Kesha, Lana Del Rey
Don’t be surprised if Kesha needed Rainbow, her first album since 2012’s Warrior, as much as the queer kids questioning their place in this mad, queer-resistant world do. Her comeback album’s soaring first single, “Praying,” finds light at the end of the long, turbulent tunnel the resilient pop star occupied for too long before reaching a point—beyond her much-publicized legal battles with producer Dr. Luke, beyond her booze-heavy factory pop—where she could finally say, “The best is yet to come.” As the thrashing ballad whips into something even more transcendent than that Mariah-high whistle note she hits during the track, unleashing the second coming of Kesha, that’s no exaggeration—Kesha, of “Tik Tok” and general party-girl fame, has never been this raw, or as candidly captivating. Marked by hard-won perspective and a fresh outlook on life (and death, per the charmingly weird send-off “Spaceship”), Kesha’s artistic rebirth manages to offer an openhearted hug to anyone who, like her, has ever felt different. “Hymn,” an individuality-championing chant, and the understated title track, with its reference to our iconic LGBT symbol, are both songs I wish I could have leaned on as a young, struggling gay teen. “Come and paint the world with me tonight,” she summons, over a Ben Folds-produced track that bursts into a warm orchestral swoop. For once, maybe, Kesha is showing her true colors on Rainbow, and that realness extends into the rock-and roots-inspired music. Because sometimes you have to look behind in order to move forward, she admits, “I’ve been through hell and back,” on “Learn to Let Go,” pointing to the “boogeyman under my bed.” But Kesha has returned to the driver’s seat, making the best music of her career, and we’re all in for the empowering, starry-eyed spaceship ride. Grade: A-
Lana Del Rey, Lust for Life
There’s a world on fire and not even a contact buzz from Lana Del Rey’s pass-the-blunt Never, Never Land will help us pretend we’re okay. Momentary respite, though, lingers in every mindful corner of Lust for Life, where indie-pop’s wooziest wet dream finds herself in a contradictory place, one the album cover takes into consideration. On it, Del Rey is not solemn, not even seductive. She’s got a damn smile on her Barbie face and flowers in her hair—irony at its best. As gunshots pop throughout her coo-y ode to unity, “God Bless America—and All the Beautiful Women,” she addresses Trumpland’s chauvinism with a wink, a wicked sense of humor and the feeling that late-night binging The Handmaid’s Tale really got to her. “Is it the end of America?” she wonders, putting aside her own summertime sadness for something bigger than herself: the present-day paranoia and uncertainty of...living. Working against type, she’s hopeful. “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems” aptly enlists Stevie Nicks, the two advising that “we gotta try,” while her moving, impossible-not-to-cry-during piano solo, Del Rey’s cinematic Lust for Life doesn’t need a visual component—we are on that beach, we are dancing, and we are living and we are lusting for her every reassuring word. Grade: B
Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website or on Twitter (@chrisazzopardi).