Coachella 2016: Kesha’s appearance proves that singing is freedom
For a few minutes on Saturday night, Kesha was free.
The singer’s brief cameo with EDM producer Zedd was easily Coachella’s most dignified and poignant guest appearance. Though it came in the middle of a high-octane set of Zedd’s pop-friendly dance music, her one song with him spoke volumes about power structures in the music industry, and how music can still be a lifeline out of them.
Zedd had first reached out to Kesha during her ongoing campaign to extricate herself from her contract with her former producer Dr. Luke, whom she has accused of sexual assault and harassment since her early career.
So far, the courts haven’t agreed with her arguments, but she has earned an outpouring of public support, particularly from female peers in the music industry. It was hard to tell what she would do with this wave of empathy -- record clandestinely? Perform songs outside her old, now-fraught catalog? But a Coachella appearance was one small, meaningful reminder that yes, she does have agency and will find a way to perform regardless.
When she walked onto Zedd’s Outdoor stage mid-set, to perform the title track from his “True Colors” LP, the mood shifted. Zedd’s music is upbeat, poppy and squarely in line with Electric Daisy Carnival’s surging EDM. But Kesha -- dressed in wispy waves of black, save for brightly colored hair -- carried political ramifications onstage with her every step. She didn’t speak to the crowd or address any of the ongoing allegations, but she didn’t need to.
Her fans’ rallying cry -- “Free Kesha” -- is notable because it isn’t even about the past, it’s about her future as an artist and as a woman. By just walking out onto one of the fest’s biggest stages and singing about redemption and vindication, she reminded everyone that music is not just a trap of dominance and court rulings. It’s a means of personal liberation.
And for what it’s worth, she sounded fantastic. I loved the boozy, brilliantly subversive Kesha of “Animal,” but Kesha as an avenging angel of women in music is just as powerful. Even though they weren’t her own lyrics, coming from her they took on an undeniable power -- “No I won’t apologize for the fire in my eyes / Let me show you my, my true colors.”
Come what may as her case winds through the courts and boardrooms at Sony, Kesha’s one song at Coachella was a reminder that singing is proof of existence, and nothing can invalidate that.
Brown writes for the California News Group, publisher of The San Diego Union-Tribune and the Los Angeles Times.
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