Man, this was a chaotic year. In turbulent times, pop music is something we can usually rely on for escapism and jollity. But in 2017, some of the genre’s leading ladies — Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, and Kesha — weathered their own difficult storms that played out in front of our eyes. As we watched each woman cope with their own tragedies, we also saw each one come out the other side and emerge even stronger than before.
As the end of this year draws near, let’s look back on how these three superstars were beacons of resilience and survival in 2017, against all odds.
After a tumultuous 2016 — during which she canceled her Revival Tour and checked into rehab to focus on her mental health — fans were hoping Selena Gomez would reemerge stronger than ever this year. In many ways, she did — she created some of the best music of her career for which she’s finally getting her due as a Serious Artist. But the 25-year-old also suffered a difficult health scare that kept her out of the spotlight — while also proving her a true survivor.
On the music front, Gomez blessed us with a handful of new tunes, beginning with her chart-sticking Kygo hit, “ It Ain’t Me.” She spent the spring promoting Netflix’s breakout series 13 Reasons Why, which she executive produced, and then ushered in the summer with a pair of new singles. First up was “ Bad Liar,” a Talking Heads-sampling bop that debuted alongside a quirky video flaunting her acting chops. That was followed by “ Fetish,” a sexy, Gucci Mane-assisted slow-burner with a hardcore video directed by indie darling Petra Collins.
With those two singles under her belt, Gomez seemed poised to release a pop album that would dominate Summer ‘17. Instead, she remained largely out of the public eye, leading confused fans to speculate why she wasn’t ramping up promo for her new music. The answer came when, in September, Gomez divulged that she had undergone a kidney transplant due to complications with lupus and was steadily recovering in private. In a revealing Instagram post and an emotional Today interview, she appeared a model of strength, tearfully explaining how the surgery has helped her live a healthier and happier life.
Gomez’s topsy-turvy year culminated in a rare performance at the American Music Awards in November. Taking the stage for the first time since her surgery, she belted “ Wolves,” a longing, glitchy ballad with Marshmello in which she breaks down the extremes she’ll willingly go to for love. It was a poignant reminder of Gomez’s tenacity, and a promising sign that she’s finally on the rebound.
Ariana Fights Back
This year, Ariana Grande’s name was at the center of one of the worst terror attacks in history. On May 22, the pop star’s Dangerous Woman Tour came to an abrupt halt when a suicide bomber set off an explosion after her concert at Manchester Arena. Twenty-two people were killed, and over 500 more were injured, many of them young concertgoers and parents.
Grande promptly suspended her tour and flew to her mother’s home in Boca Raton, Florida, where she kept a low profile and tweeted that she felt “ broken.” As fans continued to process the tragedy, no one expected Grande to simply pick up her mic again and carry on, but that’s exactly what the 24-year-old did. Within a week, Grande had visited with victims in the hospital and announced that she would host a star-studded benefit concert in Manchester.
The event came together remarkably quickly, and on June 4, Grande and a stellar lineup of her peers — including Justin Bieber, Coldplay, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, and Niall Horan — hit the stage for One Love Manchester. The concert raised more than $13 million for victims of the attack and, most importantly, bolstered courage among an audience that desperately needed it. Grande, in particular, was a beacon of strength that night, and her tearful but poised performance of “ Somewhere Over the Rainbow” may live on as one of the enduring moments of her career — in the wake of a much darker one.
The Dangerous Woman Tour picked back up on June 7 in Paris, and came to an emotional end in September in Hong Kong. Returning to the stage was a true act of bravery and resilience, and something that Grande said she never thought twice about, no matter how traumatic the experience in Manchester. As she explained in an interview with Coveteur, “Calling it off and going home was not an option. The message of the show was too important.”
Kesha Breaks Free
Five years after her last album, Warrior, and three years since she became embroiled in a legal battle with her longtime producer Dr. Luke, Kesha returned in 2017 with a comeback album for the ages. Rainbow is an impassioned response to the singer’s battle with a legal system that has left her besieged, but it’s also a powerful pop opus that was well worth the wait.
Kesha’s road to releasing Rainbow was a grueling one. In 2014, she filed a lawsuit against Dr. Luke, claiming that he sexually, verbally, physically, and emotionally abused her. Since then, legal defeats have prevented her from releasing music outside of her deals with him, but she was finally able to make Rainbow without his direct involvement. Fans responded with open arms, and Rainbow debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 and earned Kesha the first two Grammy nominations of her career.
With Rainbow, the #FreeKesha movement transformed from a rallying cry into a survivor’s declaration of triumph; one that’s essential in the Trump era, and one that shouts, “I’m still here, motherfuckers.” From the emotionally raw power ballad “ Praying” to the fist-pumping anthem “ Woman,” these are songs that show us what perseverance can yield. Take that, bastards.