My Spotify playlists are organized by the seasons of the church calendar. There’s Lent, Advent, Epiphany, and Pentecost. My playlist “Common Time” happens to be almost exclusively made up of female artists. They’re mostly pop stars with something to say to the patriarchy: Misterwives, Solange, and Kesha.
I grew up with Kesha. I came of age to Kesha. My basketball team in high school would warm up to “Tik Tok,” singing proudly that we “brush our teeth with a bottle of Jack” without truly understanding what that meant.
About a year ago, Kesha released her album Rainbow, her first music since I was a teenager. When I heard the inaugural single of the album, “Praying,” for the first time, I felt as if I had been gut-punched (in the best way). I pulled up the music video on YouTube and watched it on my small iPhone screen probably 16 times in a row, screenshotting the scenes that felt especially significant and beautiful.
Vulnerable piano ballads are not usually groundbreaking. Many pop stars have written them. Many pop stars have performed them. But for an artist I knew only for her glittery, superficial club bangers to open up about meaningful topics and pain—this felt profound.
One of the screenshots I took from the “Praying” video freezes Kesha standing on a giant, colorfully painted rock formation. Bright paint spells the words “God is love” in enormous letters behind her, and you can see Kesha walking upward to the word “God.”
I should say here that Kesha’s spirituality, in the context of mainstream Christianity, is unorthodox. She’s a bisexual, platinum-selling pop star recovering from sexual and emotional abuse and an eating disorder, so I’d guess her life experience itself is somewhat unorthodox. So when I watched this video, I was shocked to see “God is love”—a core Christian truth—blatantly proclaimed in the video of a song on the Billboard Top 100.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been shocked. Culture—all aspects of it—has been proclaiming truths by tucking them into song, literature, and theater for a long time. In Acts 17, Paul quotes pagan poets to the Athenians (the specific line was “We are God’s offspring”), showing that their religiosity was authentic but just needed guidance. The Athenians could name and identify truths; they just needed to root them in the narrative of the God who became flesh.
So I wonder: If we open our eyes, what truth might we see around us? What truth is being told by unexpected voices in unexpected places? Maybe a pop star whose songs are popular in clubs understands who God is better than we do. Maybe the pizza delivery guy has something for us to learn in our two-minute interaction with him. Maybe the men and women behind the pulpit don’t have a monopoly on proclaiming hope and grace. And maybe bisexual, platinum-selling pop stars recovering from sexual and emotional abuse and an eating disorder are actually the perfect people for the job.