What You Need To Know About The Ke$ha Situation
Any American with even a modest amount of cultural awareness has a few artists that immediately come to mind when they hear the term “pop star.” If I conducted a survey today requesting people to name an artist that best embodies this designation, perhaps the most common responses would be Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor, Katy Perry, or One Direction. But go back to 2012, and the pop star that nobody could help hearing was Ke$ha, a new talent from Nashville that exploded onto the club and commercial radio music scenes in 2010 after the successful release of her debut album, Animal. It was a provocative release that presented a powerful and independent persona for the fledgling superstar, and on paper it was love at first sight for the music-consuming public; Animal debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, and was certified platinum by the RIAA in October 2010 after selling 1,650,000 copies.
Momentum appeared to be on Ke$ha’s side when she released her second studio effort, Warrior, in December 2012 to similar success both commercially and critically, selling 1,600,000 copies worldwide. In case it isn’t immediately obvious, Ke$ha was no joke to the music industry, pulling in record sales most artists can only dream of and selling out on tour stops that took her all over the world.
So where has she been for the last four years?
Ke$ha has yet to release another full-length studio album since 2012’s Warrior, a decision that would normally spell doom for a pop star’s career. Normally an artist of Ke$ha’s profile in the genre she occupies would have a biannual release schedule, with four years between albums being a stretch that would typically signal waning public interest or a record label that doesn’t see a profit to be made in recording new material. However, it is worth noting that Ke$ha has not stopped touring consistently since the release of her second album, performing in the United States as recently as September 2015; her music clearly still holds sway over enough concert-goers to make touring so extensively a worthwhile endeavor. So the big question should really be, why hasn’t Ke$ha recorded any new music?
The answer, unfortunately, is a culmination of personal problems for Kesha Rose Sebert that began to take their toll. According to MTV, the singer checked into a rehab facility in January 2014 to receive treatment for bulimia nervosa, a condition she had reportedly been struggling with since she was signed to RCA Records after dropping out of high school to pursue her music career. This bout with an eating disorder was, however, only one of the reasons for Kesha’s dearth of artistic output.
In October of 2014, Sebert filed a lawsuit with the Los Angeles County Superior Court. The defendant was Dr. Luke, of Kemosabe Records, the much sought-after pop producer and songwriter responsible for records and singles by household names going back to the early 2000s. Sebert has alleged that over the course of her career she has suffered abuse at the hands of her producer, real name Lukasz Gottwald, who has been accused of sexual assault and battery, sexual harassment, and gender violence, among other offenses.
During the course of Kesha’s legal proceedings against Dr. Luke, she has been unable to record her upcoming third album because, well, she can’t. Kesha is currently under a joint contract with Kemosabe Records and Sony Music Entertainment, and while this contract still holds, she is legally barred from recording an album to be distributed by another company. The real catch – the infuriating, heart-wrenching, miserable catch – is that if she agrees to record with her current label in order to ensure that her career as a recording artist survives, Sony has made it clear that she will be forced to work with Dr. Luke.
After denying appeals filed by Kesha, Sony Music has effectively sided with their star producer. Kesha, hoping to salvage her career by recording a new album (which she states to have already written while in rehab), appealed to Sony to allow her to record a third LP, with the caveat being that she would have to work with a producer other than Dr. Luke, because obviously. Sony rejected this compromise, denying Sebert the chance to revitalize her career with new music unless she agrees to work with Gottwald. Interestingly, and some would say foolishly, Sony is also by extension denying Kesha the opportunity to make more money for Sony. Kesha, caught in a creative stranglehold by Sony, is being forced to choose between two things to give up; her career, or her integrity.
If the court sides with Kesha, she will be released from her contract and will be allowed to pursue recording ventures outside of Sony and Kemosabe’s grasp (Kesha’s claim is that Sony had knowledge of Dr. Luke’s abuse but did not take corrective action). From there, she will have the option of signing another contract and continuing her career with a new distributor, or she could take the increasingly-popular path of the independent artist. On the other hand, if the court does not favor Sebert and Sony’s hold on her contract is enforced, Kesha will remain in her current situation, unable to record because of the Sony’s unwillingness to allow her to work with a producer that isn’t being sued for sexual assault.
There will be (or perhaps more accurately, are) those who say Sebert made the allegations not out of an effort to escape her abuser, but rather to escape from a label and production team she sees as responsible for her second album’s underperformance when compared to her debut. It’s a cold notion to be sure, and assuming that Kesha is greedy to the point of accusing someone of sexual assault would be a stretch to say the least.
The biggest flaw in this logic lies in the fact that in order for it be internally consistent, we must accept that Kesha’s motivation in pursuing legal action against Sony and Dr. Luke is monetary; if Warrior matched or exceeded expectations sales-wise, there would be no reason for Kesha to sue at all, if we assume she is only doing so out of a desire to work with a label that would make her more successful than Sony can. With that in mind, consider that Sony is one of the biggest production companies in the music world. With Kemosabe and Dr. Luke at their disposal, not to mention their working relationship with songwriting extraordinaires such as Max Martin, they have an arsenal of prestigious personnel that are better equipped than anyone to make Kesha the sensation she so desperately wants to be, following this line of reasoning. So, by this logic, Kesha is suing Dr. Luke and Sony, probably one of the most lucrative music machines in the entire world, because she didn’t make enough money. And to back up her case, she made up an elaborate story in which she is abused by Dr. Luke for the better part of a decade, culminating in a month-long stint in rehab for an eating disorder and a three-year refusal to record music that could have been spent writing and recording albums to satisfy her contractual obligations and making herself millions while she did it. All this sacrificed money, plus the bonus of being practically unsignable due to a tarnished reputation that is all too common for those who make allegations of abuse against people in power. If Kesha is only going through this ordeal because she is greedy, she picked possibly the most roundabout, convoluted, and shortsighted way imaginable to get herself a better deal. I can’t know for sure what happened to Kesha while she was being making music with Dr. Luke, but I do know that she isn’t that stupid.
Not all of us can say that we’ve ever had to choose between doing what we love and loving who we are, but that is the situation that Kesha Rose Sebert currently finds herself in. None of us on the outside can know what truly happened between Sebert and Gottwald, but the case against Dr. Luke is gaining traction on social media and in the press. In February 2016, the New York Supreme Court dismissed Dr. Luke’s pending defamation lawsuit against Kesha’s mother Pebe Sebert, on the grounds that the alleged injuries inflicted on Kesha did not take place in New York, giving the state no jurisdiction in the matter. A similar lawsuit is pending in Tennessee, filed by Dr. Luke as a cautionary measure, but Pebe Sebert can at least know she is not going to be forced into a legal fight in two different states. In regards to the conclusion of Kesha’s showdown with Sony and Dr. Luke, fans of the 28-year-old singer will just have to wait and see; her court date is scheduled for February 19. In the meantime, while she is still unable to legally record new music, fans can enjoy Sebert’s tender cover of “Amazing Grace,” uploaded to YouTube as a viral show of solidarity with her supporters who continue to spread the message of #freekesha.