The case that shook the music industry: Kesha vs. Dr. Luke. In 2014, Kesha (formerly known as Ke$ha) filed for a contractual break from her long-time music producer, Dr. Luke, in a suit stating that he had sexually, verbally, emotionally, and physically abused her for years. As we so often see when a survivor comes forward, people divided into camps: pro-Kesha and pro-Dr. Luke. Kesha was asked to prove her story over and over, was blamed and shamed for her “party girl” image, and faced multiple legal obstacles in her fight for justice.
Slowly but surely this year, we have seen Kesha redefining her power as a woman, a performer, and a musician. To the delight of fans and advocates globally, earlier this month, Kesha dropped the audio and video for a new song about her experiences these past few years called Praying. Kesha says of the song on her Instagram, “I hope this song reaches people who are in the midst of struggles, to let them know that no matter how bad it seems now, you can get through it. If you have love and truth on your side, you will never be defeated. don't give up on yourself.”
Let’s Be Real members and Break the Cycle staff are deeply moved by the Praying lyrics and music video. Its subjects of heartbreak, resilience, compassion, and a search for justice are reminiscent of the healing journey so many survivors embark on after abuse, assault, or violence. To capture these heartfelt reactions, Lauren A. of BTC’s youth movement, Let’s Be Real, and Sarah Colomé, Capacity Building Manager of Break the Cycle, respond to the Praying song and video:
Lauren A. - on the lyrics
Praying is an incredibly validating song and makes me, as a survivor, feel far less alone and far less angry at the world, my assailant, and myself. What I scarcely admit is that I have been raped twice in my life, once in high school and once in college. The assault in college has left me without justice, and with many more obstacles to overcome. Like Kesha, I simply wish to live my best life despite what happened to me. However, some days it seems as though I was not meant to thrive let alone survive.
Upon hearing the song Praying, I couldn’t tell if I wanted to cry or to write Kesha a thank you letter. During the past couple months, I have been denied justice and instead, have tried to find it within myself; Praying portrays exactly how that has felt. Kesha also takes a new position on recovery that is often overlooked, and that is the absence of forgiveness. Many believe survivors should learn to forgive their assailants and can achieve peace through this. But I believe in what a therapist once told me, “You don’t have to be okay with what is not okay.” Rape and sexual assault are not okay, so while forgiveness is great and incredibly healing, it also is not a task some survivors even want to try. Survivors like myself gain much more peace from acceptance than we do forgiveness. Praying validated this for me with the line “some things only God can forgive” - to me it means that forgiveness does not have to be the end goal, but instead, doing what makes you feel okay and whole is the true end goal.
Overall, this song signifies resilience. There is life after sexual assault and abuse and Kesha proves this with her own style and fiery passion for justice. She displays how slippery and difficult the path is to resilience and recovery. Survivors of sexual violence now have a video, song, and artist to look up to not only for empowerment, but to relate to, giving them hope for recovery. After I was assaulted, I had no one to look to as an example of someone who survived it and could remind me that recovery and resilience is possible. Kesha’s bravery is unlike any other I’ve seen. She has remained humble, open, and honest through her struggles and it has given the world a reason to change: to recover, to survive, to thrive, and to love.
Sarah - on the music video
Watching the new video for her song, Praying, Kesha takes us on a visual journey of her survivor story. While creating a thoughtful display of imagery, she makes it clear that she cannot be destroyed by what she’s gone through, reminding us all that while we never deserve to be violated, our story doesn’t have to end there.
Seeing Kesha stranded in the middle of the ocean reminds me of the feelings of abandonment that so many feel when their support systems – and even the justice system – turn their backs on survivors. The sight rings true to what too many experience at the hands of “Did she encourage it?” and “She’s making it up for attention.” Each time these messages are spoken we take a step backward.
The video is splayed with color, hitting me as a cry of her resilience despite an experience that can often leave survivors feeling drained of any happiness or hope. And yet, this is the same color that she streaks across her face, making a mess of her makeup that likely serves as a mask for so many survivors who feel like they have to act like, “Everything is fine.”
As she kneels at the cross, I can’t help but think that she is simultaneously mourning what was lost, and yet looking for some sort of redemption from the situation. And what strikes me as so powerful is that she’s pleading for redemption not for herself, but for the person who tried to destroy her. She believes that we can build a better world where we don’t find our power in seemingly destroying others.
The song Praying, and more specifically, the video, is an honest portrayal of the fact that being a survivor can be messy. Experiencing sexual violence can leave us conflicted, blamed, and unsupported. And despite what many survivors hear every day of their lives: It’s ok to be messy. No one heals the same way. And we still believe you. Kesha’s art and story of resilience are a testament to the fact that there IS hope. No one can dull the color that you bring into the world.
Break the Cycle believes in the power of music to create cultural change; the lyrics we sing shape our perceptions of relationships, love, and normality. That's why songs with messages like this are important, and why we love seeing songs like That's Not Love by Let's Be Real member, Scarlet, find success. Let's spread the power of hope and resilience through song. Add breakthecycledv on Spotify for uplifting, positive playlists curated by young people to reflect their experiences and hopes for the world.