Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, Abuse, Drug Use
Pop singer Kesha, formerly Ke$ha, has not released any new music since her hit “Timber“ topped the charts in 2013. It’s not because she’s retired, nor because she has lost interest in making music; she is stuck in the middle of a seemingly never-ending legal fiasco.
Last October, Kesha filed a lawsuit against her producer Lukasz Gottwald (commonly known under the pseudonym Dr. Luke) for sexual assault, battery, emotional abuse and violating California state business practices. In response, Gottwald filed a counterclaim against Kesha accusing her of defamation and trying to extort him into letting her out of her contract.
Kesha’s claims have not been taken seriously enough by the courts nor by the music industry. The latter group has tried to trivialize and forget her plight. Kesha’s story needs to be remembered and respected so that it can shed light on the dangers of sexual assault in the music industry.
In her lawsuit, Kesha vividly described numerous instances of Gottwald’s abuse. Among them, she recounted a trip they took during which Gottwald coerced her into taking what he called “sober pills” that ended up being a date rape drug. Kesha recalled waking up confused, naked and sore in Gottwald’s hotel room with no recollection of how she had arrived there.
Powerful and intimidating, Gottwald repeatedly told Kesha to keep quiet or risk him ruining her career. Her account further depicted him as a controlling and manipulative figure in her life, refusing her frequent requests to renegotiate her contract. Gottwald would regularly tell Kesha that she owed her career to him because she was neither talented nor attractive. It was these scathing remarks that led Kesha to develop the bulimia that she sought treatment for last January.
Gottwald signed Kesha to his record label Kemosabe Entertainment, housed under the Sony Music Entertainment parent company, in 2005 when she was 18 years old. According to this decade-old contract, Kesha is required to record six albums exclusively with Kemosabe Entertainment. Throughout the year-long legal proceedings, Kesha hasn’t released any new music because she is contractually obligated to make music with her abuser. Therein lays the injustice plaguing Kesha. She has been forced to take a potentially career-ending hiatus from music because she can only legally release music through her tormentor’s company. Gottwald, on the other hand, has had no such strain on his success.
Gottwald’s camp has tried to propagate the image of Kesha as a money-hungry, conniving and dishonest person. If Kesha were as greedy as Gottwald has tried to make her out to be, she never would have sued him. Under Gottwald’s production, Kesha became a multi-platinum selling artist. She toured the world and was regarded as one of the biggest names in pop music. Her career was seemingly indestructible, which is why her lawsuit is exemplary of her bravery. Kesha has jeopardized her career in an effort to free herself of Gottwald’s ball and chain.
The music industry, however, has yet to commend Kesha for her courage. In fact, it is doing just the opposite. Billboard magazine sent out a survey to top music executives including questions such as “Who do you believe? (i) Kesha (ii) Dr. Luke.” Posing this question in a survey is unequivocally inappropriate and disrespectful. The people on the receiving end of the survey are music executives, qualified to answer questions about the music industry, not sexual and emotional abuse. The company’s survey trivialized traumatizing and life-modifying events in Kesha’s life, proving that it has become increasingly difficult for women in the music industry to garner the same respect that men have.
It is exceedingly difficult for survivors to speak out against their abusers. Punishing Kesha for telling her story could discourage others in similar situations from doing so in the future. One of the biggest critiques Kesha has received throughout the lawsuit is that she waited so long to come forward, leading people to doubt her story’s accuracy. However, it needs to be understood that Kesha was living in fear of her abuser who was constantly in very close quarters with her. Waiting a long time before speaking out about sexual assault is extremely common. In fact, a month after Kesha filed her lawsuit, fellow pop star Lady Gaga admitted to having been abused when she was 19. Gaga’s admission came a decade after her attack. According to the Justice Department, 68 percent of assaults go unreported altogether. Most survivors fear there will be negative consequences if they come forward.
Kesha’s critics are actively participating in rape culture. Refusing to believe Kesha because of the amount of time it took her to speak out creates an even bigger stigma against survivors around the world who are still too afraid to come forward.
Sexual assault in the music industry is all too common, and the social repercussions for survivors are far more severe than they seem to be for abusers. An example of this is legendary rapper, entertainer and mogul Dr. Dre. Dre beat and assaulted several women throughout his career, but it never affected his success. One of the most well known incidents of Dre’s brutality is when he violently beat hip-hop journalist Dee Barnes in 1991. Barnes was not the first woman that Dre had assaulted, but she was one of the first to come forward and take action against him. Dre pleaded no contest to the assault charges and settled out of court.
While Dre may have had to pay a fine and do some community service, his career never slowed down. In fact, until Barnes expressed her disgust at the fact that the recent N.W.A. biopic “Straight Outta Compton” didn’t include her assault, the general public had forgotten her story. She explained that by neglecting to include her attack, Dre was not taking responsibility for his actions. Dre has come out and apologized for his past mistakes, but that does not change the fact that his career was never jeopardized after he attacked these women. The media has forgiven him without truly ever punishing him to begin with.
Dre and Kesha are on opposite sides of similar situations and facing vastly different repercussions. As Dre’s career continued to excel, Kesha’s began to stagnate. Kesha is a survivor of assault who is experiencing severe professional repercussions for speaking out against her abuser. The longer the lawsuit goes on, the less likely it is that Kesha will make a sustainable comeback. Survivors of abuse deserve to be taken seriously, and if the music industry continues to reprimand survivors and forgive abusers, fewer women will be able to garner the courage to stand up against their attackers.
Sydney Hemmendinger is an undeclared sophomore. She can be reached at hemmendinger@oxy.