10 Classic Music Videos Turning 10 in 2019

One of my favorite late-night weekend activities is pouring myself (another) drink and going down memory lane on YouTube, watching some of my favorite music videos. It’s probably no surprise that it’s around this time every year that I decide to compile a list of music videos turning 10 years old – it’s bitter cold outside and it’s all too easy to curl up under a blanket on the couch and play them endlessly.

Interestingly enough, 2009 was filled with music videos from artists that were coming into their own: Taylor Swift, Drake, Lady Gaga and more. Their videos also seemed to speak to something deeper within the artists themselves. Let’s kick back and drift back in time to enjoy some of the best videos that 2009 had to offer.

Taylor Swift – “You Belong with Me”

While the public at large often associates Taylor Swift’s crossover smash “You Belong with Me” with Kanye West’s acceptance speech interruption at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, the video itself gives us an early glimpse of Swift’s duality. Playing both the protagonist and antagonist – nerdy bookworm and preppy cheerleader – the video’s narrative bends in the direction of her innocent side. It’s fascinating that after a decade-long evolution, Swift’s current work finds her exploring the other end of the spectrum.

Boys Like Girls – “Love Drunk”

As an unabashed fan of Boys Like Girls’ self-titled debut album, I was a little more than excited for their follow up in 2009. Love Drunk took all of the saccharine melody from the band’s debut and infused it pulsing beats to form a blend of emo power pop. The video for the album’s first single finds the band performing at an arcade as a bunch of guys awkwardly attempt to win the affections of a young lady. I guess the moral of the story is…that band dudes always get the girl? Or something?

Paramore – “Brick by Boring Brick”

As brand new eyes turns 10 years old, I felt it my obligation to give time of day to the album’s most overlooked single. Perhaps the most divisive track on the album, the video for “Brick by Boring Brick” captures the fairy tale juxtaposition of the song perfectly. Near the end of the video, a glowing Hayley Williams watches Josh Farro dig what can only be understood as the grave for the pre-2010’s era of Paramore. Kinda sad, right?

Drake, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Eminem – “Forever”

While 2009 was a bit of an odd year for hip hop, it’s remembered best for the arrival of Drake. Here he amazingly shares the stage with three hip hop heavyweights in a video that follows the rise of LeBron James from young basketball prodigy to NBA superstar. Has anyone ever called their shot better? Ten years later, Drake is still one of the most powerful forces in music.

Ke$ha – “Tik Tok”

Speaking of introductions, Kesha’s “Tik Tok” was the perfect primer for one of 2009’s polarizing new pop figures and is still just as much fun as it was 10 years ago. After waking up in the bathtub of a vanilla suburban family, Kesha treks out the door to hop on a golden bike, complimented by an American flag. By the end of the video, there’s glitter everywhere. At some point, you have to throw caution to the wind and enjoy the ride.

Lady Gaga – “Bad Romance”

Lady Gaga’s music video for “Bad Romance” is still perfectly weird, featuring wacky costumes, awkward dance moves, people crawling out of futuristic pods and a group of supermodels trying to sell her to the Russian mafia. As wonderful as “A Star is Born”-era Gaga has been to witness, it’s hard not to long for those early days when literally everything she touched was off-the-wall bananas.

Taking Back Sunday – “Sink Into Me”

The dirty little secret about Taking Back Sunday’s most divisive album is that it’s actually pretty good and holds up well 10 years later. The lead single from 2009’s New Again was “Sink Into Me”, which featured a music video of Adam Lazzara and the boys sinking into…a tar pit? It’s messy, but it sure looks like they’re having a good time.

The Devil Wears Prada – “Danger: Wildman”

“I know a ghost!” That opening cry from The Devil Wears Prada frontman Mike Hranica on “Danger: Wildman” has become a late aughts metalcore highlight, as has his missing-tooth appearance in this dark video filled with skeletons and a mysterious bearded man. This track still goes hard and it’s delightful to think about how far this band had come by their big moment in the spotlight in 2009.

Owl City – “Fireflies”

Can you believe it’s been 10 years since Adam Young, better known as Owl City, pressed a button on his keyboard marked “Magic” and brought the toys and objects in his bedroom alive? Me neither. It’s still amazing to think about what a phenomenon this song became, and I can’t help but smile when watching the video now. I’m especially fond of the monkey playing the cymbals and the tiny seal on the turntable.

