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Kesha's new album pushes her personal struggles to the forefront

Kesha attends an art exhibition curated by herself and Brian Roettinger to celebrate the release of <em>Gag Order.</em>
Rodin Eckenroth
Getty Images for ABA
Kesha attends an art exhibition curated by herself and Brian Roettinger to celebrate the release of Gag Order.

In the thick of tumultuous and public legal battles, Kesha has released a new album full of the tensions of the recent years.

Who is she? The singer and songwriter, formerly known as Ke$ha, burst onto the pop music scene in the early 2010s with her hit dance songs like "TiK ToK," "We R Who We R," "Die Young," "Blow," and more.

  • She continued to break into the Billboard Hot 100 top 10 throughout the years, racking up nominations at award shows and becoming one of the biggest pop artists of the decade.
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  • But in the last decade, her career was largely overshadowed by the bitter, drawn-out legal battle with producer Dr. Luke and his record label.
  • Kesha's latest album, Gag Order, produced by Rick Rubin, addresses the feelings and experiences of this artistic ordeal.
  • What's the big deal? You can't help but think of all Kesha has experienced when you listen to the new album.

  • Dr. Luke, legally named Lukasz Gottwald, signed the singer when she was 18 years old in 2005.
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  • In October of 2014, Kesha filed a suit against Dr. Luke, accusing him of drugging, raping, and emotionally abusing her throughout the years of their working relationship. He denied all allegations.
  • Gottwald countersued Kesha for defamation, and breach of contract, and the two have gone back and forth over the years, with the singer wanting to terminate her contract.
  • Gag Order has been released under Dr. Luke's label.

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    Want more on artists taking a stand? Listen to Consider This speak to David Simon on AI, television, and the WGA strike.

    This video contains profanity.

    What are people saying? NPR music's Stephen Thompson and Ann Powers joined All Things Considered's Ari Shapiro to discuss the new album and the legal battles:

    Ann Powers, on her first impressions:

    I really value artists who work to express the complexities of emotion in pop music, not only in their lyrics but musically as well. I think the album is kind of a rocky listen, but in the best way. I mean, it takes us inside the head of this woman who's dealt with so much and who sometimes is still unsure of herself. But she's just determined to be honest, and honest is not a word I ever use lightly.

    This album is so important beyond Kesha's own body of work and her own career. I mean, we're years out now from the #MeToo movement becoming mainstream. And as a public, we like to focus on stories of triumph and stories that resolved in some way. 

    But for victims, their stories rarely completely resolve. And Kesha is giving us a gift with this album. She's letting us hear the often contradictory emotions inside her head, and reminding us that not only is healing a lifelong process, but justice is a lifelong process.

    Stephen Thompson, on the legal battle:

    These lawsuits have been going back and forth.

    She's being sued for defamation. She is suing him ... And I think that the cumulative effect of all that conflict — which is not only between her and Dr. Luke, but her and this label that is supposed to be the caretaker of her career — I think that frustration has built up and accumulated in a way that she can't just ignore it in the records that she's putting out.

    Ann Powers, on where this fits in the wider pop music landscape:

    This record is not just about Kesha's story, but about the story of pop artists in general. I mean, so many pop stars kind of reach this point where they've been put into a box and they want to refuse the bonds, you know, that contained them. And Miley Cyrus has done the same thing recently, but this record goes even farther than what Miley's done.

    This video contains profanity.

    So, what now?

  • Gag Order has received apositive reception from critics.
  • Last week, Dr. Luke was named Songwriter of the Year at the 2023 ASCAP Pop Music Awards.
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    Manuela López Restrepo
    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.