The #FreeKesha Movement

By Ana Perez, 9th Grade

Kesha, formerly known as Ke$ha, is a famous American singer that rose to fame after her singles ‘TikTok’ and ‘Die Young’ topped the charts in the early 2010s. Born in Nashville, she moved to Los Angeles at 17 where she signed with Kemosabe Records (owned by Sony Music), and debuted as an artist in 2010 with her album ‘Animal’ with various platinum hits such as ‘Your Love is My Drug,’ ‘TikTok,’ and ‘Take It Off.’ However, in 2014, Kesha’s mother made several worrying allegations against Dr. Luke, her producer, and soon after, Kesha filed a lawsuit against him.

Some backstory is required to understand the #FreeKesha movement, however. Dr. Luke, whose real name is Lukasz Gottwald, moved to music production after working as the lead guitarist for ‘Saturday Night Live.’ He has been involved in various pop music hits such as ‘Since U Been Gone’ by Kelly Clarkson, ‘I Kissed a Girl’ by Katy Perry, ‘Party in the U.S.A’ by Miley Cyrus, and ‘Who Knew?’ by Pink. Interestingly enough, Dr. Luke has also admitted to working as a marijuana dealer in the past. He has worked as a producer for Kesha ever since her debut. Although, it was rumored that the two had a bad relationship at the time of the production of Kesha’s second album, ‘Warrior’ (the album with the popular hit ‘Die Young’). Now, in 2014, Kesha was admitted to a treatment center where she revealed that she was suffering from bulimia. Pebe Sebert, Kesha’s mother, publicly claimed that Dr. Luke contributed to Kesha’s illness, constantly telling her to lose weight. 

Later that year, Kesha filed a lawsuit against Dr. Luke, claiming that she had been abused by him for a decade. As such, Kesha wants to terminate her contract with Dr. Luke and his label. While terminating contracts with labels are not unheard of in the music industry, the reason Kesha wants to leave is different – she was sexually abused by Dr. Luke for years. The lawsuit alleges sexual assault, sexual harassment, gender violence, civil harassment, violation of unfair business laws, infliction of emotional distress (both intentional and negligent), and negligent retention and supervision. In the lawsuit, Kesha alleges that Dr. Luke sexually, physically, and verbally abused her for over a decade in order to “make her feel worthless and maintain complete control over her life.” It also states that Kesha was forced to consume narcotics and alcohol in order for Gottwald to take advantage of her while she was intoxicated. 

In one occasion, Kesha alleges that Dr. Luke forced her to have a drink with him and take some pills that would “help her sober up.” She alleges that the next day, she woke up unclothed, in Dr. Luke’s hotel room. Kesha immediately called her mom in order for her to head to the emergency room, where she learned that the pills were actually gamma-hydroxybutyrate, which are pills used for SA. After the hotel incident, Dr. Luke threatened to destroy the lives of both Kesha and her family if she ever told anyone about his behavior. At the time, Kesha believed that Gottwald had both the money and influence to carry out his threats. Because of all the abuse she endured, Kesha suffered from panic attacks, severe depression, and PTSD. She was also told by doctors that her sodium levels were similar to those found in heart attack patients due to her eating disorder.

Dr. Luke denied the allegations claiming they were “false and shocking accusations” and that the fact that Kesha refused to record was “extortion.” Although Dr. Luke does have a history of committing these allegations, he told Kesha that he liked to engage in intimate relationships with drunk women and engage in explicit activities in public. 

Celebrities such as Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Kelly Clarkson, and Lily Allen have shown their support for Kesha. Taylor Swift, for example, donated $250,000 to support Kesha. The case of Kelly Clarkson, however, was the most curious one. In Spring 2016, she claimed that she was told that she had to work with Dr. Luke or they wouldn’t release their album, telling her interviewer that “Dr. Luke isn’t a good guy.”

