Why Everyone Needs To Support Kesha, Not Just Women

Photo: Raymond Hall/GC Images.
Kesha arrives at the New York Supreme Court on February 19, 2016.
Taylor Swift once told Vanity Fair, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women” (which, of course, she got from Madeleine Albright). What about women who support other women, but are only vaguely aware of what’s going on with them, though? What about all people in general, not just women? That’s the state I was in regarding Kesha until a short while ago, when I finally did a deep dive into the extremely troubling, decade-plus-long ordeal that she’s been involved in with her longtime producer, Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald.

While I understand where Swift is coming from, we shouldn’t be banishing anyone to hell for being unsupportive. We should be informing everyone of what’s going on. That’s the only way to move the conversation forward.

It’s extremely easy to overhear your coworkers saying, “I can’t believe what’s happening with Kesha,” and to offer a knowing nod, while internally you’re thinking about what’s happening in your own life. I know because I’m guilty of doing it myself, and it’s embarrassing to admit. But if my own negligence can help even one person reading this become equally informed about the struggle Kesha is going through as she tries to escape years of alleged sexual, emotional, physical, and mental abuse, then I’m ready to fess up publicly.

I’m not going to offer you a tl;dr version of events. If you’re looking for some backstory about Kesha’s history with Dr. Luke, who convinced her to move to L.A. and enter the recording industry at the age of 18, Jia Tolentino provides an excellent one on Jezebel. Just know that Kesha’s past with Dr. Luke is long and thorny, and in the suit she filed against him in October 2014, she alleges that he drugged and sexually assaulted her, then threatened to hurt her career and ruin her financially if she said anything about it. Dr. Luke then filed a countersuit for defamation and breach of contract.

Now Kesha is asking to be released from her contract with Dr. Luke’s label, Kemosabe Records. She still has three more albums to record as part of the deal, and Dr. Luke is contractually obligated to produce at least six songs on each of her albums. He, of course, would stand to benefit financially from these songs and albums.

On Friday, February 19, a judge blocked the preliminary injunction filed by Kesha’s lawyers asking that the singer be allowed to release music outside of her contract with Sony, which houses Kemosabe Records. Even though Sony has stated that Kesha is free to record with Kemosabe and not work directly with Dr. Luke, why would she ever want to be in a position where she has to produce material that earns income for someone who allegedly sexually and emotionally abused her?

Dr. Luke’s lawyer, Christine Lepera, even twisted the social media hashtag that’s been used to advocate for Kesha’s plight, #FreeKesha, to maintain her client’s position. In a statement, she said: "Kesha is already ‘free’ to record and release music without working with Dr. Luke as a producer if she doesn’t want to. Any claim that she isn’t ‘free’ is a myth.”

What does this mean for Kesha? Because the preliminary injunction was blocked, she can’t release music on another label without facing legal and financial repercussions. That alone is enough to cause mental and emotional anguish. On top of that, her traumatic history with Dr. Luke has become public fodder. When the singer heard the judge’s ruling on Friday, she broke down in tears.

One infinitesimal silver lining that has emerged through the murky clouds surrounding Kesha’s current civil proceedings is the support she's received from other female artists and public figures. Please note the use of the word female in that last sentence. As Danielle Henderson points out in this trenchant Teen Vogue article, you don’t really hear many male artists lending their voice to the #FreeKesha movement. It’s a very telling sign of the gender imbalance that rules the music industry and show business at large.

And, as Sophie Gilbert of The Atlantic pointed out when Kesha first filed her lawsuit in October 2014, the singer's case against Dr. Luke is one that happens time and time again in the industry. An impressionable young teenager — usually female, although not always — is lured to Hollywood with the promise of fame and fortune by an older Svengali type, only to be manipulated and controlled in an emotionally and physically damaging way.

As Henderson notes, Kesha might have come across as an especially easy target for someone looking for a naive and nubile young talent. “[R]aised by a single mother on welfare, [Kesha] was always more at risk for sexual assault, because predators tend to single out girls who are less likely to be noticed or heard and we’ve set a cultural precedence for her to not be taken seriously,” Henderson writes.

There’s also Kesha’s image. From the beginning, Kesha was marketed as an “animal” (it’s the name of her debut album). The majority of her hits are club bangers with lyrics like, “Your love is my drug.” She wears smeared glitter, and her hair is usually messy. She’s always been outspoken. In October 2013, when Rolling Stone asked Kesha what she thought of Sinéad O’Connor’s warning to Miley Cyrus that, “If you’re a young woman [in the music industry] allowing your sexuality to be bought and sold as a commodity, you’re essentially a prostitute," Kesha responded, “Then color me a prostitute.”

These choices and statements appeared to be Kesha's way of working within the systemic commodification and branding of female sexuality and women’s bodies. “I think that every woman who works out and prances around onstage will try to show all the hard work they've been doing,” she continued in that Rolling Stone interview. She added that she pushes back against the industry's prepackaged image of her in small ways (like posting subversive Instagrams). “I do these little silly things and then people get their panties in a wad. It's really hilarious.”

What’s interesting is that the interviewer then asked Kesha about the fan-generated online petition to emancipate her from Dr. Luke back in 2013. She talked about not having any creative control over her career, and how she can’t show the world other sides of her personality because of it. It would take a trip to rehab in 2014 and an attempted comeback in 2015 for the world to take seriously the cracks in Kesha’s glittery armor.

We owe it to Kesha to try to understand what's going on. This is not about Taylor Swift, even though I started this treatise with a quote from America’s foremost fair-weather feminist. Demi Lovato pulled her into this whole thing because Swift hadn’t voiced her support for Kesha. Swift then donated $250,000 to help with Kesha’s legal bills.

Although this is not a Swift affair, it’s hard not to wonder what would happen if someone with Swift’s scrubbed-up, good-girl image accused one of her producers of the same things Kesha has alleged Dr. Luke did to her. But no, the focus has to be 100% on Kesha, and there shouldn’t be finger-pointing about who has and hasn’t voiced their support for her.

We all need to know what allegedly happened to Kesha and what is currently happening to Kesha. All of us — women, men, children, people — need to think about the possible ramifications for a woman’s mental, emotional, and physical state if she’s forced to produce material that will help her alleged abuser in any way, shape, or form. I remained in the dark about the matter for too long, and that’s why I wised up and wrote this piece.

#FreeKesha is symbolic of a larger systemic flaw in which the survivors of abuse are forced to remain attached and even indebted to their abusers. If Sony is smart, they’ll let Kesha go.
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