The 2018 Grammys gave viewers some wildly entertaining live performances, from Childish Gambino’s seductive rendition of “Terrified” to Bruno Mars and Cardi B’s high-octane remix of “Finesse.” But, while those moments were fun, they weren’t the award show’s most important display, by far. Rather, that honor goes to Kesha, who sang her soul out and showed it to the entire world with her performance of “Praying.” In a world where the #MeToo movement and the Time’s Up initiative are attempting to end the scourge of sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood, Kesha’s Suffragette-friendly, all-white outfits performance couldn’t be more necessary or come at a better time.
For years, Kesha has been trying to be released from her contract with mentor and mega-producer Dr. Luke, legal name Lukasz Gottwald, whom the pop singer has repeatedly claimed abused her sexually, physically, and emotionally (allegations Dr. Luke has denied). When Kesha’s motion was denied almost exactly two years ago in February 2016, photos of the young woman sobbing in a New York City courtroom quickly set social media on fire, leading to the #FreeKesha movement. While fellow artists and celebrities stood by the singer — including vocal sexual abuse survivor advocates like Lady Gaga, Rose McGowan, and Halsey — and demanded she be released from the contract, the true decision-makers of the music industry seemed unsettlingly quiet.
That habit of staying mum has continued in the following years. Yet, Kesha’s 2018 Grammys performance suggests a long-awaited change may be occurring among music’s most powerful elites.
The point of Grammy-nominated “Praying” — with lines like “Cause you brought the flames and you put me through hell. I had to learn how to fight for myself. And we both know all the truth I could tell” — is Kesha announcing she is moving on from the alleged abuse she’s suffered. Abuse the music industry has either tried to ignore or outright deny. Now, instead of turning a blind eye to the supposed pain Kesha suffered, and was dragged through the mud for daring to speak about, the Recording Academy is giving her its biggest platform.
Even executive producer Ken Ehrlich recognized this would serve as music's necessary response to Time's Up and #MeToo. Better late than never, right?
While seeing Kesha onstage, flanked by an army of powerful woman singers and introduced by a #TimesUp pin-wearing Janelle Monae, it’s easy to imagine a world where the industry immediately believed and protected her. If the Kesha vs. Dr. Luke case had hit the news in November 2017, rather than February 2016, it’s possible there wouldn’t have even been a case in the first place. Rather, amid the shaming and implosion of institutions like Harvey Weinstein’s The Weinstein Company or Louis C.K.’s vast comedy enterprise, it’s possible Kesha would have simply been allowed out of her contract.
In the climate of Time’s Up, it’s unlikely any business would want to be the star of bad press headlines like “Label Forces Singer To Keep Working With Her Alleged Sexual Abuser On Legal Principal.”
Although Kesha didn’t get the immediate support she deserved, her Grammys rendition of “Praying” can now serve as a much-needed signal to other sexual assault survivors that the world can improve. After all the “hell” she was put through, as Kesha sings in her Best Pop Solo-nominated hit, she now literally has the entire force of music behind her. During her appearance, we see countless types of women behind her: young and old, Black, white, and Latina. While Kesha is allowed to be the star of her big moment, the voices of Camila Cabello, Andra Day, Bebe Rexha, Cyndi Lauper, Julia Michaels, and the Resistance Revival Chorus, which was born out of the Women’s Movement, only made her message of healing and renewal stronger.
The music industry as long struggled with tackling its own systemic abuse the way the entertainment industry has begun trying to. With Kesha’s unforgettable “Praying,” it looks like they may have finally acknowledged the anthem that can help them find the way.
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