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  • Conner Pettit

Album Review: "Gag Order" - Kesha

Brian Roettinger / Kesha: Gag Order, photography by Vincent Haycock (Copyright © Kesha, 2023)


  1. Something To Believe In

  2. Eat The Acid

  3. Living In My Head

  4. Fine Line

  5. Only Love Can Save Us Now

  6. All I Need Is You

  7. The Drama

  8. Ram Dass Interlude

  9. Too Far Gone

  10. Peace & Quiet

  11. Only Love Reprise

  12. Hate Me Harder

  13. Happy


Originally Kesha Rose Sebert, the thirty-six year old is now a veteran in the music industry, releasing anthemic, digitally-inspired hits, like “We R Who We R” and “TikTok” , as early as nineteen. Signed under Kemosabe Records, Kesha has recorded countless successful singles, with songs like “Cannibal” resurging on TikTok earlier this year. As of late, she has been involved in a legal battle with former producer, Dr. Luke, detailing her ongoing journey through the albums “Rainbow”, “High Road”, and now, “Gag Order.” Along with producer Rick Rubin, they have paved a new road in dark-pop, expressing nuance and complexity rarely seen in modern music.

1. Something To Believe In



“Something To Believe In” starts with soft, ambient piano (giving the image of a hospital waiting room), tension slowly building—serene yet terrifyingly silent. As the piano becomes increasingly louder, the song introduces these hard-hitting synths and resonant bass, repeating the song’s central hook “You never know that you need something to believe in.” Thereafter, the production surges in energy, incorporating punchy synths and spacey distortions that feel, almost, apocalyptic. I really appreciate how the song foreshadows the whole album (forecasting themes of complexity and ambivalence) with lyrics like “greatness is just a shade of madness” and “ego is just a phase of sadness”, breaking down the traditional structure of a song and reshaping it into something even better.


2. Eat The Acid


Kesha’s debut single “Eat The Acid” begins with somber synths and haunting piano, akin to funeral horns, commemorating the loss of something important. She has said in interviews that the song took inspiration from a mom-and-daughter conversation, telling her to never “eat acid.” However, the lyrics feel open for interpretation, everything from grief, regret, to the everlasting effects of trauma. The song progresses with banjo plucking (uncommon in pop music yet super effective), becoming grungier as the song grows. Many lyrics contain religious connotations, like “hate has no place in the divine”, helped by the bright, almost celestial, backing harmonies. Her voice also contains a minor filter, making the message sound even more personal (like she is singing directly through the speakers). The track climaxes towards the end, surging with these bubbling arpeggios and interlacing melody lines, expressing a unique frustration and anger that you can feel immediately.


3. Living In My Head


Carried by melodic humming and folksy guitar, the song feels stripped-back, containing a rawness unseen in her entire discography—perfectly capturing how tortured and overwhelming our thoughts can be. The track feels oddly healing, akin to being in nature, distancing ourselves from our inner thoughts. Some would argue that the vocals aren’t “polished” yet the style proves extremely effective (at one point, using a direct voice memo in the bridge). She says “I don’t want to be scared anymore, so scared of myself”, a feeling we all have likely experienced, fighting against a loss of control. This is the first (but not the last) song to make me cry— truly for anyone who feels trapped inside their head.


4. Fine Line


Beginning with retro piano, Kesha provides a thoughtful reflection on the complexities of life. She says there’s a fine line between “genius and crazy”, “selling out and being bought”, and “hope and delusion”, referencing her ongoing legal battle with former producer, Dr. Luke. She expresses an important point—adversity doesn’t make you necessarily stronger. In fact, constant struggle can do the opposite, making you feel simply exhausted and burnt out. She states “Don’t call me a fighter; don’t call me a joke”, saying that she doesn’t need either label; she wants the battle to end. The song truly makes you reflect: am I actually living or just surviving? Am I hopeful or just delusional? Am I “letting go” or just giving up?



5. Only Love Can Save Us Now


This song echoes “OG” Kesha (Ke$ha), reminding people why she became famous in the first place—writing addictive, dancey lyrics against fun, explorative productions. The chorus transitions into a gospel-sounding hook “only love can save us now”, reminding me of “Raising Hell” from the album High Road. The song is about letting go, embracing the good emotions over the negative ones (embarrassment, guilt, shame, etc.)— catered towards those who mainly listen to Kesha with a dollar sign, hopefully, warming them up to the new sound.


6. All I Need Is You


The song progresses with organ-like chords, akin to sitting in the front row during a church sermon— a disembodied voice saying, “authentic love is beyond your control”. The track introduces these somber “ooooohs”, reminding me of Lord Huron, specifically, from the 13 Reasons Why movie. By far, this is the cutest (and maybe the first love) song I’ve heard from Kesha, making me smile while listening (knowing she has someone fully committed to her). She likens this person to “the sun”, saying she couldn’t imagine losing them. This is truly an ode to those who know us better than anyone else—and the ones willing to try.



7. Too Far Gone

Starting with twinkling piano and soft drum kicks, the track feels heavy yet light, saying “Love comes with pain, I don’t know why”. The song leans into fuzzy-warm synths and gospel-like singing, creating a cozy space for reflection throughout. She poses the question “am I missing you or am I missing who I used to be”, nudging listeners to search for their own answers, sharing a common grief over losing who we once were.


8. Hate Me Harder



This revolutionary and vulnerable song seems to be the most unfettered version of Kesha many have seen, answering common questions and fleshing out her ongoing legal battle. She says “I graduated from caring about your opinion”, directly speaking to her former team and producer. The track encourages listeners to stop caring about others‘ perceptions of you, bravely asking the haters to hate her more. The pre-chorus says “You say that I’m over, you say that I’m a has-been, you say I look older”, creating powerful yet freeing lyrical moment. She lets loose, vocally, as the song evolves, proving to be gut-wrenchingly effective. The song encourages everyone to be completely themselves—knowing authenticity will, inevitably, come with hate.


9. Happy


This song has been my favorite from the album, acknowledging painful wounds yet providing messages of hope. I think many can relate to (wanting to) fix the past, wondering how things could be different if things happened differently. Throughout the album, Kesha references her career (“wildest dreams”) and communicates how the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. The song, as a whole, speaks to how profound yet fleeting happiness truly is, feeding our universal desire to, simply, be happy. My favorite line being “I remember when I was little, before I knew anyone could be evil, these egos, some people '', expressing an innocence many of us long for. The song challenges listeners to refuse indifference and continue fighting for our own happiness.


Reflections:

This album has been my favorite body of work from Kesha, despite enjoying most songs she has put out. I think some people have a limited understanding of Kesha’s music (thinking of the older “party girl” aesthetic) yet she has continued to evolve since Rainbow and Highroad, which were amazing as well. I think the dark-pop sound is needed today, one stemming from true pain and genuine reflection. The album has been thought-provoking, comforting even, knowing that life can be difficult for everyone, often in unpredictable and brutal ways. I’m so proud of her, how far she’s come, everything!



Written By: Conner Pettit


*copyright not intended. Fair use act, section 107.

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