old folk who don't understand how Billie Eilish won for alt-rock will be dead soon or relegated to the dusty attics of "Ok Boomer" land soon enough anyway.


11. We're all going to be telling our kids about this someday

Apparently nobody's sticking to their vow not to have kids until we stop the climate crisis, because almost every performance in the AMAs become the subject of a "gonna tell my kids" meme. Poor kids.








MUSIC

Kesha Talks Emotional Wreckage, Glitter, and Her Upcoming Album

The pop star examined her past and future in a new interview with Billboard.

This December, Kesha is releasing her first album since 2017's Rainbow.

While not exactly downbeat, Rainbow was certainly a marked shift from her previous work, which was mostly about partying the night away and drowning oneself in glitter and liquor. If you thought that Kesha had disappeared along with the $ in her name, think again. In a new interview with Billboard, she said "I got my b*lls back, and they're bigger than ever."

She wants you to know that this isn't a renunciation of the more serious side she showed on Rainbow, though. "Everything goes up and down, and I think it probably will for the rest of my life," she added. "So you ride the highs, and you write songs about an awesome night where you go and meet Elton John and get f*cked up and lose your phone in the Uber, and sometimes you write songs about what it might have been like if you grew up with a father, because you have absolutely no clue. And hopefully, by now, the world has realized that you can be multidimensional."

Kesha - It Ain't Me, Babe [Billboard Music Awards 2016] HD 1080p www.youtube.com


Kesha - Woman (Official Video) ft. The Dap-Kings Horns www.youtube.com

People can be party girls and multifaceted, complex human beings at the same time. Who knew?

Apparently, Kesha is doing better than ever, and she's back to the place she was when she started making music, before everything happened with Dr. Luke and all the ugliness that surrounded those events. "It feels more earned and healthier than ever," she said of her newfound healthy state of mind. "I dug through the emotional wreckage, and now, I can go back to talking a little bit of sh*t."

Her next album will be a return to the exuberant, neon-saturated pop that launched her career. "I really wanted to put a solid footprint back into pop music, like, 'I can do this, and I can do this on my own,'" she continued. "I don't know if this is my last pop record, but I want to have one where I go out with a bang."

The followup to Rainbow will be released in December.