A hoard of glitter and neon-clad fans stretched for hundreds of meters on Saturday night, chatting and following the trail of glitter on the sidewalk. They awaited Kesha, the ever-iridescent pop singer famed for brushing her teeth with a bottle of jack and glorifying grungy party culture. The line (the phrase “mob” might be more accurate here) included Colby students and local Mainers alike, brought together by their love of the singer who has been absent from the contemporary music scene for two years as she struggled with an emotionally trying legal battle. The atmosphere was frenzied, loud, and chaotic; as the crowd moved sluggishly towards the entrance, moving past security guards and metal detectors, the air became fraught with excitement. Concert-goers poured into the field house, greeted by a rainbow bedazzled set and a sheet with a smiley face on it, with two Xs for eyes.
The tinny music stopped playing moments before the band appeared onstage. The words “[Expletive] the World” were illuminated in sparkling gold, proclaiming the name of Kesha’s first tour in three years. After a few charged seconds, Kesha herself appeared to deafening cheers. Clad in a tassled jacket and boots, she took to the microphone immediately, launching into “We R Who We R”, to fresh screams and raucous sing-alongs. However, the sound-mixing made it difficult to differentiate between the various elements of the music; Kesha’s voice was often too loud to understand what she was saying, and there was a definite lack of equilibrium with the rest of the band.
She greeted the fans after her first song, proclaiming that anything beyond the four walls of the fieldhouse didn’t matter. She strolled across the stage, drinking in her rapt audience. “I’m talking about rent. I’m talking about homework. I give you permission to not do your homework tonight,” she said amid hearty cheers. “I’m talking about your [expletive] ex-boyfriend. I’m talking about my lawsuit. [Expletive] that!” The crowd screamed its approval, jumping up and down. “Now, I invite you to raise your middle fingers high to the sky,” Kesha raised her hand high, “and just for tonight, say [expletive]the world!” A sea of middle fingers launched into the sky as people yelled and whistled. She fully incorporated her recent emotional struggles into her show, reveling under the “[Expletive] the World” banner and proving that she could still perform and retain a sense of herself.
She followed “We R Who We R” in quick succession with “Your Love is My Drug”, “Dinosaur”, and “Blow”, which had a much slower and more haunting quality than the originals. As described by Jon Caramanica in the New York Times in a recent review of her performance in Brooklyn, the songs were played as “blowzy country-rock with light touches of psychedelia.” She seemed as though she wanted to err away from her well-established image as a party girl: forced to play only her old songs, Kesha reworked them, moving away from her past and instead focusing on rebuilding her image.
“The vibes were really good, which is what I was expecting,” said Rebecca Robinson ’17. There was a general consensus that Kesha performed admirably, sharing her pep and energy with her audience, although some expressed frustration that she didn’t sing for very long. Her banter with the audience was both flippant and at times tangibly emotional.
“So, you guys know I’m going through this lawsuit,” she said, holding her microphone loosely and walking across the stage. She paused, and the crowd began to cheer their support, chanting “Free Kesha” over and over for almost a minute. “I just wanted to stop and say thank you. Thank you for your support.” She seemed to drink it in, gaining energy from the outstanding encouragement. “And I have 50 new songs that I’m [expletive] dying to play… but I’ll do what I can do,” she said. She very clearly wanted to play her new songs for the eager crowd, but relayed her frustration that she couldn’t. Kesha is unable to perform her new songs under her current contract dispute with Sony, due to her allegations that her producer, Dr. Luke, sexually and emotionally abused her for years.
She began the next song, “Till the World Ends”, a piece she wrote in collaboration with Britney Spears, singing “I can’t take it, take it, take no more/Never felt like this, felt like this before” with intense passion, launching the belted notes of “I can’t take it, take it, take no more” with an almost pleading poignancy. Kesha’s recent struggles clearly showed throughout the performance, as she seemingly tried to find a balance between her traumatic past and a path into the future. “People try to take you down, try to take your happiness… Don’t [expletive] let them,” she said once between songs. “Take It Off”, a song about a strip club, followed and was perhaps the most high energy song besides “TiK ToK.”
Though perhaps not what people were expecting, Kesha’s performance showed a clear transition to a new chapter in her musical career, as she heals and recovers from her emotional trauma. Although most people associate her with crazy party music with no substance, this wasn’t the image she wanted to portray. In Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s revealing New York Times piece “Kesha, Interrupted” Kesha said “To this day, I’ve never released a single that’s a true ballad, and I feel like those are the songs that balance out the perception of you, because you can be a fun girl. You can go and have a crazy night out, but you also, as a human being, have vulnerable emotions. You have love.” Her show at Colby reflected her desire to stray more towards the “vulnerable human being” side of her and away from the crazy party girl. As an encore, Kesha arrived back on stage clad in a white leather suit with tassels and a white cowboy hat and holding a light blue electric guitar. She sang “Timber”, recorded in 2013 with Pitbull, with a slower and more countrified twang and ended the show on a less energetic note, perhaps as a nod to her new musical identity.