Whatever happened to Kesha?
(This is not a rhetorical question.)
The pop star rose to fame with singles like “Tik Tok” and “Your Love is My Drug,” odes to parties, young love, and dubious hygiene. But since 2013 she’s been largely quiet.
Turns out there’s a reason why, and it’s frightening. Last week, it got even worse.
In 2014, Kesha brought a lawsuit against her manager, Dr. Luke of Kemosabe Records, claiming he drugged and raped her when she was 18 and continued “battery, sexual harassment, gender violence, unfair business practices, and infliction of emotional distress” for years afterwards.
Part of her complaint stated, “I know I cannot work with Dr. Luke. I physically cannot. I don’t feel safe in any way.”
But under her current contract with Sony, Kemosabe’s parent label, Kesha is prohibited from recording music with another producer until she has made six albums with Dr. Luke. Hence, her musical silence.
On Feb. 19, a New York Supreme Court judge denied Kesha’s request to void her contract, ruling that Kesha must remain contractually bound to Sony. Judge Shirley Kornreich's ruling favored the music industry, interpreting Kesha’s suit as an attempt to "decimate a contract that was heavily negotiated and typical for the industry."
Kornreich described her ruling as the “commercially reasonable” thing to do, pointing out that Kesha could work with another producer under Sony.
But by denying Kesha the ability to escape her contract, the ruling ensures her work still belongs to Dr. Luke. As it stands, if the singer wants to record music again, it will be owned by her alleged assailant.
Last week, before the ruling, Kesha shared an emotional post to Instagram.
“I did this because the truth was eating away my soul and killing me from the inside,” she wrote.
“This is not just for me. This is for every woman, every human who has ever been abused ... I had to tell the truth.”
Notably, other female pop stars have taken to Twitter in her defense, including Taylor Swift, who donated $250,000 in a “show of support” for Kesha, and Kelly Clarkson, who hinted of her own negative experiences with the producer.
Trying 2 not say anything since I can't say anything nice about a person... so this is me not talking about Dr. Luke https://t.co/lLhtUHbmgG— Kelly Clarkson (@kelly_clarkson) February 19, 2016
Dr. Luke, who filed a countersuit for slander and extortion, has denied claims that he sexually assaulted the pop star, saying she was “like a sister.”
“[L]ives can get ruined when there’s a rush to judgment before all the facts come out. Look what happened at UVA, Duke etc,” he tweeted.
As with many cases of rape and trauma, the truth of what happened to Kesha may take a long time to emerge. What is shocking and tragic here, in addition to the possibility that a trusted advisor and legal mentor could sexually assault his protégé (and then publicly deny it), is the very apparent commercial, and legal, incentive to keep the career and fortunes of woman in clear distress bound to her alleged abuser.
“What is the worth of a woman?” writes Madeleine Davies.
“What is the worth of her body, her safety, her heart, her career? And once you determine it, how does it hold up to the worth of a man, a business, a conglomeration? Or does it not hold up at all?”