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Kesha’s ‘Gag Order’ is claustrophobic, rageful response

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MAY 26, 2023

Grade: 3.5/5.0

The artwork for Gag Order depicts an unexpressive, lifeless Kesha smothered by a plastic bag. The harsh title and violent imagery gesture to Kesha’s experience with silencing, abuse and legal battles, as she reflects on her famous ongoing lawsuit alleging sexual violence and unfair business practices at the hands of producer Dr. Luke. An outlet for her undiluted fury, the album is infested with anxiety and self-loathing. With Gag Order, released May 19, Kesha distances herself from the colorful, rave pop image of her past — opting to showcase a much darker, more traumatized facet of her life. 

Kesha manages to musically capture the claustrophobic confinement of panic. In opener “Something To Believe In,” she repeats herself over and over again. The filtered quality of her voice translates as cold and the persistent percussion elicits a sense of uneasiness. The track concludes with a confession, as Kesha’s distorted vocals admit, “I’m so embarrassed.” By commencing Gag Order with a song that predominantly revolves around hopelessness and shame, Kesha ironically defies her urge to self-isolate and alternatively embraces her embarrassment. 

Meanwhile, in “Fine Line,” Kesha delves into the deepest valleys of her rage. For the majority of the track, Kesha slips into a state of speak-singing and adopts an apathetic demeanor. Her vocals remain stoic and stagnant, while the instrumentals teeter on triumphant. However, her wrath permeates through her lyricism — she bitterly remarks, “All the doctors and lawyers cut the tongue out of my mouth/ I’ve been hiding my anger, but bitch look at me now.” 

Kesha loads “Fine Line” with an abundance of visceral, gory imagery. She evokes a severed tongue, a blood-spattered throat and a tightened noose. Kesha succeeds at conveying the pain of being reduced to an object of exploitation, while simultaneously instilling a feeling of discomfort within her audience. Her sardonic “But, hey, look at all the money we made off me” beckons listeners to consider the role that consumers play when musicians are trapped in harmful and exploitative circumstances. 

While Gag Order marks a venture into a new, intensely vulnerable territory for Kesha, she still notably clings to some of the distinguishing features of her past discography. Her vocal fry flourishes in “Only Love Can Save Us Now,” and “The Drama” features a borderline tacky, nostalgic beat. By referencing traces of her past artistry in this more mature project, Kesha reinforces her authenticity. She does not completely abandon her party girl portrayal; instead, she emphasizes her multi-dimensionality, demonstrating that her different musical eras contain varying slivers of truth. 

Arguably one of the album’s strongest tracks, “Hate Me Harder” is reminiscent of 2017’s “Praying” — only significantly more indignant and stripped down. In the latter, Kesha expresses her wish that her abuser prays and changes. In the former, Kesha similarly takes the high road, belting, “So if hatin’ me helps you love yourself/ Do your worst, baby, give me hell.” However, Kesha imbues the track with a distinctly mocking, biting tone. Through disregarding the hateful messages thrown her way, she places herself in an empowered position while simultaneously showcasing her impressive vocal range. 

Gag Order explores a vast array of difficult topics that are often left untouched: suicidal ideation, psychedelic exploration and grappling with abhorrence. While Kesha’s candidness deserves praise, certain aspects of the album fall flat sonically. Several of the tracks rely heavily on the repetition of her lyrics paired with eerie instrumentation. On some of the tracks, this production effectively conveys the extent of Kesha’s self-isolation; however, it quickly becomes redundant and consequently less impactful. The album appears to be intentionally disturbing for listeners — emanating a child-like, lulling quality, while simultaneously highlighting her traumatic experiences and insecurities. Multiple songs finish with a deepened, distorted voice, leaving her audience with an impression of tainted innocence.

While Gag Order is triumphant in its ability to musically represent Kesha’s mental turmoil, it does not necessarily provide a pleasant listening experience. It is not a project that concerns itself with producing the catchiest hits or being casual background music, but it begs to be heard and digested.

Contact Tatum Handel at 


MAY 26, 2023