Let’s start by all taking a look at the essay that she wrote to go along with the song. It starts by quoting the opening lines of her video. One of the things that has stuck out to me about this album is the decidedly upbeat tone of it. What has surprised me about that is the fact that it doesn’t annoy me. I think the reason for this is that while this album appears to be coming from a place where Kesha seems ok, it doesn’t shy away from where she has been before. This essay speaks very frankly of depression, and the intro to the video gave me chills: “Please just let me die. Being alive hurts too much.”
Praying is one of the few songs in which Kesha openly and vulnerably lays out how bad it was for her, and in the essay she is even more open about how in recent years she has struggled mightily with depression. She never mentions why; we all know. The information she provides in the essay goes a long way towards understanding the power of Praying: while the song is about moving on, the essay tells us what she’s moving on from.
The depth of this song doesn’t come from poetic lyrics, but from simplicity. Kesha doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know (especially if you are one of the many people who has dealt with abuse or assault), but what’s important is that she is making art out of it: she has created a beautiful song and she is sharing this experience in a wildly public way. She’s taken a personal and vulnerable experience and become powerful through it.
Kesha’s voice in this song is something else entirely and is what creates a truly transcendent experience here. She writes about learning how to trust her voice throughout her prior tour, and that in this album she really wants to show it off. In Praying she does amazing things with her voice. There are layers of meaning when you understand that she was not confident of her instrument, her very body, until just recently, and then you hear her carrying an amazing ballad with the lyrics “You said that I was done. But you were wrong and now the best is yet to come.” She is not only asserting that, she’s fucking proving it with the musical quality of this song.
My favorite thing about Praying is that when you first hear it, it sounds a bit like a song of forgiveness. I don’t think this coulid be further from the truth. Even if Kesha says “I hope you find your peace”, the very next line is “falling on your knees”, implying that he needs to ask for forgiveness, he needs to change, he has not earned his peace or his forgiveness yet. She even says “Some things only God can forgive”. No, this is not a song about Kesha being the bigger person because FUCK the idea that she even needs to be. This is a song of Kesha saying “sometimes I think about you but mostly just to remember that I’m so much better without you.” She is speaking from the position of power, where for most of her relationship with Dr. Jerkwad she had little to no power.
Speaking of Dr. Jerkwad, my favorite thing about this song is that she doesn’t even bother to hide the fact that she’s talking about him. We all know it, we all know that she’s giving him the middle finger, and we all know that this song is her getting the final word.
The second half of this song is a fucking ANTHEM for all the people who have been hurt and abused, who were told that they were worthless. I have been amazed time and again at how much applause the line “I’m proud of who I am” gets (yes I’ve watched multiple live performances of this song). I can only imagine singing that line when you’re a woman of color or a trans woman or a disabled woman, feeling that those words get to be yours. Feeling that you get to tell the world, which has oppressed you for so long, “when I’m finished, they won’t even know your name.”
Whenever I hear Praying, I like to imagine an army of oppressed people singing that line to Neo Nazis and White Supremacists. I like to imagine singing it to my abusive ex. I like to imagine singing it to the asshole who raped my best friend. So rarely do women really get to be angry at their abusers, or throw threats of any kind at their abusers. Honestly it’s really fucking refreshing. Even more refreshing is a song that can move from raw depression to this kind of empowerment. Praying is pretty fucking amazing.