I’ve been struggling with the right words for this one. It’s taken me a few days. And then as I’m posting this Adele (QUEEN) used her stage at the Brits to show support so it’s about time I said my bit too.
Back at the tail end of 2012, I reviewed Kesha’s Warrior for Drowned in Sound. Most of it, I stand by: I like the album, I like how clusterfucky it is, I like that it feels like it couldn’t have come from any other pop star, and I LOVE how unapologetically bratty Kesha has always been.
There’s one thing I wrote, however, that I can’t get away from. It’s this:
“Producers Dr. Luke and Max Martin, noted pop legends both, deserve credit for creating something probably unrepeatable, that nonetheless everyone will be scrambling to rehash. While Ke$ha is vomiting her entire record collection over the mixing desk, they stand toe to toe with her, coordinating the lunacy while never once giving the impression of reigning in the songstrel, a fate that has befallen so many of her contemporaries.”
Yeah. I know. I know, now.
The problem? I didn’t know then. This was over a year before it started hitting the news. I didn’t even know while I was working in the place. And even now I’m forced to put the word ‘allegedly’ all over this.
I like Kesha, but I’m a basic, not a stan. I hadn’t heard the rumours at the time, and frankly most of it passed me by; it was only recently I discovered she’d essentially disavowed the album not long after, specifically because of not having the ‘control’ I cite her as having. (Incidentally, a lot of the reason for that is because, thanks to my own adventures, I stopped following music pretty much totally until recently. Make of that what you will.)
The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Here’s some context for the review. A lot of times, a release by a ‘priority’ act – an artist the label is ploughing lots of money into, either because they’re guaranteed success or they already are successful – sees access to the album limited in the run-up to release. This puts reviewers in a bit of a bind, particularly if you’re writing for an online outlet, as it means you might only get offered a streaming copy. This is a pain in itself.
The true pain, however, is when you can only review the album by way of a ‘listening party’: you go to the offices, the album is played for you once and you have to write your review based on those off-the-cuff notes. If you’re really lucky they’ll play the album twice. There isn’t any time to live with the album before giving it your stars. Such a listening party is how I first heard Warrior.
I remember thinking at the time that the Warrior campaign seemed a bit more low-key than you’d expect for the second album by an artist with Kesha’s profile. For one thing, the album was released so far into December that if it actually did come out before Christmas, there was no chance to get any word of mouth built up. A lot of the time, campaigns are just a straight-up mess, frankly; it’s difficult to say whether the alleged events had any impact on it, quite honestly who knows? Some people know, but right now I’m not one of them.
Would I review Warrior differently now? I honestly don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t put in that toe-to-toe phrase, plus so much of what I love about the album is tied up in the Kesha persona that I’m not sure how I could write the same review, knowing what I know now. At the same time… I still like the album. I listened to it on the way home from school this evening, and loved all the same things about it. I always believe the most important thing to review in an album is the music itself, and how it holds up as an album. Does Warrior hold up? Yeah, I kinda think it does. ‘Love Into The Light’, for example, remains a stunning ballad that I listened to on a loop this evening.
So I honestly don’t know.
I do wonder how many fellow journo/blogger types have made similar statements in the past, and now find themselves in a similar position. I don’t know, but it’s interesting to think about.
This isn’t an attempt to justify or absolve myself, but merely to acknowledge, and observe. And to apologise profusely if, in any tiny, minute way, my (now pretty demonstrably false) statement about the working dynamic have contributed to the crimes of perception inflicted upon Kesha that define this monumental clusterfuck. Hindsight or not, I can’t really do anything else to change it. I wish I could.
In case it’s not clear: I, too, stand with Kesha. I will always side with the belief that someone deserves to be heard and not silenced. I sincerely hope you get everything you’re fighting for soon, because pop needs more artists like you, and the world needs more people like you in it. ♥️