Mayday Parade – “The Silence”

Here’s a bit of trivia you maybe didn’t know: “The Silence” was originally written to be included on the “New Moon” soundtrack. While the song failed to go down in Twilight lore, it’s still works as a pretty great inclusion on Mayday Parade’s sophomore effort (and major label debut) Anywhere But Here. The video is full of color and slo-mo shots of hot air balloons. Neat, huh?

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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The Best Songs of 2017

You can view our list of The Best Albums of 2017 here.

In a year in which great albums were abundant, it goes without saying that great songs were aplenty. In just a matter of minutes, a great song can do a lot: It can take us somewhere blissful, it can make us think, it can change our perspective, it can help us forget. Our list of the Best Songs of 2017 have a little bit of everything.

Below, you’ll find songs from a variety of genres telling diverse stories. These tracks were anthems for overcoming, therapeutic outlets of emotion, ballads of love, and laments of the soul. No matter your druthers, we think you’ll find something to love. Take a look – and a listen.

15. Jake Bugg – “Southern Rain”

Jake Bugg is an extraordinary talent. Releasing almost an album a year since the start of his career, he has managed to tap into a multitude of genres while maintaining a distinct sound all his own. “Southern Rain” is a folksy ballad that manages to softly tell a story of grieving a fallen romance. However, the dreamlike soundscape and lyrics constantly remind that even in dark times, there is always something brighter just around the corner. For a song that sounds so light, it is dense with the sounds of mandolin, harmonica, keyboards, and the crisp tap of piano. Though Bugg’s lyrics stay melancholy, the music is so bright and hopeful that it promises relief. – Kyle Schultz

14. Harry Styles – “Woman”

“Woman” is one of the most enjoyable tracks on Harry Styles’ self-titled solo album. Regardless of the groovy sonic choice he made, the lyrics themselves follow a thematic trend in this year’s pop music of discussing a failed relationship. Styles’ vocal prowess shines all over the album but “Woman” is smoother than any other song. Reminiscent of psychedelic ‘70s rock, this track is easy on the ears and all around well-configured. It’s a lovely and promising example of what we can expect from post-One Direction Harry Styles. – Nadia Paiva

13. Dreamcar – “All of the Dead Girls”

DREAMCAR, the supergroup of AFI’s Davey Havok and the band from No Doubt, is a surreal project of pop and new wave rock. “All of the Dead Girls” is a true summer song dripping with beach-ready drumming and a bassline that slides beneath any 80’s montage of men playing volleyball. Havok’s sassy vocals describe the make-up clad “dead girls” that will “never blush” as he stalks the beach. For a singer known for delving into the darkest aspects of the psyche, Havok relishes in taking the haunted tangles of relationships into the sunlight for a stroll. Featuring a baritone sax and a cat’s howl, “All of the Dead Girls” is a truly unique song that never takes itself seriously from two bands that always are. – KS

12. Jay-Z – “The Story of O.J.”

Fans that waited with bated breath since the release of Beyoncé’s damning Lemonade would suffer little disappointment in Jay-Z’s 4:44. There’s a lot to parse through, but Jay makes each moment count, and such is the case with “The Story of O.J.” Jay uses clever samples and poignant lines to capture the struggle of blackness in a racist society, regardless of status, wealth or complexion. It’s an artful display of Jay-Z’s success viewed through the lens of a racist America and Jay’s own battle to push his wealth and progress into something even more lasting. It just might be the highlight of his surprising second act. – Kiel Hauck

11. Palisades – “Better Chemicals”

When Palisades left their electonicore leanings in the past for this year’s self-titled release, they didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater so much as they refined the best parts of their existing sound. On “Better Chemicals”, the band forgoes cheeky electronics and samples for tastefully placed programming that elevates the track to another level. Vocalist Louis Miceli Jr. uses the opportunity to showcase his transitional ability that explodes during a chorus of, “Need better chemicals, I know / Cause nothing helps anymore, oh no”. It’s a jarring movement into serious territory for the band and a perfectly crafted track that crackles with rock energy. – KH

