female pop power rallies behind kesha

Some sections of the media still portray successful female musicians as self-obsessed and cattily competitive. This makes the outpouring of sisterly support afforded to Kesha since Friday especially heartwarming.

by Nick Levine
Feb 23 2016, 5:15pm

On Friday, Kesha's request to be released from her recording contract was denied by a New York City judge. Pictures of the singer sobbing at the back of the courtroom quickly went viral, and the #FreeKesha hashtag began trending on Twitter and Instagram. Until this decision is overturned, Kesha is contractually obligated to record her next six albums for Kemosabe Records, a division of Sony Music led by Lukasz 'Dr. Luke' Gottwald, a man she says physically, emotionally and sexually abused her. It's a truly pitiful situation for an artist who made her name as one of the most vibrant and enlightened pop stars of our time. Sure, she bragged about brushing her "teeth with a bottle of Jack" on 2009's hedonistic breakthrough single "TiK ToK," but pretty soon Kesha proved she has depth and empathy as well as an infectious sense of fun. In 2011, she topped the charts with "We R Who We R," a self-acceptance anthem she wrote after being horrified by the rise in suicide rates among LGBT teens in the US.

Though it's ludicrously reductive, some sexist sections of the media still portray successful female recording artists as self-obsessed and cattily competitive. This makes the outpouring of sisterly support afforded to Kesha since Friday especially heartwarming. "There are people all over the world who love you @KeshaRose. And I can say truly I am in awe of your bravery," Lady Gaga tweeted, while Lorde told her followers she will be "standing with @KeshaRose through this traumatic, deeply unfair time." Ariana Grande, Grimes, Haim, Alessia Cara, JoJo, Best Coast, and Lily Allen have all shared pro-Kesha messages on Twitter, too. Meanwhile, Halsey dedicated a song to Kesha at a recent gig in Glasgow, and comedian Margaret Cho posted a picture on Instagram showing the normally low-profile Fiona Apple delivering a message of solidarity. In the picture, Apple is holding a sign that says: "Kesha -- I am so angry for you. They were wrong. I'm so sorry."

The incredibly influential Taylor Swift has also reached out to Kesha both publicly and privately, with her spokesperson announcing on Sunday: "In a show of support, Taylor Swift has donated $250,000 to Kesha to help with any of her financial needs during this trying time." It's interesting and disappointing to note that similar support from male artists has been comparatively limited. Dev Hynes and Bleachers' Jack Antonoff have shared pro-Kesha messages and Troye Sivan tweeted passionately, "Can't stop thinking about @KeshaRose. there is 100% a beautiful, musical light at the end of this dark, disgraceful tunnel. keep going." But other high-profile male artists haven't said anything at all. Do they find it more difficult to relate to Kesha's specific situation -- that of a female artist trapped by an allegedly abusive male Svengali? And even if they do, why aren't they bothered by what's happening to the livelihood of a fellow artist? Don't they realize that they too could find themselves bound by potentially intolerable contractual obligations?

Prominent male artists who are swallowing their tongues obviously deserve to be called out, but for Kesha's sake, it's more constructive right now to discuss the support she's actually receiving, and whether it could potentially help her. Dr. Luke is an astonishingly successful songwriter-producer who's helped craft huge hits including Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball," Jessie J's "Domino," Britney Spears' "Hold It Against Me," Katy Perry's "Roar," "Teenage Dream" and "California Gurls" and Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone." But he's not a performer in his own right, so if A-list artists don't want to write and record with him, his career could become nearly as constricted as Kesha's currently is.

Of the artists most closely associated with Dr. Luke, only Kelly Clarkson has appeared to distance herself from him, and she did so rather cautiously. Quoting a tweet from Best Coast calling Kesha's situation "some legit bullshit," Clarkson added: "Trying 2 not say anything since I can't say anything nice about a person... so this is me not talking about Dr. Luke."

It goes without saying that Kesha now needs more of Dr. Luke's collaborators to voice their disapproval over the way he and Sony are choking her career -- and to put their money where their mouth is by declining to work with him. This doesn't mean convicting him without trial of everything Kesha alleges he has done. Dr. Luke took to Twitter last night to refute many of her allegations, insisting: "I didn't rape Kesha and I have never had sex with her. Kesha and I were friends for many years and she was like my little sister." In a subsequent tweet, he added: "I have 3 sisters, a daughter, and a son with my girlfriend, and a feminist mom who raised me right." He also maintained that "this is an ongoing legal case... [which] should be tried in a court of law", an argument everyone can agree with, but the longer this takes to happen, the more Kesha's future prospects suffer. 

Though she's said some silly things in the past, on this matter Iggy Azalea speaks a lot of sense. "If two people don't want to be in business with one another it seems very cruel for one to hold the other in a contract," she tweeted after Friday's verdict. "I'm not accusing anyone of anything, but I believe Kesha deserves the ability to move forward, create and earn a living." Amen to that. #FreeKesha

Dr Luke