On Thursday, singer-songwriter Kesha Rose Sebert released a new single entitled “Praying.” While the song portrays deep religious themes and seems to show Christianity in a positive light, it uses those themes to prop up Sebert’s failed allegations of sexual assault against producer Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald, known professionally as Dr. Luke.
“When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name,” Kesha sings in the video. “I hope you’re somewhere praying…. But some things only God can forgive. I hope you find your peace, falling on your knees, praying.”
This is a powerful threat, dressed up in religious language. In this song, Kesha uses her notoriety and star power, coupled with strong religious imagery, to draw attention to her claims that Gottwald assaulted her.
In September 2013, a fan set up a petition to “free” Kesha from Gottwald’s management, accusing the producer of stifling the artist’s growth. A year later, Kesha sued Gottwald for alleged sexual assault and battery, among other charges. She claimed that he drugged her and forced himself on her, in 2005 and 2008, in addition to demeaning her verbally. She filed an injunction asking to be released from her contract. Dr. Luke denied the allegations and filed a countersuit for defamation.
Unfortunately for Kesha’s case, she swore under oath (in a separate lawsuit) in 2011 that the producer had never assaulted or drugged her. While Kesha and her lawyers claimed these statements were false and the result of fear, this key piece of evidence played a major role in the court ruling against her.
Last April, New York Judge Shirley Kornreich dismissed Kesha’s claims of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and gender violence. “While Kesha’s [claim] alleges that she was sexually, physically and verbally abused by Gottwald for a decade, she describes only two specific instances of physical/sexual abuse,” Kornreich explained. The most recent event, alleged to have happened in 2008, fell outside of the statute of limitations.
Kesha suffered another legal defeat this past March.
Some have been convinced that Kesha’s claims of sexual assault are true, after the star posted that Gottwald offered to let her out of her contract if she would drop the sexual assault allegations. “I got offered my freedom IF i were to lie,” the pop star wrote. “I would have to APOLOGIZE publicly and say that I never got raped.”
But Kesha refused to deny what she claimed to be the truth. “I will not take back the TRUTH. I would rather let the truth ruin my career than lie for a monster ever again.”
Whatever the real truth behind the case, Kesha’s legal case has failed, and it seems unlikely the tide will turn in her favor. It appears she took to songwriting in order to bolster her case in the court of public opinion. In doing so, she used religious imagery and lyrics to make a powerful emotional plea.
The song opens with a deep lament to God, expressed through doubt and pain familiar to any reader of the Psalms. “If I am alive, why? Why, if there’s a god or whatever, something somewhere, why have I been abandoned by everyone and everything I’ve ever known, I’ve ever loved?”
Despite this doubt, Kesha directly addresses God in a prayer. “God, give me a sign or I have to give up, I can’t do this anymore.”
Along with this emotional lament runs a clear attack on people like Gottwald. From the beginning, grotesque pigs in suits chase Kesha, a clear allusion to the idea that “male chauvinist pigs” run the entertainment industry. At one point, the pop star wrestles to free herself from a net.
In a particularly arresting image, Kesha walks in front of a wall of television scenes with demeaning messages. “OUR VALUES ARE YOUR VALUE,” one screen reads. “FREE* THOUGHT *Only $89.99” reads another. There is “DON’T BE YOURSELF,” “BE LIKE TV,” and “GET OFF THE COUCH,” a reference to Kesha’s allegations that Gottwald made disparaging remarks about her weight.
These messages even echo the warning against “fake news” prominent on both Left and Right, with “BAD NEWS” and “WEAPONS OF MASS DECEPTION.”
As the song progresses, Kesha seems to directly address Gottwald. “After everything you’ve done, I can thank you for how strong I have become,” she sings. “Because you brought the flames and you put me through hell, I had to find how to fight for myself.”
The song alternates between wishing redemption for Gottwald and condemning him. “I hope you’re somewhere praying, praying,/I hope your soul is changing/I hope you find your peace, falling on your knees,” runs the refrain.
The theme of Gottwald’s abuse making Kesha stronger runs throughout the song, emphasizing empowerment. “I don’t need you, I’ve found a strength I’ve never known.”
Nevertheless, an ugly quality remains in the song, as Kesha declares, “When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name” — a threat that she would destroy Gottwald’s career by repeating her side of the story.
“Some things only God can forgive,” Kesha declares.
The pop star begins the song on a door floating in the ocean — a familiar image to anyone who has seen the film Titanic (1997). The song concludes with Kesha standing up on the door and walking forward on the water, with a rainbow in the distance and a whale swimming in front of her.
This final image, with Kesha performing one of Jesus Christ’s most famous miracles, strongly resonates and forms a powerful conclusion. Other religious imagery includes scenes with Salvation Mountain, a hill featuring Christian art from Leonard Knight.
Among other things, the mountain displays “God is Love,” John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world…”), “The Holy Bible,” a tree with the fruits of the spirit, and a message, “You are loved by God.” These messages of love and forgiveness seem to encourage Kesha to forgive Gottwald, but she coan not do so.
These images might be heartening to Christians, but they came in the complex context of a legal battle, contested allegations of sexual assault, and Kesha’s declaration that she could not forgive Gottwald.
Some might say the religious themes heighten the song’s message of empowerment, and lend gravity to a modern pop song. Others might counter that Kesha’s use of religious images is a ploy to garner support in light of legal struggles. In either case, “Praying” is an arresting piece of modern art, well worth the watch. Check it out below.