*Trigger Warning: descriptions of sexual abuse
On Friday, February 19th, a New York judge denied pop singer Kesha’s injunction against former music producer Dr. Luke. Part of an ongoing legal battle since October 2014, Kesha is suing Lukasz Gottwald, known as “Dr. Luke,” for a decade of sexual, physical, verbal and emotional abuse, which allegedly began when she was just a teenager and left high school to begin a music career in Los Angeles.
The injunction would have made it possible for Kesha to continue recording with Sony, but not with Kemosabe Records (Dr. Luke’s label). Kesha’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, had originally asked for the injunction because her career had been hold for a while (since the lawsuit began) and, if she didn’t return to record soon, her career could be irreparably damaged. NY Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich denied the injunction, saying,“You’re asking the court to decimate a contract that was heavily negotiated and typical for the industry.” Because Dr. Luke had invested 60 million dollars in her career and had agreed to allow her to let her record without his involvement, the judge stated that this decimated her argument, adding, “My instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing.”
Sony has refused to produce her music unless she agreed to work with Dr. Luke. Thanks to the judge’s decision, Kesha will be required to continue working with the music producer. However, Sony and Dr. Luke have argued that the agreement allows her to create more records without Dr. Luke’s input or presence in the studio, while maintaining her original contract. In their eyes, that should be good enough for her.
When Kesha first began her lawsuit, Dr. Luke responded with a counter lawsuit, saying that the singer was just trying to extort him in order to get out of her contract and defame him. Dr. Luke has worked with other big names in the past, including Katy Perry, Britney Spears and Kelly Clarkson. Kesha said that during their ten-year relationship, she allegedly suffered a number of incidents. In one occasion, he made her snort a substance before getting on a plane, where he then assaulted her while in the air. Another time, he drugged her with GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, known as a date rape drug) and she woke up hours later in his bed, naked with no memory of what had occurred.
Dr. Luke has denied all charges of sexual abuse and says that Kesha is suing because she is frustrated with her stalled career. “His attorneys have argued that Kesha’s claims came too late and are too vague, the harm is overstated and that she’s not likely to prevail on her discrimination, harassment and hate crime claims nor beat his ones for allegedly breaching a contract and committing defamation.”
In an Instagram post on February 18th, Kesha wrote, “I have nothing left to hide. I did this because the truth was eating away my soul and killing me from the inside. this is not just for me. this is for every woman, every human who has ever been abused. sexually. emotionally. mentally. I had to tell the truth. so the outcome will be what it will be. there’s nothing left I can do. it’s just so scary to have zero control in your fate. but this is my path this life for whatever reason.”
Kesha’s fans have been publicly behind her every step of the way. After the judge’s decisions, fans and fellow musicians, including Kelly Clarkson, Ariana Grande, Lorde and Lady Gaga, posted messages of support using the hashtag “FreeKesha.” Even Taylor Swift is stepping up, by donating $250,000 to Kesha to help her with any of her financial needs.
Since the decision, Kesha made a public statement saying, “”All I ever wanted was to be able to make music without being afraid, scared, or abused,” Kesha wrote. “This case has never been about a renegotiation of my record contract – it was never about getting a bigger, or a better deal. This is about being free from my abuser. I would be willing to work with Sony if they do the right thing and break all ties that bind me to my abuser.”
The fact that this story is only now just making major headlines is astonishing. Firstly, why, after almost a year and a half, are people only now starting to pay attention? Secondly, what kind of judge—yet alone human being—would decide that a working relationship in which the employer regularly abuses their employee must be maintained?
Taking away Lukasz Gottwald’s rights and allowing Kesha to break her contract with him would acknowledge that this was overlooked, damaging not only his reputation, but Sony’s as well. Sony doesn’t want to dirty its hands trying to save Kesha. It seems that Shirley Kornreich has decided that when a famous music producer invests in you, you’re supposed to be grateful. Sure, he may try to take advantage of you, but because he spent his time and money on you, continuing to work with him, rather than trying to pull away to salvage the rest of your career and peace of mind, is “the commercially sound thing to do.”
This isn’t an isolated incident. There are the many women who have come forward as victims of sexual assault by Bill Cosby, the numerous victims, including Amber Coffman (of Dirty Projectors), accusing music publicist, Heathcliff Berru of sexual harassment, the story of R. Kelly preying on teenage girls that broke 17 years ago, not to mention Jackie Fox’s (of the Runaways) heartwrenching story involving her manager, Kim Fowley. The music industry is rampant with cases of men in power taking advantage of female musicians. Most recently, Michael Gira of the experimental rock band, Swans, was accused of sexual assault by singer-songwriter Larkin Grimm. Grimm described Gira as her “beloved, trusted mentor, really my guru.” Lady Gaga’s Oscar performance that spoke to her own experience of being raped, early on in her career, is the latest of these many stories. But it may not be the end, unfortunately.
Why are male producers and musicians given a pass when it comes to these situations? What this and other stories like this have in common is that they all involve a man in power. Is it the fame, reputation and prestige that they carry? The fact that because they’re producing quality work, they should be respected, no matter their actions? We can’t keep idolizing these perpetrators for the fame if they aren’t good people at heart. The Hollywood world has become a strange universe, where we analyze everything from what celebrities eat, to what they wear, how they do their hair or even how they’re “just like us!” Somewhere along the line, we forget that they are just people, just like us. Just because someone (especially a man) is creating brilliant work, doesn’t mean that they can treat people however they want. We need to make the personal political and vice versa. Kesha’s story matters. Larkin Grimm’s story matters. The stories of the women who are sexually assaulted every day matter. We need to stop saying, “Yeah, what he did was awful, but he’s such a good musician/producer/artist though…”
By allowing women in the spotlight to have their stories heard and considered part of a much bigger problematic trend, we open the gateway towards preventing future assaults. If a white musician like Kesha can have her experience as a victim of sexual abuse be negated, imagine how much harder it must be for women of color. As the journalist who broke the story of R. Kelly’s sexual assault stated, “The saddest fact I’ve learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.” By allowing Kesha’s story to be heard and have her experiences be considered important, not just be a “part of the industry,” it gives other women hope. The fact that Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and many others are stepping forward to support Kesha is a step in the right direction. Let’s learn from this and try to be an ally for victims, let them tell their stories and allow them to be validated, not shut down.