I was on a cruise to Bermuda with my best friend when Kesha’s new album, Rainbow, dropped. Having spent the entirety of summer 2010 with bestie, jamming out to Kesha’s anthems “Blah Blah Blah,” “Party at a Rich Dude’s House,” and the unreleased track “Booty Call”—look it up and thank me later—it felt fitting that we’d be together for her comeback. But although she kept asking me throughout the day if I was ready to sink into the album, I kept telling her to wait. It had been five years since Kesha’s last release—what was another few hours?
Kesha was forced into a comeback story. As she frequently reminded her dedicated social media followers, she never wanted to stop making music in the first place. After she accused her producer, Dr. Luke (a.k.a. Scum of the Earth), of sexually assaulting her, Kesha was stuck in a headline-grabbing legal battle to be freed from her contract with her abuser. In that time, she also did a stint in an eating disorder recovery center, after admitting that pressure from the industry, as well as specific body-shaming comments by Dr. Luke (he told her she looked like a refrigerator, y’all) and online trolling, led her into a cycle of restricting. Kesha’s name has become a battle cry for survivors—of abuse, of sexual violence, of eating disorders—worldwide. We all hold a thread to Kesha’s story. We all know, to some extent, what it’s like to go through what she’s gone through.
I know it all too well.
In 2007, when I was just 22 years old, I fell face-forward into a relationship with an emotionally abusive partner. I didn’t have the words or the wherewithal to understand the situation at the time–that validation came years later. But I knew that something was wrong and I was unhappy. I was socialized as a woman, which meant receiving the sage advice that only partners who lay a violent hand on you are abusive. We’re not taught that words can be weaponized. Instead, we’re taught to toughen up—sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can never hurt us. No one tells us that it’s equally damaging and abusive for a partner to find their way into our minds and grind our self-confidence to dust.
Mostly, he picked on me for being out of place—a little too unconventional and alternative. We worked together, and he swore me to secrecy because “I don’t want anyone to know I’m fucking the weird girl.” But he was also sexually abusive. He’d manipulate me into positions (both physically and verbally) and degrade any desire that I expressed as “boring.” Four years older than me, he swore that he was teaching me the ways of the world, convinced that I was just too naïve to understand what “real men” wanted. I started getting used to dynamics of our relationship: the walking on eggshells, the biting my lip to stop from crying, the eagerness to please.
Then he started in on my body.
It was subtle at first: a comment about how I should have more tattoos, a quip that my stomach was a little too flabby for his liking. But then, it evolved into comments that I couldn’t brush off, like when he told me that he and a mutual co-worker were discussing my fuckability and decided I’d be a lot hotter if I went to the gym. I’d always had a positive body image (with a few off days, naturally), so I didn’t know what to make of this derision. I just knew it felt off. The day that he laughed when I responded “yes” after he asked me, post-sex, if I thought I looked good naked, I was thrown all the way off. “Really?” he chided sarcastically, and I couldn’t understand how he had been attracted to me one minute and then disgusted by me the next.
So when, nine months after we started dating, he broke up with me by text, citing my not going to the gym as incompatibility, and making sure I knew that he was leaving me for someone thinner, fitter, and therefore prettier than me, I accidentally developed an eating disorder. What started as a combination of I’ll-show-him, revenge body dreams, and an inability to eat caused by break-up sadness eventually spiraled out of control, and I shed more weight than was possibly healthy in a three-month period. When he saw me again, he threw a granola bar at me. He said, “I think you need this more than I do.” I guess that’s when I realized that I could never win—it wasn’t me, it was him.
It’s taken years for me to move past the abuse and the eating disorder. It’s taken therapy. It’s taken medication. It’s taken a lot of crying. And, yes, it’s taken music.
It took me so long to listen to Rainbow with my best friend because I needed to brace myself for it. I understood what Kesha had been through, and I knew that this album was more than a comeback—it was a reckoning. “I’m ready,” I said, finally, as we were holed away in our cabin, sharing the small space to get ready for dinner that night. I took a long look at myself in the mirror as my BFF queued up the album.
“Don’t let the bastards get you down, oh no; don’t let the assholes wear you out,” Kesha sang in that first chorus. And I felt like I could breathe again. There are so many moments on this album where you can feel Kesha addressing her abuser directly or reckoning with healing from trauma. She captures the nuance of being filled simultaneously with rage and self-love, allowing herself to be fueled not by the pain of her past, but by her rebirth out of it. It’s a love letter to herself and a middle finger to her abuser all wrapped up in one. I wish I could mail a copy to my own abuser—to let him now that I, too, like Kesha, worked through “falling right back in love with being alive.”
And as Rainbow kept playing, full of raw, honest ballads about feeling insecure and out of place, alongside hard-hitting “fuck you” anthems of renewed self-confidence, it mended wounds that I didn’t know I still had. Rainbow is more than a comeback album for Kesha; it’s a victory for all of us who have hurt and are healing.