Though Kesha’s Auto-Tune-drenched club hits earned her a reputation as a party girl, there were hints of a more introspective artist at the heart of tracks like “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes” and “Animal,” both from her 2010 debut, Animal. Her record label’s decision not to release even a midtempo cut as a single from the album was a missed opportunity to not only deepen Kesha’s image, but broaden her fanbase and ensure the kind of longevity that many of her more humanized pop contemporaries have enjoyed.
Kesha’s sophomore effort, Warrior, suggested she was itching—but perhaps reluctant—to take more creative control over her music, but it’s been her now-years-long legal battle with Sony Music that’s revealed just how constrained she truly was. Aside from a one-off track with Russian DJ Zedd last year, she’s been effectively barred from releasing new music…until now.
“Praying” is the first taste of Kesha’s long-awaited third album, titled Rainbow, which, despite her legal team’s efforts, will be released on former producer Dr. Luke’s Kemosabe Records via Sony. The track’s official music video opens with a shot of the singer lying in a makeshift coffin, flanked by two suited men wearing pig masks, saliva dripping from their mouth-holes, a neon cross glowing overhead. “Am I dead?” Kesha asks via voiceover. “Why have I been abandoned by everyone and everything I’ve ever known?”
Messianic imagery abounds throughout the video, including a striking black-and-white shot of Kesha stranded at sea on a wooden raft, arms outstretched. The singer describes the clip, directed by Jonas Åkerlund, as a “psychedelic journey,” with Kesha tangled in fishing nets and running from her swine-faced tormentors through a desert temple.
The video features the bright, glittery neon colors we’ve come to expect from Kesha, but it’s in service of an entirely new sonic palette. Starting as a pensive piano ballad, “Praying” doubles as both a love song and a deposition of abuse: “Well, you almost had me fooled/Told me that I was nothing without you.” As she delivers her testimony, the track slowly builds, adding strings, drums, and a choir before climaxing with a chilling wail from the singer that sounds like it was more than half a decade in the making.
In the end, of course, Kesha emerges reborn, breaking free from the fishnets (pun intended) that confined her, fighting back against the “monsters,” and, in a triumphant final image, walking on water.
Kesha’s new album, Rainbow, will be released on August 11th.