10. The Early November – “In Currents (acoustic)”

As one of the first singles after the band’s reformation, “In Currents” was a nostalgic pop song that meshed minimalistic instrumentation before exploding in a torrent of sound in the chorus. It showcased almost every aspect of what made The Early November’s sound so iconic. The stripped-down version on Fifteen Years only features a bouncing guitar and a theremin-inspired synth line that turns the song into an inspirational ballad. The true star of the song, though, is Ace Enders. Enders pushes his voice as hard as he ever has, while maintaining an emotional weight that seems impossible. The result is an acoustic cover that not only surpasses the original, it deserves to be remembered among the top of The Early November’s achievements. – KS

9. PVRIS – “What’s Wrong”

“Don’t need a metaphor for you to know I’m miserable”. That crushing closing line during the chorus of “What’s Wrong” sets the stage for a sophomore follow-up from a band overwhelmed with responsibility and possibility. PVRIS harness the best of their synth-laced melodic pop rock as vocalist Lynn Gunn lays bare her fears in the face of the band’s rise to prominence. “When did I get so pitiful / Just a goddamn corpse in a centerfold”, she laments, vocalizing the struggle of a female lead in the midst of a misogynist scene. It is at once a monumental sonic step forward for a band full of potential and a dark look inside the mind of an artist in doubt. – KH

8. AFI –” So Beneath You”

While other AFI songs have mocked and questioned religion, “So Beneath You” is the most aggressive and militant. Punk rock at its purest, the song teases the band’s hardcore influence. Jade Puget can write some of the most mystifyingly beautiful guitar lines known to man, but sometimes he is at his best when strangling power chords as Davy Havok just shouts at the sky. Rather than mock the idea of religion, Havok instead issues a direct challenge as he croons, “I won’t kneel, I won’t bow / If you’re there God, strike me down, strike me down / You won’t”. Challenging standards and demanding more of their audience than most bands, “So Beneath You” exemplifies what makes AFI such a beloved band and manages to be one of the year’s best rock songs. – KS

7. Lorde – “Hard Feelings/Loveless”

Much of Lorde’s Melodrama is based on the toll fame takes on an artist, notably in their interpersonal relationships. One of the most poignant moments is found right at the end of the first portion of “Hard Feelings/Loveless”, in which she reminisces on a past relationship, stating “I’ll start letting go of little things / ‘Til I’m so far away from you / Far away from you”. What is so impressive about this song is how seamlessly she changes from the topic of her own relationship to the topic of relationships in general in our digital world, and how we don’t always place the value on them that they deserve. It’s relatable and one of the most memorable tracks on a beautiful album. – NP

6. Halsey – “Strangers”

Amidst a brave retelling of Romeo and Juliet, Halsey uses “Strangers” as an LGBTQ love song, dropping the pretense of well-worn pronouns. Here, she and Lauren Jauregui trade lines of longing atop richly-inspired 80s synthesizers. “She doesn’t kiss me on the mouth anymore / Cause it’s more intimate than she feels we should get”, Halsey opens, before Jauregui’s response of, “She doesn’t let me have control anymore / I must have crossed the line, I must have lost my mind”. It’s a delightfully sensual, deeply danceable track of star-crossed lovers and an example of Halsey’s feel for the pulse of modern pop. There aren’t many that do it better. – KH

5. Kesha – “Praying”

“I hope you’re somewhere praying / I hope your soul is changing”, Kesha belts at her abuser on one of the year’s most emotionally powerful tracks. It’s a stark pivot for the artist herself, but an even more powerful statement in a year in which our culture begins to fully realize the deep claws that sexual abuse holds in our society. As the song builds towards its crescendo, Kesha finds the strength to flip the power imbalance that held her hostage for so long: “Cause I can make it on my own / And I don’t need you, I found a strength I’ve never known / I’ll bring thunder, I’ll bring rain / And when I’m finished, they won’t even know your name”. If chills don’t run up your spine, you must have held your head in the sand for the entirety of 2017. – KH

4. Liam Gallagher – “Wall of Glass”

For fans of Oasis, there will always be the eternal argument of which Gallagher brother is the favorite. While Noel has experimented with his sound on his own solo venture, Liam Gallagher’s first solo single is the best song Oasis never wrote. The rich layers in “Wall of Glass” are mesmerizing – the dance club beat, the bobbing bass line, the show-stealing harmonica, the ghostly back-up singers, and the sizzling guitar all hide beneath some of the best vocals Liam Gallagher has ever recorded. It’s a testament that the best sounds aren’t always found by pushing for something new, but by tilling what has already been laid as the foundation of expectation and kicking the shit out of it. “Wall of Glass” sounds like it aimed to be the best rock song of any year in the last two decades and pulls it off with style to spare. – KS

