On Kesha’s Collaboration with Sturgill Simpson, “Resentment”

Look, a website whose beat is country music really doesn’t have any business broaching a discussion on this song. Not that it’s completely out-of-bounds or objectionably opportunistic to do so. It’s just that despite the characterization of some, this song really doesn’t have anything to do with country music, despite Sturgill Simpson’s participation, who has little to do with country music himself these days, aside from in the producer’s chair. Stereogum was one of the few that got it right when they called it “…an acoustic ballad that shades into country without ever quite getting there.”

Ahead of the release of pop star Kesha’s new album High Road on January 10th, she’s released a song called “Resentment” with the aforementioned Sturgill Simpson, along with Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson, and pop songwriter Wrabel supplying harmony vocals. Though Sturgill probably gets the most love in the mix, this still feels more like a contribution than a collaboration on the part of Sturgill. Nothing wrong with that. If you’re a fan of Sturgill, or Kesha, or both, it’s probably kind of cool to hear them singing together, and Sturgill’s deeper voice mixes well with Kesha in the early moments of the song.

But “Resentment” is not Kesha’s stab at recording country music, or a ploy to be the next pop star to get on country radio. It’s unclear if the song is even meant to be considered an actual single, or just a pre-album “instant grat” track as they call it in the industry—meaning a song that attempts to create buzz for an impending record before its release, which “Resentment” has done splendidly due to it’s curious list of contributors, and some ill-informed media wanting to characterize it as country. Here we are even talking about it (even though I initially decided not to), but only to say that it’s implications within the country realm are negligible, or at least they appear that way at the moment.

“Resentment” is an acoustic pop song, and probably a pretty decent one when regarding it in that context. It’s about slowly growing tired of being under-appreciated in a relationship to the point where a significant other’s mere presence can be grating—something many people can relate to. It will be resonant with a lot of people, but sort of sides steps a deeper story. Resentment is an in-between emotion, meaning what you feel either before or after conflict or resolution. This song leaves you in limbo. Also, with so many voices in the later portions of the song, it feels more busy than enhanced. Brian Wilson is one of the greatest of all time at arranging vocal lines, but here they feel too clustered together to hear the individuality in the respective voices.

Kesha is one of the few pop stars that if she chose to make a legitimate country record someday, could possibly do an admirable job with it. She is from Nashville, her mother is songwriter Pebe Sebert who wrote “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle to You.” Her last record Rainbow was cited earlier this year by Saving Country Music as an example of a pop record that’s more country than many of the country records being released by major labels.

If done right, it would be cool if a star like Kesha or Miley Cyrus, or someone else made a legitimate country record as a passion project, full of great 3-cord songs, steel guitar, and cool collaborations and such. But it seems like each time they get close, they end up getting cold feet, sort of like what we saw with Justin Timberlake and 2018’s Man of the Woods. He started off by hinting he wanted to make a legitimate country record, then changed it to “Americana with 808’s,” and then ended up putting out pretty much a pop record with Chris Stapleton guesting on a track.

“Resentment” is fine for what it is, but it won’t be like the Dan + Shay/Justin Bieber “10,000 Hours” collaboration which is spending its 10th week atop Billboard’s virtually meaningless Hot Country Songs chart, and will likely be there for another 30 or 40 weeks before its dethroned by another pop/country collaboration due to the charts misguided metrics. “Resentment” is just Kesha collaborating with a few folks she admires, and who admire her, and is fine for what it is, which is a song that’s not really country.

© 2023 Saving Country Music