If you’ve never heard of Kesha (born Kesha Rose Sebert in 1987), you’ve either been living in a cornfield or made a conscious effort to avoid every radio ever. She’s the glitter-covered, thrillingly weird, in-your-face pop star responsible for such hits as “Tik Tok,” “We R Who We R,” and “Die Young.” As a female in the mainstream pop industry she has stood out for rejecting society’s rules of propriety, singing about casual sex and partying, much the same as her male counterparts – but unlike them she’s been branded a “dumb party slut,” highlighting yet again just how sanctimonious the world’s attitude towards women still is. As she once said, “I want to talk about men the way men talk about women…I’m a young, responsible woman who can work and party as hard as any man. So, if I want to talk about drinking and sex, I’m going to do it.”
Unfortunately Kesha’s personal life hasn’t been as carefree as her public persona. Her career took off in 2005 at age 18 when she began working with Lukasz Gottwald, or Dr. Luke. She signed with his Kemosabe Entertainment label and publishing company, Prescription Songs, and proceeded to churn out chart-topping hits for the next decade. However, in 2014 she filed a lawsuit against Dr. Luke. She alleges the producer began abusing her as soon as she signed with his label, citing forced drug and alcohol use, verbal abuse, physical abuse, and rape: “The facts presented in our lawsuit paint a picture of a man who is controlling and willing to commit horrible acts of abuse in an attempt to intimidate an impressionable, talented, young female artist into submission for his personal gain.” Dr. Luke immediately filed a countersuit claiming Kesha is fabricating stories in an extortion attempt, so she can be released from her contract.
On February 6th, 2016, Kesha and her team won a small victory – a New York judge dismissed Luke’s claims, although Kesha’s mother Pebe Sebert still faces a suit in Tennessee.
As a Kesha fan and abuse survivor I’m stoked about this development. However, the bigger picture painted here is disturbing. For starters, Sony’s response to Kesha’s allegations was textbook victim-blaming: “[The] admission – that Sebert never spoke of or reported the alleged misconduct – is fatal to each and every one of her claims against Sony and Kemosabe Records…Sebert cannot have it both ways: she cannot claim that Gottwald intimidated her into silence, then – as an apparent afterthought – seek to hold Sony and Kemosabe Records liable for failing to act on conduct that she did not report.” The statement reeks of gaslighting, a technique where information is twisted (or selectively omitted) to favor the abuser in an effort to make the victim doubt their own memory and perception. Sony dismisses Kesha’s own memories, claiming since she didn’t report the abuse when it occurred it can’t possibly have happened. They ignore the possibility that she could have been afraid to speak out against Dr. Luke – an entirely plausible situation given the extent of his control over her career. Furthermore, it is a fact that most cases of abuse and rape are never reported at all. Whether you believe Kesha’s claims or not, such a reaction is unacceptable. Instead of acknowledging the possibility of abuse, Sony discredited their own artist – who, until this point, they had been happily profiting off of. I can only deduce their support for Dr. Luke stems more from business interests than whether or not anyone at Sony believes Kesha’s story. The implications of their behavior are damning for the music industry as a whole: money still speaks louder than ethics.
With a roster like Dr. Luke’s – he has worked with Pink, Miley Cyrus, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, and Britney Spears, among others – you’d expect other performers to weigh in. He certainly has left a trail of distrust, most notably for copyright infringement. Unfortunately the only person who has publicly shown concern is producer/singer/songwriter Butch Walker via a tweet in October where he stated, “This is everything wrong with the music biz. I feel sad for her.”
This is everything wrong with the music biz. I’m sad for her. https://t.co/BzZ3iwTjSn
— butchwalker (@butchwalker) October 30, 2015
As a diehard Butch Walker fan, this outspoken support thrills me; as a woman and general human being, the fact that he’s the only one is depressing. Why aren’t any of the strong women Dr. Luke has worked with come forward, either to condemn or defend him? If their experiences with him were positive I’d expect a challenge to Kesha’s claims; unfortunately, I suspect the answer is more likely fear. Most abuse survivors know their abuser (as Kesha does), meaning speaking against them can have a domino effect on other relationships. In this case Kesha has drawn criticism from fans and industry players alike – perhaps her peers are hoping to avoid the same.
I personally believe Kesha’s allegations. To me, it doesn’t seem logical for her to lie. The dismissal on February 6th gives me hope for a positive outcome. I hope her story will discredit Dr. Luke and make it difficult for him to access impressionable young women. I hope that this is another step away from the corruption and abuse the music industry has been mired in for decades. Mostly, I hope her bravery helps other survivors, inspiring them to begin their own path to healing, whatever it may be.
AVFTI offers an open platform for victims of sex crimes and their supporters to share their experiences and opinions. If you’d like to contribute to the conversation, shoot us an email. Opinion pieces may not reflect an official position from A Voice for the Innocent.