#FreeKesha: Examining Sexism and Double Standards in the Music Industry
by Sherah Ndjongo
In the world of pop music, Kesha Sebert is a force to be reckoned with. With two number one hits and four top ten singles, the chart topper has once risen to the top of the music industry - the same industry that once built her up only to later tear her down.
Kesha's career has been stalled these last few years due to her involvement in a New York Supreme Court lawsuit against the major record label Sony and the producer that she's been collaborating with since the beginning of her music career, Lukasz Gottwald, who goes by the professional name Dr. Luke. Kesha filed the civil lawsuit in 2014 in an attempt to leave her contract with Sony. With this came the allegation that Dr. Luke had abused her multiple times over a span of ten years. Her serious claims of being subjected to extensive abuse committed by the producer, who has controlled every aspect of her music and creative property, include being repeatedly drugged, raped, and verbally abused. As a result of the decade-long mistreatment, Kesha developed bulimia disorder, prompting her to check into rehab in January 2014. It wasn't until October of that same year that Kesha brought her traumatic experience to light. Since doing so, counterclaims from both Dr. Luke and Sony dismissing the musician's rape and sexual assault claims have been made. They also rejected her desire to record music elsewhere, which is a major problem considering she has signed a contract under Sony committing to record six more albums with them.
In late February 2016, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich officially ruled that Kesha would not be granted a preliminary injunction, declining her plea to legally break her contract with Sony. In short, the court held the belief that there wasn't a reasonable amount of evidence to justify ending Kesha's contract without further trial. While Kesha and her legal team didn't lose the entire case, they will need to provide proof of Dr. Luke’s abuse to the court. To make an unfortunate situation worse, Sony is allowing Kesha to record music without Dr. Luke, but this doesn't mean that they can promise to promote her music.
Following the verdict, public outcry erupted outside the courtroom mostly by Kesha's supporters and outspoken celebrities. This was the beginning of the online "#FreeKesha" movement. Fellow musicians vowed to stand by Kesha's side through Twitter and Instagram. For example, Taylor Swift donated $250,000 to Kesha not long after the court ruled against her, and Zedd and Jack Antonoff offered to produce and create music with Kesha. Margaret Cho and Miley Cyrus posted the same picture of Fiona Apple holding up a sign that reads, "Kesha—I am so angry for you. They were wrong. I'm so sorry,"on Instagram. Also, during a 97.1 Amp Radio interview with Ariana Grande, she spoke on the situation stating, "The incredible double standards that we [women] face on a daily basis, in the industry and just in the world, it’s shocking. I would be so amused - and pardon me if this comes across as sexist - but I don’t think a male artist would be in this position right now. Sorry. ..."
Like Ariana Grande, many would agree that sexism within the music industry plays a role in Sony’s overall failure to view Kesha as an equal to her former producer and the company’s audacity to reduce her role in the process by allowing Dr. Luke's to control every aspect of her music, all the while protecting and supporting his appalling actions by not confirming whether they would promote her work. This is shocking since Kesha was open to the idea of remaining with Sony only under the condition that she will cut off ties with Dr. Luke and his record label, Kemosabe Records. After the court decision, Sony did give Kesha the chance to record without Dr. Luke, but she still has to work under his record label, Kemosabe. This is unacceptable because although Kesha’s only request was to record music free from Dr. Luke, the court ultimately sided with him since he felt that because he used his own money to invest in her career from the start, it’s only fair that he should be able to still profit from it. Therefore, Kesha would still technically be working for Dr. Luke because she is recording under his label and releasing music that will benefit him in the long run.
Kesha's dilemma exemplifies how the music industry has a tendency to devalue the contributions of women. In this scenario, Sony values Dr. Luke more by not freeing Kesha from a situation she is not comfortable and is not willing to placed in. This very fact is what made it a challenge for Kesha to expose her abuser in the first place, especially if she could be iced out from the music industry entirely. It was even included in the civil lawsuit that Dr. Luke “threatened that if she ever mentioned the rape to anyone, he would shut her career down, take away all her publishing and recording rights and otherwise destroy not only her life but her entire family’s lives as well.” As we witness cases like this in the music industry where women have to risk all they've created for themselves in order to report and fight against abuse, how can we say gender inequality isn't alive and well?
What is happening to Kesha and what is being ignored by the legal system and the music industry resonates with all of us as it gives us insight into the negative results that stem from double standards. By taking one of the most powerful and successful men in the music industry to court for physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, Kesha has already changed the narrative. And by fighting to gain back control of her career and her life, Kesha will continue to progress and inspire others to do the same.