Picture this: you’re 16 and you just got your driver’s license. You’re driving to Starbucks, windows down. Of course, Ke$ha is playing on the radio. This 2010, before Ke$ha was Kesha. Before her ongoing battle for musical independence from Dr. Luke turned into suing Dr. Luke for sexual assault and battery. (He denies the allegations.) That Kesha is back on her new album High Road.
It’s complicated to yearn for the “simpler times” of Kesha’s early music when we now know she says that time of her life was riddled with manipulation and abuse at the hands of her producer. But putting on the first song of High Road, “Tonight,” will transport you right back to the feeling of being a teenager, of singing about drinking and partying when the closest thing you’ve had to alcohol is a sip of your parents grenadine — which you’d later learn is zero percent alcohol (I assume this is true for all of us).
“Bitch we going out tonight,” a bass voice repeats, hyping you up for what’s about to be a Kesha verse so Ke$ha, you’d like you’re listening to “Sleazy.”
“Okay, we’re going out tonight, don’t wanna stay home / I got my girls to call the Uber ’cause I can’t find my phone,” she sings, which is perhaps the only line that roots us in 2020. “I’m getting ready, mani-pedi, fancy shit with the leathers/Now we’re looking for some trouble like we huntin’ for treasure.”
This throwback isn’t an accident. Another song, “Kinky,” literally features “Ke$ha,” the former iteration of the singer. Following Kesha’s departure from her party persona, and her powerful ballads like “Praying,” the singer says she was uneasy about singing about the more fun aspects of her life.
“I didn’t want to take away from or minimize what I’ve been through by coming out with songs that are about me going out and having fun. And it took me a little bit of time to really come to terms with the fact that I don’t owe it to anybody to be eternally miserable,” she wrote in her Apple Music commentary on Genius. “It’s kind of a sound-fuckery, because you think it’s going to be a ballad and then it goes into me doing my shit-talking—kind of a quintessential off-of-my-first-record thing that I purposefully left off of Rainbow.”
Kesha deserves this triumphant dance party of an album because her legal battle is still ongoing. In October, her third countersuit against Dr. Luke was struck down. While the singer eventually her initial suit in California and New York in 2016, she’s still attempting to fight back against Dr. Luke’s countersuit for defamation and breach of contract. Prominent celebrities, like Lady Gaga and Kelly Clarkson, have aligned themselves with Kesha, but she has yet to be free from the cloud that has hung over her head this past decade. At least on High Life, for sixteen songs, she is.