In the summer of 2016, Kesha was offered to be freed from her contract if she retracted her previous allegations against Dr. Luke. However, the judge refuted the claims that Kesha made about abuse and forced labor, adding that Kesha was acting “unreasonably” by refusing to collaborate with Sony. He also stated that “not every r*pe is a gender-motivated hate crime.” A while later, Kesha dropped her California lawsuit against Dr. Luke in an effort to rebuild her music career, which stalled right after the initial lawsuit. In 2017, Luke threatened to sue Kesha after a text Kesha sent to Lady Gaga, claiming that she [Kesha] and another female artist were sexually assaulted by Gottwald. Although, months later, he was removed as the head of Kemosabe Records, although he still works for the music label.

After Kesha released her album ‘Rainbow,’ it was revealed that all lyrics written by Kesha belong to Dr. Luke, which were published through other companies that he owns. And in August 2018, depositions between Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and CEO John Janick (Interscope Geffen A&O Records) were shared. In these depositions, Katy denied that Dr. Luke forcibly slept with her and Lady Gaga revealed that Janick didn’t see the allegation but instead, heard a rumor, although he didn’t remember from who. A few months later, text messages between Lady Gaga and Katy Perry revealed that Katy “wasn’t ready to be strong about the situation and that she did her best.”

In February 2020, the court ruled that Kesha defamed Dr. Luke as the result of the defamation lawsuit because she made a “false statement to Lady Gaga about Dr. Luke.” The court ordered Kesha to pay a fine of $373,000. However, on February 11, 2020, the #FreeKesha movement started trending on Twitter, since fans didn’t believe the judge’s rulings and instead, believed in Kesha’s allegations.

However, there are many on Dr. Luke’s side. Sony Music is one of them since they have refused to terminate Kesha’s contract. The most they’ve done is offer to allow Kesha to record her music without Gottwald present, even though the artist wants a complete out. Unfortunately, the contract with Sony Music states Kesha will record six albums with them. She still owes four albums, which can take from 1 to 3 years to record. That means that Kesha could still be working with Dr. Luke and Sony Music for at least four years; worst-case scenario, she’s stuck with them for a decade. Although, Sony cannot simply terminate the contract since Sony itself was not involved initially. “Sony is doing everything it can to support the artist in these circumstances, but is legally unable to terminate the contract to which it is not a party,” said their lawyer, Scott Edelman. However, in 2015, Kesha added Sony to her lawsuit, alleging that the executives knew about the abuse and turned a blind eye to it, even though they knew that there were several victims – not only Kesha. 

The New York Supreme Court too is on Dr. Luke’s side. New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich denied an injunction that would’ve allowed Kesha to record new music for a different label while the lawsuit was still ongoing. Why? “There has been no showing of irreparable harm. She’s being given the opportunity to record,” she stated. It is important to note, however, that the court has not stated that the allegations of abuse were false, since the trial is still ongoing.

But there are many on Kesha’s side. For example, the Internet has supported the #FreeKesha movement, similarly to #FreeBritney. After the injunction request was denied by the court, dozens of fans protested outside the courthouse while chanting “free Kesha now.” This was the start of the #FreeKesha movement, which blew up on Twitter. Many fans of Kesha protested outside of the Sony headquarters, trying to get them to terminate the contract.

Celebrities such as Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Kelly Clarkson, and Lily Allen have shown their support for Kesha. Taylor Swift, for example, donated $250,000 to support Kesha. The case of Kelly Clarkson, however, was the most curious one. In Spring 2016, she claimed that she was told that she had to work with Dr. Luke or they wouldn’t release their album, telling her interviewer that “Dr. Luke isn’t a good guy.” She also said in a separate disposition that she strongly disliked Dr. Luke and that virtually every female artist that worked with him disliked him

Now, in 2022, the #FreeKesha movement lives on, with a harsh legal battle that seems to have no end. But considering the allegations, the backstory, and the comments from others in-the-know, it’s likely that Dr. Luke is the one in the wrong. But, will FreeKesha have the same success as FreeBritney?



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