On February 19, Kesha Rose Sebert— known to the world as simply Kesha — lost her bid for an injunction that would allow her to void her contract with Dr. Luke. If won, the injunction would have allowed Kesha to finally free herself from the man who, Kesha alleges in the complaint she filed, “sexually, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused Ms. Sebert to the point where Ms. Sebert nearly lost her life.”
Kesha met Dr. Luke in 2005, when she was only 18. Her big break came in 2008 when she was recruited as a guest vocalist on the Flo Rida track “Right Round.” Her debut album “Animal” came out in 2010 and it solidified her reputation as a carefree, witty, party girl. As her notoriety rose, Kesha used her newfound public platform to advocate for both LGBT and animal rights. In 2010 Kesha participated in the viral “It Gets Better” campaign. But if the allegations she filed are true, Kesha’s fun-loving exterior masked her near-constant fear.
Kesha filed a 28-page complaint to the Los Angeles Superior District Court against her producer. One of the most disturbing accounts in the report details Dr. Luke’s attempt to sexually assault Kesha, wherein he “forced Ms. Sebert to snort an illicit drug before they were scheduled to take a flight. Once on the plane, Dr. Luke continuously forced himself on Ms. Sebert while she was intoxicated and drugged. Ms. Sebert was in such an intoxicated state on the plane that she vomited on herself during the flight.”
In pop music, an artist’s sense of agency is rarely called into question. It is loosely assumed within our culture that pop stars make music because they want to; it is their childhood dream manifest, or they want to “touch people’s lives.” However, things get sticky when an artist attempts to prioritize their own sense of personhood, their emotional health, and their wellbeing over their ability to be commodified for mass cultural consumption. In this culture of near constant media blitz , do we ever allow celebrities to prioritize themselves over the zeitgeist?
In 2014, Kesha entered a rehabilitation center for bulimia; at the same time, she was being treated for severe depression, panic attacks and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She said Dr. Luke’s attempts to obliterate her sense of self worth resulted in an eating disorder that had detrimental effects on her physical health. According to the indictment filed against Dr. Luke, “Doctors at the facility told Ms. Sebert and her family that her blood pressure and sodium levels were similar to levels found in patients following a heart attack or stroke.”
Kesha’s case speaks to just how deeply we as a society have fallen down the capitalist rabbit hole; that our ability to sell labor is contingent on our ability to compromise emotional wellbeing. Critical theory buzzwords aside, this is bullshit. Justice Shirley Kornreich told Kesha’s attorney Mark Geragos, “My instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing.” In this case, the “commercially reasonable thing” was to force Kesha to continue to work with the person who “sexually, physically, and verbally abused Ms. Sebert for a decade in order to make her feel completely worthless and maintain complete control over her life,” according to the report she filed.
Following the verdict, celebrities and fans alike expressed both outrage and support on Kesha’s behalf. Both Zedd and Bleacher’s frontman Jack Antanoff offered to work with Kesha so she would be able to make music for free. Adele used her acceptance speech for her 2016 “Best Female Solo Artist” Brit award to voice her support, stating, “I’d like to take a quick second just to thank my manager and my record label for embracing the fact that I’m a woman and being encouraged by it. And I would also like to take this moment to publicly support Kesha.”
On social media, various celebrities and fans have taken to tweeting #freekesha as a show of solidarity. Lorde tweeted, “Standing with @KeshaRose through this traumatic, deeply unfair time. send good vibes her way everyone.” A petition on change.org urging Sony to release Kesha from her contract garnered over 25,000 signatures. Taylor Swift donated $250,000 to help with Kesha’s legal fees. Then, on the morning of March 9, the website “The Wrap” broke the story that Dr. Luke had been dropped by Sony following his lawsuit with Kesha.
That relief was short lived, however. Soon after the story broke, Dr. Luke’s lawyers issued a statement saying, “This is not true. Luke has an excellent relationship with Sony. His representatives are in regular contact with executives at the highest levels at Sony and this has never come up.”
Now, a month after the failed injunction, fans and celebrities alike continue to demand justice for Kesha. Ariana Grande spoke about Kesha during an interview with Carson Daly on 97.1 AMP radio, saying, “The incredible double standards that we [women] face on a daily basis, in the industry and just in the world — it’s shocking. I would be so amused, and pardon me if this comes across as sexist, but I don’t think a male artist would be in this position right now.”
In addition to Grande, Lady Gaga has also been vocal on the injustice of Kesha’s legal struggles, openly discussing the culture of slut shaming and victim blaming that survivors of sexual assault often face once they come forward. Gaga told the same radio station, “I feel like she’s being very publicly shamed for something that happens in the music industry all the time, to women and men.”
Lady Gaga only recently came forward to say that she had been sexually assaulted herself by someone in the music industry at the age of 19. She explained to Carson Daly, “People don’t always listen or care, and that’s why a lot of women or men don’t come forward.”
Lady Gaga was recently nominated for an Oscar for her song “Until It Happens to You,” which was featured in the documentary “The Hunting Ground” — an unflinching exploration of how college campuses often fail victims of sexual assault. She performed the song at the 88th annual Academy Awards, standing alongside 50 other sexual assault survivors; the performance was introduced by Vice President Joe Biden.
Kesha later thanked Lady Gaga and Vice President Joe Biden on Twitter stating, “Thank u @ladygaga and VP @JoeBiden for bringing attention to sexual assault at the Oscars. It hits very close to my heart for obvious reasons.”
For now, it seems as though Kesha’s creative process is trapped in the frustrating workings of the legal system, but that hasn’t stopped her. She recently appeared as herself on an episode of “Nashville” and on March 5, she accepted the Human Rights Campaign Visibility award for her work as an advocate of LGBT rights. During her acceptance speech she thanked her supporters, saying, “As many of you know I am going through some personal things that have been really intense and hard lately. I just want to say thank you for any support I have received.”
Despite continuous and outspoken pleas to end their partnership with Dr. Luke, Sony has remained tight-lipped after denying the claim that they were dropping Dr. Luke. It’s beyond frustrating that we live in a society where not only is rape culture a normal part of our cultural discourse, but where we are expected to compromise our emotional well-being in order to sell our labor. Yet at the same time, it’s also somewhat affirming to see the outpouring of love and outspoken support that’s been directed towards Kesha these past couple of months, and it doesn’t look like it’s waning any time soon. For now, we’ll stand with Kesha … Maybe that’s the best thing we can do.