By Selene San Felice
Remember Kesha? The pop star who rose to glitter-and-garbage fame after waking up, feeling like P-Diddy and brushing her teeth “with a bottle of Jack” in the 2009 song “Tik Tok?” Those who can’t remember much else aren’t entirely at fault. As a result of alleged physical, sexual and emotional abuse, the singer developed an eating disorder and entered rehab along with a creative stalemate with her Sony producers.
Her hiatus from recording, touring and merchandising was described after a little under a year by former Chief Executive of Universal Music, Jim Urie, as “an eternity in the industry.” He went on to say, “If Kesha cannot immediately resume recording… her career is effectively over.”
After three years— three eternities— Kesha may finally have a chance at justice.
On Feb. 19, the singer’s lawsuit alleging her producer, Dr. Luke, of sexual assault and battery, sexual harassment, gender violence, civil harassment, unfair business and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress will be brought to trial.
Kesha pressed these charges in 2014, not so Dr. Luke can be incriminated as a sexual offender and abuser, but so that she can simply be allowed to work under new producers and void her contract. Her agreement with Sony requires the 28-year-old to work with her alleged abuser on six albums, only two of which have been completed and released.
That year, Dr. Luke filed a recently-dismissed counter-suit against Kesha and her mother, Pebe Sebert, claiming the allegations were false attempts at extortion. Due to the circumstances, Kesha has been unable to make or release new music since her singles “C’mon” and “Crazy Kids” along with a feature on Pitbull’s “Timber” in 2013.
However, she’s not the first female artist to suffer from label entrapment. In 2014, JoJo was able to release new music after being held contractually hostage by her label, Blackground, after over seven years. In 2013 after several creative disputes, rapper Angel Haze’s premier album Dirty Gold was seemingly sabotaged by her label, being released at the worst possible time for sales.
Of course male artists end up in bad label situations that can damage profits and critical reception, but no one would be able to get away with what Dr. Luke allegedly did to Kesha if the gender tables were turned. As with most industries, music is largely dominated by a patriarchal system. No matter how many female artists emerge and become successful, the producers and label heads pulling the strings are men with a much larger influence.
As the saga of Kesha vs. Dr. Luke enters a new stage with anticipated protests by Kesha fans, the ruling could determine the future for women in music. While genres across the board have been critiqued for misogynistic lyrics and messages, many don’t realize that misogyny goes through to the core of the music industry. Kesha’s 10-year tale of alleged abuse under Dr. Luke was shielded for so long, and even in the open air the story still hasn’t gathered much traction. While a #FreeKesha article or trial update may pop up on newsfeeds occasionally, Kanye West can pull constant headlines out of whatever obnoxiously chauvinistic string of tweets he decides to pollute the internet with next (most recently slut-shaming Amber Rose for being a mother, proclaiming “BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!,” calling Taylor Swift a bitch and claiming “bitch” is an endearing word in hip-hop).
If listeners could stand up for the rights of the women in the music industry as much as they stand up for the women in lyrics and music videos, young artists like Kesha wouldn’t have to go from 18 to 28 being abused and silenced. Jojo might not just be the tween who had a couple songs and was in RV. Angel Haze might have broken into the mainstream with a more powerful and representative album.
Defending artists like Amber Rose and Taylor Swift from sexism at the hands of male artists like Kanye West is a start, but fans and feminists need to look into what goes on beyond their newsfeeds and timelines. Musical misogyny can’t always be heard.