Kesha's new single "Rich, White, Straight, Men" continues her mission to make her mark as a real artist in an industry that wrote her off.
Kesha has always been a more imaginative, multi-faceted artist than she’s been given credit for. Considering her career trajectory and history, it makes sense that her work has become so political and inventive.
Kesha is known for her vibrancy, her glitter and bright colors, a true pop princess. Her new song “Rich, White, Straight, Men” is imaginative and in a completely different style than any other song she’s put out. It is musical theater set in a Willy Wonka-esque nightmarescape that still keeps with her brand. She roots us in her glittery magic with her opening line, “You could ride a unicorn to school,” but quickly pivots to the more serious “and if you fall off you’d have healthcare” while an ominous voice in the background counters, “No you don’t!”
The song imagines a world where everything is easier and better, one where rich, white, straight men aren’t in charge. In this world, everyone has health care and control of their bodies, LGBT people are treated equally, college is free, and there are open borders. She paints a picture of this fairytale world lyrically and sonically, with a man’s voice in the background grounding us and reminding us what our world is actually like.
The song becomes a bit more vulnerable at the bridge when she sings, “Twinkle, twinkle little star / How I wish the world was different.” In these lines, we hear sadness rather than satire, and we hear the longing in her voice for something to give. She then jumps back to the chorus, and ends simply on the lines “What if?”
Before I heard the song, its title had me a little skeptical. Music that is overly didactic in its political intent is hit or miss for me because I think it makes it easier to overlook--or skip--the song’s craft. Music that makes us feel empowered or say fuck you isn’t bad. It’s necessary, but too often political art is deemed to be good simply because it is empowering, even if everything else about the song is routine or easy.“Rich, White, Straight, Men” is truly new and imaginative. Its style is not mainstream pop. The song takes risks and sticks the landing.
Kesha’s early work is almost exclusively electropop, rarely venturing outside of a fun dance beat ripe with Auto-Tune. There was a lot of work done by Team Kesha at the time to brand her as a wild child with more party than game. That persona was part of the context for her 2014 lawsuit against her former producer Dr. Luke, who she accused of sexually, physically, and verbally abusing her. Kesha's image made it hard for people to take her allegations or her music seriously.
Since leaving her contract with Dr. Luke, Kesha has shown how multi-faceted she is as an artist. In 2017, she released Rainbow, a pop album layered heavily with '70s country pop aesthetics that features guests Dolly Parton and Eagles of Death Metal. Rainbow was ahead of the curve in terms of the current pop music trajectory, exploring a middle ground that such artists as Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift have since inhabited. When she performed “Praying” from the album at the Grammys in 2018, she proved her powerful her voice actually is, and what an effective performer she is. It’s a song about coping, and she has talked about how this song literally saved her life. She performed with all a stage full of women, all in white, and fought back tears delivering a song that was a direct fuck you to her very public abuser. She screamed the lines, “I hope you find your peace” with an anger that’s impossible to not get emotional over. It’s a performance I cannot watch without crying, and it instantly began to change how the industry saw her.
This new single is Kesha expanding her range yet again. She maintains her old image while also expanding it, and is fearless in her own expansion.