3. Paramore – “Fake Happy”

It’s no secret that Paramore drew inspiration from their experience with mental illness with the track “Fake Happy” from After Laughter. What sets it apart from other songs on the topic is its accessibility. Undoubtedly, many listeners will identify with the lyrical themes but also find enjoyment in the musical quality, most especially in the infectious bridge which puts a smile on even the most downtrodden of us. The music video (directed by the band’s own Zac Farro) shows that idea perfectly, and is the cherry on top of an already beautifully displayed picture of humanity. – NP

2. Kendrick Lamar – “DNA.”

Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. begins with a chilling short story before audio from a Fox News broadcast admonishes the message of Kendrick’s 2015 Black Lives Matter anthem “Alright”. Before the clip can reach completion, Lamar bursts through the door with “DNA”’s opening lines of, “I’ve got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA”. Throughout the track, Kendrick flexes his varied vocal deliveries over a rattling bassline, juxtaposing earned braggadocio with self-deprecation as he inspects the inner workings of his soul. It’s the perfect opening to the year’s best record and an eardrum vibrating reminder that Kendrick’s talent surpasses his peers, both in execution and in content. – KH

1. Julien Baker – “Appointments”

It’s difficult to fully quantify the progression from Julien Baker’s debut to this year’s Turn Out the Lights, but if you were to point to a single track as an example, it would be “Appointments”. Atop a painfully lonesome guitar and piano, Baker lays out the private battle of depression and the strain it puts on relationships. Yet above all of the excruciating imagery is something more vital and more powerful – a will to overcome. When Baker lets loose with her belted vocals of, “Maybe it’s all gonna turn out alright / Oh, I know that it’s not, but I have to believe that it is” at the song’s conclusion, it’s a reminder that some small battles can be momentarily won – a perfectly humble message from one of music’s most exciting young voices. – KH

Honorable Mention:

Carly Rae Jepsen – “Cut to the Feeling”
Vince Staples – “Big Fish”
Taylor Swift – “…Ready for It?”
Acceptance – “Colliding by Design”
Haim – “Want You Back”

Posted by Kiel Hauck

The Best Albums of 2017

You can view our list of The Best Songs of 2017 here.

Another year is in the books, and while it’s easy to dwell on the negatives of one of the strangest years in recent memory, 2017 was certainly not wanting for incredible music. In fact, 2017 produced so many great albums, it’s hard to show end-of-the-year love to all that deserve it. But we’re going to try anyway.

Our list of the best albums of 2017 touched on a variety of powerful and important topics, from social injustice to mental illness to the strength it takes to shift power imbalances and overcome abuse. The artists below not only thoughtfully tackled important themes, but did so in a way that made us move and forced us to find hope in the mist of brokenness. Without further ado, take a look at some of the best albums of the year.

 

15. New Found Glory – Makes Me Sick

When New Found Glory release an album, there is a certain expectation for how it should sound. When they release an album that manages to branch out enough to rank as one of their more unique releases, it is something to pay attention to. Makes Me Sick is a true summer album that delves into cavity inducing pop while maintaining mosh-ready guitars (“Call Me Anti-Social”). The synth that make its way into the album make each song instantly recognizable, especially as the band take stabs at the world around them (“Party on Apocalypse”), and rarely has the band sounded so inspired (“Barbed Wire”). Makes Me Sick is the reason that after 20 years, New Found Glory are still as important as they were when they helped found the modern pop punk scene. – Kyle Schultz

14. Eisley – I’m Only Dreaming

The spirit of Eisley moves onward on I’m Only Dreaming, even in the absence of DuPree sisters Stacy and Chauntelle. In their stead, Sherri DuPree-Bemis carries the vocal load across an array of tracks that harken to the ambiguity and innocence of Room Noises. At once melodically gorgeous and sonically curious, I’m Only Dreaming offers the dream-like soundscape that put Eisley on the map well over a decade ago. DuPree-Bemis floats above her cousin Garron’s shoegaze guitar licks that range from grungier affairs “Louder Than a Lion” to indie pop numbers that stand as some of the band’s best work to date “Always Wrong”. – Kiel Hauck

