In all the legal mess and discussions about the challenges women face in the music industry and debate over whether Kesha’s free to perform or record with whomever she wants, not a lot has been said lately about her actual voice, the way she sings, her presence in front of an audience.
Sunday night, just days after she was told she couldn’t perform at the Billboard Music Awards by Dr. Luke’s Kemosabe Records and then was later re-approved to do so after promising not to make her performance a statement on the ongoing legal battle between the singer and the producer, Kesha sang the living daylights out of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe.”
Only short clips were available online Sunday night immediately following the awards ceremony, but even 30 seconds of the song are enough to show Kesha’s a talent and a masterful interpreter of powerful music.
Snippets of the song can be found here and here, and a full version of the song from a few days prior, when she performed with Ben Folds (who joined her Sunday night along with a violinist) is worth hearing.
This isn’t Kesha’s first Dylan cover. In 2011, she sang “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” on Amnesty International’s fundraising four-CD set, Chimes of Freedom, featuring all Dylan covers, in honor of the organization’s 50th anniversary. It is haunting and emotional and flat-out impressive.
True to her word, the performance at Sunday night’s award show doesn’t seem to have been overtly referencing her legal fight with Dr. Luke, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t on people’s minds. It also doesn’t mean the song choice wasn’t fully intentional: it’s a song about letting someone down because you can’t be for them what they need you to be.
Just for fun, here’s another, older, version of the song, performed by Dylan and Joan Baez in the early 1960s. (It’s wrongly credited as Dylan and Janis Joplin.)