Props to Kesha. Her latest album, High Road, had me changing expressions faster than the kombucha lady. The 16-song LP was a colorful exercise in simultaneous amusement, sympathy, offense, appreciation, disgust, commiseration, and conviction. I’m still sorting my feelings out.
High Road is an eclectic patchwork of slick pop, stadium rock, country, clap-back tracks, and pensive Cali-folk. In an interview with Billboard, Kesha doesn’t apologize for the dizzying array of genres: “Hopefully, by now, the world has realized that you can be multidimensional.” Kesha isn’t known for particularly complex lyricism or themes, but the truth is, High Road turned out to be more probing—personally—than I’d like to admit. The artist’s braggadocio and blasphemy provoked me to explore my own heart and consider: what is the high road for a Christian?
It’s pretty clear from the title track that Kesha’s use of the phrase “high road” is meant to be ironic. Describing her critics as “a**holes who won’t shut up,” she crows: “Y’all think I’m crazy, think I'm dumb / Could a b**** this dumb write a number one? Woo! / More than one, woo! / More than two, yah! / More than you, woo!”
Kesha isn’t here for the high road; she’s here to push buttons. “Birthday Suit” is a prime example. The track boops and beeps like a 16-bit Super Mario game at a nine-year-old child’s birthday party. The effect hits its mark. The song turns casual hook-ups into harmless fun, a game where no one gets hurt: “I wanna get you in your birthday suit / Is it gonna happen in a hotel room? / You know I only got eyes for you . . .”
Free love wears different costumes across the album, but it’s the same pansexual celebration of being “down for whatever.” Particularly brazen is the chorus of the imminently catchy synth-pop “Kinky”: “Baby, I’m your lover, we can go find some others / Long as it’s not a secret we can keep it . . . kinky!” She needles a particular brand of haters with this line: “Monogamy ain't natural / At least not for me and you / We're in our own dimension / We're making up our own rules.”
This is kind of the point. Kesha wants to say whatever she can to get under your skin, get you rattled, and nothing is off-limits: profanity, partying, childish innuendos, sexual dalliances, and even outright blasphemy. She manages to mix them all in “Raising Hell.” Backed by a gospel choir and organ, Kesha cries out for an “Amen!” as she delivers a club banger that’s lasciviously irreligious: “Hands up, witness / Solo cup full of holy spirits / Somethin' wicked / Speakin' in tongues in my blood-red lipstick.”
What is the high road? In the swelling anthem “Shadow,” the artist thumps, “Get your shadow out of my sunshine! . . . Live and let live or just stay the f*** home.” Perhaps Christians simply shouldn’t bother to listen to Kesha. Maybe that’s the high road. But in the chorus, Kesha lands what is the most arresting line on the entire album: “Imma love you even though you hate / Imma love you even though you hate . . .”
I couldn’t shake the thought: Do I hate Kesha? Do I hate people like Kesha?
Kesha wants to say whatever she can to get under your skin.
These days, we throw around the word “haters,” but this is a fundamental question that every Christian has to answer: What is in my heart? Hate or love?
Although it's reasonable for Christians to simply turn off Kesha’s album, the fact is that our world is filled with people just like her. Choosing to close our ears to them is far from the heart of Christ. We belong to a God who listens to the cry of sinners, who would rather hear the plaintive prayer of a sinful tax collector than the lofty rhetoric of a self-righteous Pharisee.
What is the high road then? Love instead of hate. Listening—but from a heart of compassion. And when we do, we begin to see the artist in a different light.
Further in her discussion with Billboard, Kesha explains: “Sometimes you just want to escape into a happy mother******* song. It’s like a three-minute vacation, and I want to give that to people because I know I need that sometimes.” Kesha’s party pop feels like a window into the 24/7 ecstasy of an anything-goes lifestyle. But we would be mistaken to believe it’s an accurate picture of Kesha’s life. In her own words, High Road is vacation. It’s an escape. An escape from what?
It’s an escape from her real life. Because for Kesha, real life is broken relationships, real life is a little girl growing up with no dad, real life is rehab stints, real life is the crippling insecurity of an internal monologue shouting, “You’re the party girl! You’re the tragedy!” (“My Own Dance”).
In the stirring duet “Resentment,” Kesha’s subdued melody leans into the sturdy timbre of Sturgill Simpson as she mourns soured love: “I don't hate you babe, it's worse than that / 'Cause you hurt me and I don't react / I've building up this thing for months / Oh-oh-oh-oh, resentment.” Even more heartbreaking is the rattle and crack of “Father Daughter Dance.” The artist can’t help but wonder, “If I'd had a dad / Would he have protected me from all the bad s***? The bad men? / Would I even be the same person?” Elsewhere, Kesha strums a ponderous ukulele, singing about tarot card readings and could-have-been boyfriends, fumbling in the dark universe for a divine purpose (“Cowboy Blues”).
The point is, Kesha is not the party girl caricature she appears at first listen. She’s lost. She’s heartbroken. She’s fatherless. What her soul is longing for, what the momentary escape of partying or sexual exploration can never satisfy, what can bring true healing is this: a forgiving Savior.
And she is not alone. Men and women just like Kesha fill our communities. Are we willing to listen to their stories for longer than a few minutes? They may be profane and proud-faced. They may appear brash and bristly. But we owe them a listening ear from a compassionate heart. Only then, when by God’s grace we have walked the high road, we may win their trust and the opportunity to tell them about a God who is a “father to the fatherless.”