Released: May 19
On her fifth album ‘Gag Order’, Kesha offers a no-holds-barred insight into the life and mind of an embattled artist who finds herself pushed to the brink yet determined to overcome anything that’s hurled her way.
It’s no secret that the singer-songwriter – who rose to prominence in 2009 with her party anthem Tik Tok and went on to release a run of stomping hits including Your Love Is My Drug, We R Who We R, Blow and Die Young – has been on a rough ride with a near-decade-long battle with producer Dr Luke, which remains ongoing.
Two months before that case goes to trial, she delivers her final LP for his Kemosabe Records and while her most recent LPs, ‘Rainbow’ (2017) and ‘High Road’ (2020), have seen her put on a brave face and an empowered front, Kesha lays herself bare on ‘Gag Order’ for her realest, most raw body of work to date.
Lyrically, the singer-songwriter has never held back but this time around she strips all colour and lays her pain bare. Compare opening track Something To Believe In to Tonight from her last LP; on that song she declared, ‘Tonight’s the best night of our lives / We got it all’, a far cry from her latest track: ‘I sit and watch the pieces fall / I don’t know who I am at all / I can’t believe I’m still alive’.
Produced by Rick Rubin with collaborators including her mother, songwriter Pebe Sebert, ‘Gag Order’ is dark and brooding, with a building tension via pulsing synths and heavy reverb that mirrors the subject of her lyrics.
‘You said don’t ever eat the acid / If you don’t wanna be changed like it changed be’, she sings on Eat The Acid, with raw vocals from voice notes recorded on her iPhone, while on the pensive Too Far Gone she asks: ‘Am I missing you / Or am I missing who I used to be?’
In dealing with her trauma, there’s a sense of growth and maturity that occasionally references her early Ke$ha records – she dropped the dollar sign following 2013’s Pitbull collaboration, Timber – like on All I Need If You (‘I can have all of the cocaine and the pills at every party / But who’s the one that’s gonna care if I can make it home?’) and Only Love Can Save Us Now, which is the closest ‘Gag Order’ gets to her early sound.
A sonic journey through the darkness and into a glimmer of light, the album’s closing tracks cut to the core of Kesha as a person and an artist; ‘If hating me helps you love yourself / Do your worst baby gimme hell’ she urges in a self-inflicting plea for love on Hate Me Harder, while the hopeful Happy is a poignant and personal end to the LP.
As far removed from commercial dance pop as an album could be, Kesha makes a bold, defiant statement on ‘Gag Order’, reclaiming the trauma of the past and channelling it into what’s destined to become her magnum opus.
It’s an attitude best captured in the closing lines of Fine Line, on which she plainly addresses her career to date: ‘There’s a fine line between what’s entertaining and what’s just exploiting the pain / But hey, look at all the money we made off me…’
‘Gag Order’ is out now via Kemosabe / RCA.