TW: sexual assault
Kesha has been an integral part of my music library since I knew her as Ke$ha. Her music is fun, upbeat, and charmingly, endearingly outrageous; I’m proud to call myself her fan. Songs such as “Tik Tok,” Your Love is My Drug,” and “Blow” are still included in my party playlists. Unfortunately, because of the image that her producer, and accused rapist, Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, put forth, Kesha has been dismissed as a trashy, untalented, dumb artist, largely by the male population.
The verbal abuse that Kesha has faced from immature listeners stems from a lack of respect for women, their artistry, and their achievements. Not that it really matters, because no woman should have to be on the receiving end of such harsh language, but Kesha was an International Baccalaureate student in high school and achieved near-perfect SAT scores. She is extremely smart, extremely talented, and an extremely motivated artist, one who wants to hone her craft.
However, what hurts and stings the most about Kesha’s case is not the misogyny that has been thrown at her from the layperson, but the control and abuse that she has suffered under her own producer. Kesha dropped out of school to pursue a music career, under Dr. Luke’s pressure. Essentially, she has been groomed since that age to obey Dr. Luke’s every whim. He manipulated and controlled a vulnerable, hopeful teenager, and when she began to buck against these constraints, Dr. Luke allegedly resorted to violence. According to her accusations, she has been creatively stunted and musically stagnant because Dr. Luke refuses to release her from her contract, and has used verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse to keep her in her place. “I cannot work with this monster,” Kesha said in a statement in August.
Kesha checked herself into an eating disorder clinic in 2014 because the producer allegedly repeatedly told her to lose weight, comparing her body to a refrigerator. Kesha has also accused Dr. Luke of drugging her with GHB and raping her. In preventing her from releasing new music, Dr. Luke has introduced financial abuse into the picture; Kesha is unable to make money, and must now pay for the legal fees associated with the pending legal case against her producer.
Unfortunately, on Feb. 19, a Manhattan judge denied Kesha’s request to be released from her contract, essentially forcing her to work with her alleged rapist. She is contractually obligated to put out another six albums through Sony. Even if she had taken a deal in which she would be allowed to work with another producer, Kesha would still have to live under the fear of running into Dr. Luke, or even being professionally stifled with a new producer. Often, rape survivors will choose to not report their assault, or testify, because being questioned about such a traumatizing experience is like being raped again. In denying Kesha’s request, the court is making her relive everything Dr. Luke has done to her.
The case of Kesha is representative of the larger issue of misogyny within the musical community. Women are held to impossible standards of beauty, and are expected to maintain their image at all costs. The criticism Kesha has faced during this lawsuit is absolutely horrifying; the language used to dismiss her claims is very similar to language used by perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse. People question why she did not come forth sooner, and even dismiss and invalidate her experiences of sexual assault, saying that she is just using this to be released from her contract. Such claims reinforce the rape culture that we live in.
Related: Is Being Nice Just Part Of The Job?
Misogyny runs rampant in the music industry. Taylor Swift is dismissed as a boy-crazy, bitter psycho who could only write songs about her exes, to which she responded with the self-aware comeback, “Blank Space.” Yet when a male artist does the same, nary a dissenting word is heard. Rather, heaps of praise are dumped on him, like in the instance of Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” With lyrics like, “started wearing less and going out more,” and “used to stay at home, be a good girl,” Drake promotes a singular image of womanhood, criticizing his ex for becoming her own person. Eminem has literally rapped about killing his then-wife Kim, which is absolutely terrifying. Lauren Mayberry, lead singer of CHVRCHES, has faced horrifying verbal abuse, receiving online threats of rape. Icona Pop’s Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo have faced discrimination during DJ sets in London, and were even told by a producer to not wear high heels, as it would give them the height advantage over every other male in the room (to which they responded by wearing their highest heels the next day). K-Pop girl bands are often denied food while dancing and singing for hours, in order to maintain their figures. Nicki Minaj is disregarded as “slutty” and untalented, when her verse in “Monster” is the only reason why people listen to it. She is one of the best rappers in the game right now (notice how I didn’t use “female rapper”). Don’t even get me started on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.”
It is clear that while Kesha’s case is the most prominent one in the media, it is not a singularity, or an exception. Rather, it is the norm; yes, not all female artists are abused by their producers. But there is no doubt in my mind that every female artist, at one time or another, has experienced sexist behavior, language, or abuse.
Related: Dirty Pop? A Defense Of Pop Music
Watch Kesha’s heartfelt message to fans and her gut-wrenching rendition of “Amazing Grace” below: