Saskia Bamber discusses Kesha’s efforts to free herself from a recording contract with her alleged abuser
TW: Sexual Assault
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months you will be aware of the Free Kesha campaign. If by some chance you are not, in essence the singer Kesha had become famous in 2009 for her hedonistic music and outrageous behaviour and has since been in the midst of a legal battle with her music producer Dr. Luke. Kesha brought legal proceedings against him, asking that she be released from her contract (that legally obliges her to work with him) after alleging that he has both sexually assaulted and emotionally abused her in the 10 years that they have worked together. Throughout this legal battle, Kesha has received huge support from her fan base, as well as public declarations of support from fellow musicians, including Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato and Lady Gaga.
Like Kesha, many young pop starts start out very naïve of the entrapment that can come with being signed to a record label (singer Jojo has recently also spoken to iD about ‘signing the world’s worst record deal’). As well as the risk of exploitation, it seems that Kesha has had very little control over her image and output, being presented as a drunken wild child who glorifies the juvenile and the reckless. She was certainly controversial, but this image contributed to her success and Kesha garnered multiple hits with her first two albums and has sold $60 million records worldwide.
Although many have criticised Kesha for glorifying alcoholism and hedonism through her wild persona, it had been presented as though she was a young woman that was smashing the world stage on her own terms. Nevertheless, it became abundantly clear that this was not the case, as in early 2014 Kesha checked herself into rehab to get treatment for an eating disorder that she had been suffering with for some years. It is not unusual for survivors of sexual violence to experience eating disorders as a way of coping with their experiences. In addition to this, once she had left rehab she began to distance herself from the stage persona that had made her so distinctive in her career (e.g. dropping the $ sign which took place of the S in her name). A few months after she had finished her time in rehab, she took legal action against Dr. Luke, suing him for sexual assault, sexual harassment and emotional abuse.
The latest chapter in this saga has drawn to a close with the news that Kesha is dropping the charges against Dr. Luke in California (who has counter-sued Kesha for defamation) whilst pursuing appeals against the decision made in New York that effectively lock her into her contract and dismiss her claims of emotional and sexual abuse. Dr. Luke’s lawyer has said that the dismissal of the case in California proves that these allegations are ‘false and meritless’ and emphasise that ‘she has no chance of winning’. This may just be legal mudslinging, but it puts further emphasis on the lack of dignity allowed to survivors like Kesha who have been exploited by contracts that restrict their output and take their freedom.
It is clear that Kesha is desperate to kick start her career again, but has not been able to release any new material since 2012. In the words of Kesha’s lawyer, she has a ‘strong desire to release her next album as soon as possible’, however the contract which she failed to have nullified means that she is obliged to produce three more albums for Sony before she will be released from it, and it appears that she has had to (temporarily at least) choose to save her career over pursuing justice for herself. As she is currently in the process of appealing it is unclear whether or not ‘Free Kesha’ will prevail or indeed if Sony will continue to force Kesha to work with Dr. Luke. Nevertheless, the support she has been shown by fans, fellow musicians, and the general public, emphasise how crucial it is that the survivors of sexual violence in the music industry are given the respect and freedom they deserve.
Illustration by Poppy Elizabeth Boys-Stones