Chants of “Free Kesha!” echoed through the streets as Kesha Sebert walked down the steps of the court that had just failed her. Choking back tears, she walked past a crowd of fans who were patiently waiting outside as a judge ruled that she would have to continue to work alongside the man who she says drugged and raped her. Tears streamed down her face as she made her way to her waiting car.
Kesha is not unlike any other woman living in the United States: she has a family, she works for a living, she pays her taxes, and she has feelings. The only difference between Kesha and most other women is that she was once reigning as one of the top pop stars in the world until her own world came crashing down. It has been several years since a Kesha song was released and, while many were wondering if her 2014 stint in rehab played a part in her radio silence, only those close to the singer knew what was truly going on behind closed doors: Kesha had accused her music producer, Dr. Luke, of drugging and raping her. A lawsuit was filed by Kesha in October of 2014 citing “sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional” abuse throughout the course of the decade that they had been working together.
Since Kesha is just like you and I, when the makeup and costumes come off, it is no surprise that she would not want to work with a man who she says was mentally, physically, and sexually abusive towards her for years. Now Kesha is facing what many are saying is a “never-ending” legal battle against both Dr. Luke and Sony Music. In June of 2015, Kesha expanded her lawsuit against Dr. Luke to include Sony, saying that they had “ignored” his behavior. The lawsuit put forward a notion to give the singer her freedom to produce music without having to work with Dr. Luke. In February 2016, a Manhattan Supreme Court Judge ruled against her injunction to be released from her contract with the record label and Dr. Luke alike, stating that the lack of evidence in the case, along with the producer’s “$60 million investment in her career”, left no reason why she should be allowed to break her contract.
Based on the way that the case has evolved, Kesha cannot make music elsewhere as she would be in breach of her contract with Sony. Kesha Sebert, as it were, has not released music since 2011. Artists like Jack Antonoff and Zedd have reached out via social media, offering Kesha their producing assistance. Antonoff even went as far as saying he would leak any music that they made together.
hey @kesharose — don't know what the legal specifics are, but if you want to make something together & then leak it for everyone I'm around
— jackantonoff (@jackantonoff) February 22, 2016
Many females within the music industry have collectively decided to speak out in support of Kesha; Adele publicly announced her support as she accepted an award during the 2016 Brit Awards, Lady GaGa revealed her support through a tweet which was then followed up by a video of her hugging Kesha on Snapchat, and Taylor Swift gave Kesha $250,000 to cover her legal fees. During the Oscars ceremony on February 28th, Lady GaGa performed her nominated single “Til It Happens To You” – a moving song about sexual abuse. She was joined on stage by the End Rape On Campus team as well as survivors – both men and women – of sexual abuse. The performance was meant to raise awareness surrounding college rape and, in what was a surprise to many, Vice President Joe Biden welcomed GaGa to the stage. Following her performance, Kesha tweeted praise to GaGa, thanking her for shedding light on the horrible reality of sexual abuse.
— kesha (@KeshaRose) February 29, 2016
Despite the backing by some of the most famous names in the industry, the “TiK ToK” singer has also faced the harshest of criticism by the general public. In a rash of victim-blaming, many online commentators have asserted that Kesha waited “far too long” to come forward with the allegations against Dr. Luke. In a released transcript of a 2014 deposition, Kesha says that she was terrified to speak out – her attorney backs this up by saying “Dr. Luke threatened her and her mother. Only after going to rehab and undergoing intense therapy was Kesha strong enough to stand up to this monster.”
Victim-blaming is nothing new – survivors of assault have been shamed for decades based on the idea that they were doing something to cause a man to assault them. “What were you wearing?”, “Were you drunk?”, “Did you lead him on?” Too many times we see these questions being directed to the victims who are brave enough to speak out. Our culture has come a very long way in regards to how women are treated – but we have not come far enough as evidenced by the black cloud of doubt and blame that rolls in whenever someone publicly declares abuse. Internet “trolls” run to their keyboards in a tizzy whenever a celebrity opens up about abuse – to the point where many celebrities can no longer stomach going onto social media and have assistants who control their posts for them. Kesha is not only having to go through with a trial in a very public manner, but she is also opening herself up to scrutiny from the masses – scrutiny which, thus far, has come in waves of complete shaming. Following the results of Kesha’s hearing earlier in February, Lena Dunham penned an essay for Lenny Letter on the situation. In the essay, she made a damning point:
“Imagine someone really hurt you, physically and emotionally. Scared you and abused you, threatened your family. The judge says that you don’t have to see them again, BUT they still own your house. So they can decide when to turn the heat on and off, whether they’ll pay the telephone bill or fix the roof when it leaks. After everything you’ve been through, do you feel safe living in that house? Do you trust them to protect you?”
Kesha has taken time to thank her fans for their loyal support during this difficult time in her life – she also added, “All I ever wanted was to be able to make music without being afraid, scared, or abused. This case has never been about a renegotiation of my record contract — it was never about getting a bigger, or a better deal. This is about being free from my abuser. I would be willing to work with Sony if they do the right thing and break all ties that bind me to my abuser.” Her legal battle is just beginning and, luckily, she has a massively supportive fanbase, a strong group of musicians who stand by her, and a platform to utilize should she choose to become a figurehead for strong women who won’t stand aside and let their abusers control their lives.
–Jessica Natale for The Untitled Magazine