13. The Early November – Fifteen Years

It’s hard to imagine an acoustic ‘best of’ album being one of the best of the year, but Ace Enders has always defied expectation. Fifteen Years not only finds a way to hit all of the band’s best songs, but in many ways, it surpasses the originals. Enders has always impressed with his acoustic songs, but the stripped-down versions of some of their biggest hits allows his vocals to truly shine like they never have before. What were some of the band’s biggest rock songs (“Decorations”, “In Currents” “Boxing Timelines”) become emotional ballads. It’s apparent that The Early November have spent their career deserving more credit than anyone ever suspected. – KS

12. Palisades – Palisades

Call it a progression, but reinvention works just as well. Palisades’ self-titled release finds the New Jersey post-hardcore act shedding the electronicore leanings they embraced across their first two records. On Palisades, the band finds a new voice within grunge and nu metal elements that serve as the perfect playground for vocalist Louis Miceli Jr. to display his new, commanding delivery. With the absence of party gimmicks, the band is free to cover fresh thematic territory, adding a welcome dose of levity to match their new style. It’s the kind of 180 turn that opens a variety of doors for a band that has a chance to make a splash in the alt rock waters. – KH

11. Neck Deep – The Peace and the Panic

Neck Deep are an endlessly fascinating band. They have managed to harness the best aspects of pop punk and continuously remind us why the genre matters. The guitars are harsh but sway with rich melody that make easycore bands envious. Every song on The Peace and the Panic demands to be sung along to as the band tackles every topic from rebellion against the government (“Don’t Wait”), depression (“The Grand Delusion”), or telling a story of romance (“19 Seventy Sumthin’”). Neck Deep are a shining example of what makes pop punk such a brilliant genre, and they do it with a sound that marches forward as much as it honors the bands of yesteryear. – KS

10. PVRIS – All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell

Shedding any notion of a sophomore slump, PVRIS delivered with their anticipated follow up to White Noise. All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell zeros in on the best parts of the band’s debut and expands on both sonic and thematic levels. Making use of dark synthesizers and deep, grooving basslines, the trio build dread-infused soundscapes that allow Lynn Gunn to explore an array of fears and regrets. Whether she’s powering through anthems like “Heaven” or growling across the chorus of “No Mercy”, Gunn has become one of the most exciting voices in the scene, and PVRIS appears to have the legs to reach the next level. – KH

9. Kesha – Rainbow

To use a most tired cliché, Rainbow is a roller coaster, driving us through the turbulent aftermath of abuse and the will and strength of a survivor. The album is varied and messy, but works beautifully as a therapeutic outlet of the highest order. From the fist-pumping fury of “Woman” to the tear-jerking pleas of “Praying”, Kesha provides a voice for the broken and a song for the redeemed. Amidst tears and laughter Kesha weaves the story of life on the other side and embraces the freedom in letting go. Rainbow is truly the brilliant comeback everyone was rooting for. – KH

8. Lorde – Melodrama

Lorde (Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor) risked becoming irrelevant by releasing her sophomore album three long years after her debut. “Melodrama”, however, is an absolute masterpiece and refuses to be ignored. This album meets even the highest of expectations that led up to Lorde’s second release. She used the past few years to grow vocally and artistically, and with help from another pop mastermind, Jack Antonoff, Lorde has (once again) completely changed the face of alt-pop. – Nadia Paiva

7. Lucky Boys Confusion – Stormchasers

Coming back from the dead, Lucky Boys Confusion have rarely sounded better. Stormchasers exceeds expectations for a band that hadn’t written a song together for a decade. Biting into the personal tragedies that have plagued the band for the last few years, LBC manage to make some of the most inspired rock songs of their career. “It’s After Midnight” picks up directly off of the sound of their last EP (released in 2006), while “Stormchaser” taps into the sounds of the band’s career to honor fallen band member, Joe Sell.  “Sun In My Eyes” looks towards a brighter future and “Good Luck”, celebrates the band’s past and tells the story of making it as a band. Lucky Boys Confusion is a continuous story of perseverance and honoring a fan base that refuses to quit. – KS

6. Glassjaw – Material Control

Fifteen years have passed since Long Island’s post-hardcore kings released an album, and yet, somehow, Material Control feels like the most Glassjaw record ever put to tape. Material Control is the visceral blend of aggression and melody that put the band on the map nearly two decades ago, yet sounds as fresh as any heavy record released in 2017. The dirty bassline on “Shira” will cause you to break a sweat while Daryl Palumbo’s vocal acrobatics on “Golgotha” will make your jaw drop. Material Control is the kind of relentless record that hard rock desperately needed, and a worthy successor to Worship and Tribute, even if the wait was far too long. – KH

5. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

With Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples remains one of the most coy (koi) rappers around (get it?) Across the album’s 12 tracks, Staples wrestles with the fame that has lifted him from his home and threatens to numb him of the pain and struggle that still plagues those around him. Doing it all atop beats that embrace club and house leanings, Staples invites his listeners to dance, even as the themes force you to stop and think. It’s a juxtaposition as profound as the rapper himself, and just another reason why Staples may be one of the most underappreciated artists of our time. – KH

4. AFI – The Blood Album

AFI (The Blood Album) was one of the first records released in 2017 and it is still among the year’s top contenders as the year comes to an end. The Blood Album picks up where the band left things on 2013’s Burials, and pushes forward to make the record one of the best they have ever released. Jade Puget’s dark guitar lines still manage to impress and blaze with the power that other bands require multiple musicians for. Having been the second of three albums that Davey Havok sang for within the span of a year (Blaqk Audio and DREAMCAR), the intensity of his voice is mesmerizing. AFI’s dark pop songs are a masterclass in musicianship. As an amalgamation of everything they have released over the course of a 20+ year career, AFI (The Blood Album) is worthy of being the band’s first self-titled effort, and standing among their best releases. – KS

3. Paramore – After Laughter

Paramore’s long-awaited return came with a release defining some of the most overarching topics plaguing young adults today: mental illness, hopelessness, loneliness, and the idea that we can find the light we’ve lost. Taking a sharp turn from their alternative roots and moving into an ‘80s synth direction, Paramore provided a dose of reality packaged in both fun and reflective ways. We’ve watched Hayley Williams and co. grow up and face some difficult times and, somehow, they’ve always portrayed it gracefully. “After Laughter” is no different. – NP

2. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

On Turn Out the Lights, Julien Baker does more than tug at our heartstrings, she dives deep into the crevices of depression without pulling punches. Whether accompanied by just her guitar or surrounded by organs and strings, Baker’s voice fluctuates from crackling despair to cries of strength, voicing a struggle familiar to many. What makes Baker’s songs so meaningful is her painful honesty – there is no sugarcoating – and when she searches for hope, she does so with every fiber of her being. At the end of the journey, her powerful final cry of ,“I wanted to stay”, is enough to shake any listener to the core. – KH

1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

How do you follow up one of the most heralded and important hip hop releases in recent memory? Like this, apparently. Whereas To Pimp a Butterfly stretched outward into the systematic oppressions of our society, DAMN. worms its way into Kendrick Lamar’s psyche, revealing the inner workings of one of the most important artistic voices of our time. Oscillating between “Pride” and “Humble”, “Love” and “Lust”, “Fear” and “God”, Kendrick fights for truth and hope amidst brokenness.

From the rumbling bassline of “DNA” to the throwback samples and drums of “Duckworth”, Kendrick paints a canvas that opens new possibilities for his own rhyme schemes and vocal delivery. At once timeless and fresh, DAMN. is the new bench mark for modern hip hop. There is little room left for debate: Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper alive. – KH

Honorable Mention

Bleachers – Gone Now
Halsey – Hopeless Fountain Kingdom
Jay-Z – 4:44
Tigers Jaw – Spin
Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy

Posted by Kiel Hauck

The Redemptive Colors of Kesha’s “Rainbow”

The first time I heard a Kesha song, I was with my kid sister. I remember laughing together at the whimsically dark yet silly lyrics, “Maybe I need some rehab—or maybe just need some sleep…”

This was back in the day when my sister and I would dance in front of our shared bathroom mirror to whatever DJ iPod played. Meticulously, we pinned and curled our hair as we danced. Delicately, we’d paint our faces with CoverGirl and Maybelline colors of cultural uniformity. And this we thought would make us stand out—beautiful.

You can buy Rainbow on iTunes.

Over the last several years, I’ve dealt with guilt over the example I helped set for my sister. How was I defining what it meant to be a woman? To have self worth? Seven years later, as I become reacquainted with Kesha through her new album Rainbow, I can’t help but revisit these standards that I had so wrong.

