Her first UK show in four years was a cathartic triumph that celebrated strength and resilience
Last night, Kesha made her long-awaited return to London for the first time since her Warrior tour in 2013. We all know what kept her away: years of litigation, abuse, and misery that don’t need crudely rehashing. And we all know what brought her back: her talent, her resilient spirit, and her passionate fans. The sold out, tiny venue Brixton Electric was packed with people covered in glitter; women and men of all ages with no other goal but to support Kesha and have a good, cathartic cry. The show was never going to be anything short of emotional, but as the stream of needed but difficult sexual assault and abuse conversations continue, seeing Kesha prove she is anything but broken felt especially poignant.
The show began with a sparkly, trumpet-backed sprint through “Woman”, her setlist driven by songs from triumphant comeback record Rainbow. She peppered in a few rebooted classics like “Tik Tok” and “We R Who We R”, bouncing around the stage, laughing with her dancers and band, having very real, unrehearsed fun. For a star of Kesha’s stature, it might have made sense to have her UK comeback in an arena; but she didn’t need it. She didn’t need visuals, a backdrop, elaborate backing sequences at all.
With only her band and a couple of guys to dance with, Kesha showed that she’s every bit a rockstar; a shredding, spitting, stripping rockstar. She gargled beer, screamed gutturally, shoved cake in faces. It was fucking rowdy. The thing that made Kesha so fun in the first place; that dirty, sexy energy wrapped in party anthems; is very much alive.
Not that there weren’t, naturally, plenty of opportunities to have a cry. For “Godzilla”, a playful but moving song from Rainbow about dating the giant monster, Kesha brought her mum Pebe Sebert on stage. Fans know Pebe already as Kesha’s co-writer and fiercest advocate.
“That’s why she stayed alive. For you guys. Thank you so much for taking care of my little girl,” she told the audience, before fans held up signs in unison that read ‘Kesha: you’re our rainbow’, sending the singer (and everyone else) into tears.
Kesha’s genuine appreciation for her fans makes her special; she took time to interact with the ones she’d met – a guy she shared a tattoo with one drunk night several years ago – the ones with signs, people who gave her multicoloured, plush gifts. She addressed them individually, hugged them. With pop stars there’s often a clear divide between star and fan or hollow gestures to fandoms: not at a Kesha show.
In the crowd, it was a fluid, loved-up chaos. Middle fingers stabbed the air, “I’m a motherfucker” screamed right back at Kesha; arms solemnly linked for the “Hymn” for the sobbing hymn-less. All around, fuzzy headbanded punters made fast friends with the strangers in full facepaint with their apologetic elbows in their backs. Others moved swiftly to catch someone just a little bit drunker than them with care in the flurry of glitter and confetti cannons, an intense, rapid camaraderie blossomed in the interludes. There was a collective emotional arc that sighed, soared and climaxed across the entire show – a room full of glittered women, queer people, and those holding trauma in their hearts that played out painfully like Kesha’s, and those permeating our newspaper headlines and Twitter TLs.
Kesha’s repeated advocacy for positivity, forgiveness and kindness could feel twee from anyone else, and fuck knows how quickly pop can nosedive into syrupy empowerment soup. But her strength and positivity saved her; this is a woman who was abused, almost lost her career, and came back after years to find that she still had at the very least enough fans to fill up a 1500-person venue. Without losing the fun and energy that we know her for, Kesha hammered home messages about her strength, our own, and those that have yet to unleash their true power. A stunning tension hung heavy as the crowd sung like a choked-up, off-key choir for “Praying”, a spotlight beamed from heaven centred on a white caped Kesha. That show was only the beginning of a life-affirming, meaningful comeback that we all need more than ever.
Before we left, Kesha said: “I hope when you leave here tonight full of the best feelings” before ending on “Bastards”, what she described as “just 2 per cent of a ‘fuck you’”. That’s what makes Kesha so fucking good: she is forgiveness and light, she hasn’t been jaded, but she also has a very real strength – and you won’t want to see what happens if you fuck with Kesha, or the thousands standing up with her, again.