Kesha's "True Colors" Cover Holds Lots Of Meaning

by Emily Lackey

It’s an amazing day to be a Kesha fan: As promised, on Friday Zedd and Kesha released their collaboration "True Colors." Based off of the lyrics, the track seems to largely be about embracing who you are and not being afraid of showing the world who you are — no matter what has happened in the past. But even with empowering lyrics like that, many fans have found themselves wondering, why did Kesha cover “True Colors,” — a song that, before now, had only been sung by Tim James — instead of releasing an original song or choosing another song to cover? What's "True Colors'" significance?

Given the nature of the song’s lyrics, there are a probably a number of reasons why Kesha chose to cover a song that Zedd had already included on his album with uncredited vocals by Rock Mafia's Tim James. The first thing I can imagine is that both Zedd and Kesha may have wanted to get whatever work they were collaborating on out fast. It’s been four years since Kesha released her last studio work, after all: Deconstructed was released in 2012, and, ever since then, Kesha’s music career has come to a standstill.

But that radio silence may have something to do with the legal battle that she has been embroiled in. By filing a lawsuit in October 2014 in which she alleged that music producer Dr. Luke (real name Lukasz Gottwald) had sexually assaulted and emotionally abused her for a period of 10 years beginning when she was 18, Kesha requested she be released from her six-album contract with Sony Records. (For his part, Dr. Luke countersued for defamation in October 2014 and denied the allegations against him in a February 2016 tweet: “I didn’t rape Kesha and I have never had sex with her. Kesha and I were friends for many years and she was like my little sister.”) But, in February 2016, a New York judge ruled her contract with Dr. Luke could not be terminated, and in April 2016 also stated she would not rule that Kesha's accusations against Dr. Luke were a "hate crime," which is what Kesha was claiming in her lawsuit against the producer:

Although [Dr. Luke’s] alleged actions were directed to Kesha, who is female, [Kesha did] not allege that [Dr. Luke] harbored animus toward women or was motivated by gender animus when he allegedly behaved violently toward Kesha. Every rape is not a gender-motivated hate crime.
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Subsequently, the road back to working in the studio again has been a long one for the 29-year-old singer. In Kesha's lawyer released a statement to Billboard in 2014 that claimed the opposite and that Kesha was only trying at this point to move on with her career:

This lawsuit is a wholehearted effort by Kesha to regain control of her music career and her personal freedom after suffering for ten years as a victim of mental manipulation, emotional abuse and sexual assault at the hands of Dr. Luke. The facts presented in our lawsuit paint a picture of a man who is controlling and willing to commit horrible acts of abuse in an attempt to intimidate an impressionable, talented, young female artist into submission for his personal gain. Kesha is focused on moving her life and her career beyond this terrible time.

Then, on April 3, Dr. Luke's lawyer released the following statement to Rolling Stone:

The Court repeatedly stated Kesha is already free to record without Dr. Luke, and that she had not presented any facts supporting her claims. That's because all the evidence — including Kesha's own videotaped sworn testimony — show her allegations are false. The only thing Kesha is not free to do is to continue to lie about Dr. Luke through publicity stunts and outrageous smears, ignoring the fact that by her own free will she went to work and entered into new contracts with Dr. Luke years after this "incident" supposedly happened. Her goal all along has been solely personal enrichment by seeking to break contracts that brought her success and millions so she can enter into more lucrative ones. We look forward to our day in court holding Kesha accountable for her lies.

For their part, Sony has commented that they remain committed to supporting Kesha's career. In February 2016, an attorney for Sony released a statement to the New York Times stating:

Sony has made it possible for Kesha to record without any connection, involvement or interaction with Luke whatsoever, but Sony is not in a position to terminate the contractual relationship between Luke and Kesha. Sony is doing everything it can to support the artist in these circumstances, but is legally unable to terminate the contract to which it is not a party.

No matter what is happening legally, it seems like all of this has had an enormous effect on Kesha and her creative output, which might be another reason why she covered Zedd’s “True Colors.” With lyrics like “I won’t apologize for the fire in my eyes” and “it’s time to light the flame, right before it rains,” it seems like there is more emotional resonance to this song than any other the two of them could have written and produced in a short amount of time.

Those lyrics suggest strength and empowerment and they suggest rebirth and regaining creative light.

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Whatever Kesha’s real reasons are for covering “True Colors,” I’m just glad she did. The song has never been more powerful than with Kesha covering lead vocals and the context of her situation giving the song even more emotional weight and power.

Editor's Note: The original version of this article incorrectly reported that Zedd sang the original "True Colors." While it is his song originally, the vocals on the album version were done by Tim James, not Zedd himself.