Music Editorial: Kesha Controversy Concerns

Music Industry Still A Wasteland Of Misogyny, Shattered Dreams

Robin Babb
5 min read
Kesha Controversy Concerns
Pop star Kesha (Brittanyanyon/Wikipedia)
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Unless you’ve been completely avoiding the internet for the past week, chances are you have seen some articles about the lawsuit between pop musician Kesha (formerly known as Ke$ha) and her producer, Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald (better known as Dr. Luke). Pop stars have been weighing in on Twitter, and celebrity news sites are stalking every detail of the case. But why should you care about another petty legal dispute between a musician and her producer?

First, here’s the case in a nutshell: on October 14, 2014, Kesha filed a lawsuit against Dr. Luke, saying that he had "sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally abused” her in the ten years since they began working together—you can find the full text of her complaint online without too much looking, but beware, it’s definitely a downer. Her hope was to break her record contract with him and Kemosabe, his imprint of Sony Music, and to be able to record with other labels. Later the same month, Dr. Luke counter sued Kesha, insisting that her lawsuit was a misguided effort to get out of a contract and a blatant attempt at defamation. At this time, Kesha hadn’t released any new music in two years, and was stuck in the fresh hell of not wanting to work with her alleged abuser, but also not wanting her career to be on hold indefinitely. Shortly after Dr. Luke brought his case, Kesha requested an injunction that would allow her to record music with other producers while the two lawsuits were underway. The injunction was denied. Most recently, on Friday, Feb. 19, Judge Shirley Kornreich said, “[M]y instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing,” and denied Kesha the ability to break her contract with Dr. Luke. Reportedly, Kesha immediately burst into tears in the back of the courtroom.

Now, back to the reason you should care: stuff like this happens all the time in the music industry. Large labels like Sony treat their artists like raw materials, shackle them to exclusive recording contracts, and essentially hold the reigns to the success or destruction of any particular artist in their roster—much more so than the artists themselves. They lure them in with promises of the rockstar life, then proceed to take away every ounce of their creative freedom. Then, when the artist has complaints, they are told “tough luck, you signed a contract.”

And this is certainly no little complaint on Kesha’s part. Part of her lawsuit states that Dr. Luke raped her at least twice, both times after drugging her. She stated that he had cut her off from friends and family, completely controlled her artistic output, and made every effort to convince her that she needed him to be successful. She has also said that not only did Sony Music not take any action to protect her, but actively hid Dr. Luke’s horrible behavior from the press and public. Additionally, when Kesha entered rehab for a severe eating disorder in 2014, her mother, Pebe Sebert, told the press that Dr. Luke was the source of her daughter’s self-image problems and struggles with her weight. Even if only a fraction of this was actually true, I would say that Kesha is certainly within her rights to ask to break her contract.

If you want my opinion (I know you were waiting for it), I think the decision on this case sounds an awful lot like they’re saying that Sony Music, a corporation, knows what’s best for Kesha and her career. Because she’s clearly hysterical, and really needs help from big music biz lawyers to determine what’s in her best interest. And what they’ve determined is best for her is to continue working with a man she actively despises and feels unsafe with. Am I wrong, or does that sound hella paternalistic?

Sony’s lawyers have said that they invested $60 million in Kesha’s career, which, as Jezebel writer Madeline Davies has said, begs the questions “What is the worth of a woman? […] And once you determine it, how does it hold up to the worth of a man, a business, a conglomeration?” Is Sony’s financial investment in Kesha’s career really worth more than her well-being? This court decision is just another instance of a corporation being treated more humanely than an actual human in the eyes of the law.

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to believe Kesha’s allegations to understand that the court has made a horrendous decision. She’s not even asking for this guy to go to jail—she just doesn’t want to have to work with him anymore. The bare facts of the matter are that she feels uncomfortable working with this man, and that she has been told by a judge and a corporation that she must, or else her career is effectively over. Nobody—and certainly no corporation—ought to have that kind of power over somebody.


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