For five years, pop lovers have waited for Kesha to return. Save for “True Colors” with Zedd in 2016, she hasn’t released any solo music since 2013 due to her legal battle with producer Dr. Luke. Known for her vibrant makeup, rainbow-colored hair and copious amounts of glitter, Kesha has staked a claim as the badass of pop.
Signed in 2005 to Kemosabe Records, the now 30-year-old singer first came to our attention in 2009 by singing the hook to Flo Rida’s Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 “Right Round.” The radio smash kicked off a mainstream pop career for Kesha (then stylized as Ke$ha), who worked with Dr. Luke and producers Max Martin, Ammo and Benny Blanco on the release of her Auto-Tune-heavy debut album Animal in 2010. But it was her Hot 100-topping party anthem “Tik Tok” that launched her career. Animal was chock full of dance-pop hits — something that led her to collaborations with Taio Cruz and 3OH!3 and net songwriting credits for Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears and The Veronicas. Needless to say, her early career leaned in a mostly pop direction.
The same year as Animal, Kesha released a follow-up with the extended play Cannibal, a companion to her debut album. Again it was full of dancefloor-ready hits and empowerment anthems like “We R Who We R” (another Hot 100 No. 1) that revealed an even more liberated image of the singer-songwriter. During 2012, Kesha began making strides toward a more alt-pop version of herself, which seemed a bit more authentic than her initial debut. While she teamed with Dr. Luke and Max Martin once again, her second studio LP Warrior saw her working with The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne. Kesha was even supposed to drop a whole album with Coyne called Lipsha, but it was canceled in 2013. Her Hot 100 No. 2 hit “Die Young” from Warrior continued to soar and she ended up collaborating with Pitbull on “Timber,” which led her to top the Hot 100 once again. During this time frame, Kesha released an autobiography My Crazy Beautiful Life, which was followed by the MTV documentary series Kesha: My Crazy Beautiful Life.
On the surface, Kesha’s career seemed to be skyrocketing, but over the past three years we learned she was battling demons within herself and the music industry. In 2014, Kesha went to rehab to treat her eating disorder — something that was allegedly influenced by Dr. Luke and the pressure of stardom. Later that year, she sued Dr. Luke for sexual harassment, emotional abuse and sexual assault, and attempted to get out of her contract with Luke’s Kemosabe Records. Dr. Luke denied the allegations and a judge dismissed the abuse claims in 2016. In 2017, Dr. Luke was ousted as the CEO of his label. The legal battle remains ongoing.
During all this, she formed country-rock band Yeast Infection in 2015 and spent 2016 on the Kesha and the Creepies: Fuck the World Tour, performing rock-centric version of her hits.
In July 2017, Kesha released her first solo single in five years, “Praying,” a rallying cry which revealed Kesha’s bare-bones vocals and emotional struggle throughout the past five years. On Aug. 11, Kesha will finally release her third studio album Rainbow.
Before Rainbow drops, we’ve put together a guide to pivotal Kesha tracks to help you prepare for her new sound (and no, our list doesn’t include all of her hits).
We couldn’t put a list together and not include “Tik Tok” because it’s the hit that put her on the map — no one will ever forget her singing about waking up and “feeling like P. Diddy.” You’ve probably pregamed to this song, and it’s enduring enough that it reached No. 31 on our list of the 100 Greatest Choruses of the 21st Century.
“Dancing With Tears In My Eyes”
“Dancing With Tears In My Eyes” is perhaps the song on Animal that most reveals her raw talent. It’s an earworm that shows honest emotion and isn’t as production-heavy on the vocals. You probably dance-cried to this one when it first came out.
“We R Who We R”
Because Kesha embraced being herself, it’s something she wanted to instill in her fans. With Cannibal’s “We R Who We R,” Kesha’s anthem of individuality was embraced by the LGBTQ community. It showcases an authenticity that Kesha has been striving for throughout her career.
“The Harold Song”
One of the deeper cuts on Cannibal, “The Harold Song” showcases Kesha’s stripped-down vocals like never before while chronicling a breakup. If anything it’s a prelude to the Rainbow phase of Kesha we’ve now entered.
Kesha’s “Die Young” became one of the most popular club-ready hits of her career. With this single, you can hear Kesha’s vocals shining through, straying from the Auto-Tune on her debut. You can see the true Kesha pushing through on this dance anthem.
One of Kesha’s rare ballads, “Wonderland” shows a yearning for her childhood, back to where she came from. With a record full of rapping and dance tracks, Warrior’s “Wonderland” doesn’t seem to match Kesha’s aesthetic. But looking back on “Wonderland” now, it looks like Kesha was trying to tell us something.
Kesha’s affinity for country ballads comes through on her collaboration with The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne on “Past Lives.” The space-heavy lyrics contrast with the beautiful love song beneath it. It’s too bad we never got to hear the Lipsha record.
Alongside Iggy Pop, Kesha begins to reveal her true rock star potential on “Dirty Love.” The duet falls somewhere between rock and pop, showcasing the strength of someone who has been waiting for her vocal power to be released.
Kesha’s first single in five years needs no intro — it was worth the wait. Her powerful vocals are the centerpiece of the ballad, which shows who the real Kesha has been this whole time. We dare you not to get chills when the singer-songwriter stuns while hitting the high note at the end.
On the second preview song from Kesha’s forthcoming record Rainbow, she crafts a soulful, funky rock track that shows the wide range of her talent. You’ll be reciting “Don’t buy me a drink, I make my money / Don’t touch my weave, don’t call me honey” over and over again. This is the empowerment anthem we all need in 2017, and we’re glad Kesha is the one who gave it to us.