‘It’s a deep look into her mental headspace’
It’s been one year since the release of Kesha’s triumphant Rainbow – an album that saw her phoenix from the ashes of mental struggle, crushing artistic control, and a ravaging court battle that forced her into silence. Rainbow, the newly dropped documentary, charts her healing and creative processes, and culminates in her Grammys performance of the revelatory comeback single, “Praying”.
The documentary begins with psychedelic vignettes – Kesha pulls a keyboard from a pulsating neon swamp, moves through a sentient, nightmarish forest, and battles to wake up a doppelganger strapped to a hospital bed being injected with pink gloop. In behind-the-scenes footage, we see her working with songs from the album in their infancy, playing live again on her 2015 tour with fervour and infectious energy as the dive bar gigs turn into later stadium shows. It’s a journey fraught with emotional bumps and jumpstarts, navigating mental and technical difficulties to pull off a monumental performance.
In one tender moment, while workshopping with her vocal coach, she agonises over the lyric “I can make it on my own”.
“This is the most liberating line!” her vocal coach asserts.
“No shit,” Kesha says. “That’s what makes it so hard to say… I just have to remember that I’ve already made it on my own.”
She hits the line stunningly.
The documentary is co-directed by the musician, her brother and filmmaker Lagan Sebert, and Kevin Hayden. Sebert directed the 2013 doc-series Ke$ha: My Crazy Beautiful Life, which chronicled Kesha’s tour, family life, and the making of her second album Warrior. The filmmaker and producer also directed “I Need a Woman to Love”, which saw Kesha officiate a marriage, and “Rainbow”. Below, we speak to Sebert about the emotional journey to Rainbow.
The visual aesthetics and narrative are very striking – it goes from these psychedelic vignettes to documentary. What was the thought process behind this style?
Lagan Sebert: We had a lot of this documentary footage, but we knew that we didn’t want to do a traditional, factual doc – it’s not a traditional story. We wanted to focus on the emotions of it, it was less about Kesha and more this idea of an emotional journey. It’s this idea of being in a dark place where you’re full of anxiety and fear, and you find your own survival – what the Rainbow album is about. The rainbow comes at the end of a storm, so it’s this idea of being in a dark place and then coming out of the darkness into the light that you see in these vignettes.
Visually, we were inspired by films like The Holy Mountain (Alejandro Jodorowsky). As a filmmaker, I’m influenced by Errol Morris – he does these documentaries with really special narrative storytelling techniques.
That opening sequence of the two Kesha characters in the freaky hospital is quite disturbing and overwhelming.
Lagan Sebert: We wanted to play with sound design, thinking about how, in modern life, there’s so much information hitting you from so many different angles with technology and everyday life – as an artist, as a normal person, we’re overloaded. We’re trying to visually capture this idea of an anxiety attack.
The narrative arc culminates in Kesha’s Grammys performance – was this always the doc’s climactic moment?
Lagan Sebert: We’ve been working on this film for a long time, during filming we found out about her nomination. It made sense to work towards this really incredible moment for her.
There’s a moment where Kesha is working with her vocal coach and she fixates on her delivery of the line “I can make it on my own”, from “Praying”, and you step in to offer some personal guidance. How is your creative and personal relationship intertwined throughout the filming of this, and on this journey?
Lagan Sebert: A lot of the time when I’m with Kesha, I’m wearing a number of hats. First and foremost we’re siblings – that’s the main hat! Then I’m filming, then a lot of times I’m helping out, or acting as part of her management team, helping with the logistics. A lot of these times the camera will be rolling. We’ll be having these natural conversations, with me behind the camera – I think we’ve both embraced that. When we did out TV show with MTV, Kesha: My Crazy Beautiful Life (2013) that had a similar dynamic. I think we both forget the filming aspect about it, we go on autopilot together to make something authentic.
“Kesha was very brave to let people get inside of her headspace like this. This film is the product of some intense, genuine, and honest conversations that me and her have had over the years” – Lagan Sebert
How did you push each other creatively?
Lagan Sebert: We worked with Kevin Hayden, our co-director, whose background is in narrative-led, artistic film. Kevin really helped push us. Kesha’s mind is pretty much always in this far-out artistic headspace, but Kevin was important in pushing us to get weirder. I’m definitely happy with where it's landed, how we are striking a balance between having these fascinating visuals, and a really intense narrative arc.
Do you have a special moment from this process?
Lagan Sebert: Working with the Dap-Kings in the studio in Brooklyn – it’s such a cool place, and those guys are just amazing musicians. To be there working on that song in such a historic place felt special.
What does this documentary provide for Kesha fans?
Lagan Sebert: Kesha was very brave to let people get inside of her headspace like this. This film is the product of some intense, genuine, and honest conversations that me and her have had over the years. It’s a deep look into her mental headspace. It’s less about telling the story of Kesha, and more about telling the story of one person who was in a very dark place, digging her way out of that hole of mental struggles, fear and hopelessness. It’s something a lot of her fans relate to.
It’s also incredible to see her working on half-finished songs when we know the end product of Rainbow.
Lagan Sebert: Yeah definitely. And the creative process is a way to process and deal with things. Kesha is an artist who’s going through something hard, it’s a therapeutic process for her to take those feelings of pain, hurt, and fear and turn them into art.
You see those flashes of really dark moments – was this difficult for you to film at all?
Lagan Sebert: It was and it wasn’t. It’s a hugely important thing to capture, and a conversation we need to have more. We have a call-out at the end of the film for those suffering with their mental health to reach out. If literally one person who sees this does it, I think that would be the film’s biggest success. For us, art is always an agent of positive change.
Rainbow: The Film is now available to watch on Apple Music