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My name's Clifford Stumme, and I explain the deeper meanings of popular songs. Let's have a conversation about what you think about the songs and go deeper together. Feel free to email me at clifford@popsongprofessor.com with questions or ideas!

What does "Praying" by Kesha mean?

What does "Praying" by Kesha mean?

"Praying" Lyrics Meaning

Due to an exclusive contract with Dr. Luke, Kesha has not been able to record or release music as an artist since 2014, the year she began a lawsuit claiming that Dr. Luke's contract was unlawful and enabled him to control every aspect of her life. Thankfully, in March of 2017, Dr. Luke's position as CEO of his record label expired, and Sony, the company who owns that record label didn't renew his contract and appears to have released Kesha from her contract. So, now she's able to release "Praying" and later in August Rainbow.

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"I can thank you for how strong I have become "

Kesha's songs "Praying" is all about two ideas. One, she's become stronger because she's had to put up with the pain and "hell" inflicted on her by some mysterious person referred to as "you." And, two, she's not looking for revenge. Even though she's gained personal strength, she doesn't want anyone else to get hurt, and she tells this other person that she hopes he finds his own "peace." 

Who is this other person? 

It seems very clearly to be Dr. Luke, but Kesha, in an open letter on Lennyletter.com and in these lyrics says nothing definitive. The general consensus (and I wouldn't doubt it) is that for her personally the lyrics are about her struggle with Dr. Luke but that she wants her fans to be able to apply the lyrics to their own situations. 

Verse 1

Well, you almost had me fooled
Told me that I was nothing without you
Oh, but after everything you've done
I can thank you for how strong I have become

Kesha tells Dr. Luke (who we'll refer to as the "enemy") that he had been manipulating her and trying to convince her that she "was nothing with you." He tried to make her pathetic and leave her psychologically dependent on him. But she's seen the truth since and realizes that "after everything you've done," "I can thank you for how strong I have become." Through the act of relinquishing her dependence on him and having to fight against him, she's become a stronger, better version of herself. 

Pre-Chorus

'Cause you brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I'll just say this is I wish you farewell

In the pre-chorus, Kesha tells us more about what her enemy did to her. Apparently, he "put [her] through Hell," but because of this, she "had to learn how to fight for [herself]" and be a stronger, better version of herself. Before she could be pushed around, but she feels more resistant to it now. She proves the strength that she has now (even strength over him) when she sings, "And we both know all the truth I could tell"--truth that we assume could make her enemy look even worse. But she shows her power in her restraint and instead decides to just say one more thing as she tells him "farewell." 

Chorus

I hope you're somewhere praying, praying
I hope your soul is changing, changing
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees praying

In the chorus of "Praying," Kesha tells the problematic "you" that she hopes he's "somewhere praying" and that his "soul is changing" as he hopefully becomes a better person. But she doesn't just want him to change, she also wishes "peace" on him but seems pretty set on it happening only if he's "[f]alling [to his] knees praying." 

Who is he supposed to be praying to? It's not quite clear, but she seems to want him to pray to the same entity she prays to. In her open letter, Kesha says, "For me, God is not a bearded man sitting in the clouds or a judgmental, homophobic tyrant waiting to send everyone to eternal damnation. God is nature and space and energy and the universe. My own interpretation of spirituality isn't important, because we all have our own. What matters is that I have something greater than me as an individual that helps bring me peace." Apparently, "God" for Kesha is a natural manifestation of spiritual energy that guides human fate and interaction. This is clearly set in New Age and postmodern ideas (as well as the concept of karma that we'll see evidenced soon enough). 

Verse 2

I'm proud of who I am
No more monsters, I can breathe again
And you said that I was done
Well, you were wrong, and now the best is yet to come
'Cause I can make it on my own
And I don't need you, I found a strength I've never known
I've been thrown out, I've been burned
When I'm finished, they won't even know your name

Verse two centers on Kesha's own development. She sings, "I'm proud of who I am / No more monsters, I can breathe again," which seems to be a reference to fear and to "night terrors" she mentions in the open letter. This is also a strong opposite to what her enemy predicted: "And you said that I was done." In fact, she's not, and she's ready to keep going. She says, "Well, you were wrong, and now the best is yet to come / 'Cause I can make it on my own / And I don't need you . . . ." She's claiming that her future life will be better than her past life, and based on her claims of the mental abuse she suffered, it sounds like that won't be hard to achieve. 

Despite being "thrown out" and having "been burned," she's "found a strength I've never know." She claims that "[w]hen I'm finished, they won't even know your name." Apparently, Kesha is planning to be so popular and successful that no one will even remember Dr. Luke and what he did to her or what he accomplished. Comparatively, she's going to outshine him.

Bridge

Oh, sometimes, I pray for you at night
Someday, maybe you'll see the light
Oh, some say, in life, you're gonna get what you give
But some things, only God can forgive

The bridge has probably the most unique lyrics in "Praying." Kesha sings that she sometimes prays for her enemy "at night" and hopes that someday he'll "see the light." She truly does want the best for him, but she does seem to maintain that for him to experience the best in life he is going to have to change. And based on her perception of spirituality, we assume that she means that he'll have to conform more to how she views the universe and what it is. 

She concludes the stanza with the lines "Oh, some say, in life, you're gonna get what you give / But some things, only God can forgive." While this lack of forgiveness on her part doesn't seem to preclude her feeling empathy for her enemy, it does seem to mean that she doesn't plan to be working with him anytime soon.

Deeper Meaning of "Praying" by Kesha: A Personal Theology in Practice

I think the most interesting aspect of Kesha's song is the theology she inserts into it. I believe something different than what she does, but I'm still happy that what she believes has led her to a place of empathy and compassion for even her enemies. There are a few qualifiers in there, and she doesn't see her way clear to forgiving him, but it's at least something, and it's certainly interesting to be able to delve into that in her lyrics.

Interestingly, note that if "God" for her is the universe, it means that she too is partially God. At the end of the music video, we see her walk on water as she regains her true confidence, and it's a clear allusion to Jesus Christ and her seeing herself as her own Christ figure. Not only has she relied on nature and the universe to heal her, but being part of that entity herself as a physical being, she's likely not unwilling to give herself credit for finding this way to heal herself.

What do you think "Praying" is about? I'd love to hear. 

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