To set the scene appropriately, my knowledge of Kesha back in 2010 came only through the kitschy yet fun, often spoken verses shared on pop radio. I never dug fully into her artistic repertoire. Nor did I have knowledge beyond passing comments of the more recent hell she went through with infamous producer Dr. Luke. Until about a month ago.

My husband encouraged me to listen to Kesha’s single, “Praying”. To say this song demanded my attention is an understatement. The melodic power I was hearing begged me to sing the words I did not yet know, and yet the emotion behind the lyrics gripped my vocal chords to pained silence. From that moment, I could not help but get to know Rainbow and the history that made it.

Kesha’s long awaited reintroduction into pop culture is an opus of anthems for the outcasts—the repressed—the weirdoes. With every track, she celebrates individuality and tells the haters where they can stick it—in the most mature way possible. Tis a sonic spectrum as varied in color and mood as the refracted light of the album’s namesake.

Starting with “Bastards”, you almost feel like you’re sitting by the campfire with the carefree artist and her guitar as she encourages you to chuckle over how crappy life can be. You sing along and embrace that you can overcome it. Then, after an almost Beatles-esque, syllable-sing-along of a bridge, you jump to the poppy “Let Em Talk” to the country funk “Woman” to the synthesized “Hymn” to the power ballad “Praying”… If that’s not enough variety for you, just wait for that Johnny Cash sound of “Hunt You Down” or the Dolly Parton cameo of “Old Flames” or the silly guitar waltz behind “Godzilla”.

Photo Credit: Olivia Bee

Despite all this acoustic variety, Kesha’s themes are nothing but strong and consistent, and they speak of a newfound strength and consistency she wants to share. First off, it is damn good to be a woman, and we ladies do not have to have a man to feel strong. “Woman” was reportedly born from Kesha’s outraged response to Trump’s pre-presidency abomination of a comment about the fairer sex. The lyric content celebrates a woman’s financial independence, almost rebuking man’s involvement, spouting, “I don’t need a man to be holding me too tight”. Interspersed throughout the song are clips of laughter tracks, hinting just what Kesha thinks of men who think otherwise. Add to that her adopting parts of male anatomy as her own in “Let Em Talk” and taking on a female version of the traditional outlaw country song with “Hunt You Down”, and it’s obvious that Kesha has no qualms promoting women’s equality.

While frustration and anger are present in these lyrical undertones, Rainbow also paints Kesha as working hard to process past resentments in the healthiest way she knows how. From the Dr. Luke news alone, we have a small picture of the hell she’s been living. In “Praying”, Kesha lays it all bare without speaking a word of what actually happened. The song echoes with her justified anger, but instead of exposing “all the truth [she] could tell”, she dynamically closes the door on all that hate. She leaves the offender to find his own peace with the only one who can actually grant it. In “Learn to Let Go”, the track that immediately follows, we see Kesha transcend the victim mindset, taking her own advice that “Life ain’t always fair, but hell is living in resentment / Choose redemption; your happy ending’s up to you”.

When feminism is married to the awful things that can happen to a woman—whether in our world or in the tracks of an album—a woman cannot help but battle for and eventually celebrate her own self worth. On this third theme, Kesha most certainly delivers. And she invites all those who feel marginalized to the party. With the opening sing-along “Bastards”, Kesha strikes a chord with anyone who has felt “underestimated [their] entire life”, and reminds them not to let the jerks who give us that message win. “Hymn” lifts up the outcasts and the oppressed, singing praise to their perfection amidst life’s mess. Then, the album’s title track encircles the realization that “what’s left of [Kesha’s] heart’s still made of gold” and extends the invitation to anyone who needs the same self-realization to “come and paint the world with [her] tonight”.

All this weight, and yet Kesha is still able to embrace the silly side of her that had my sister and me bouncing around in front of the mirror seven years ago. (If you need proof of this, just take a listen to “Godzilla” and think on its impish genius.) Listening today, I wish my sis and I had been painting ourselves then with Kesha’s Rainbow palette. I wish we had realized earlier the promise that we are beautiful women—even, if not especially, in the messed up moments. But hey. There’s still time to paint the world a different color.

by Jennifer Hauck

jennifer_hauck Jennifer Hauck lives with her highly musically-inclined hubby in Indianapolis, Indiana. She loves puppies, coffee, Indian food, the stage and the lost art of snail mail. While she’s never been a formal music critic, she has studied and respects the power of the pen and still reaches for it occasionally.