It’s Going Timber
Featured / November 4, 2014
Kesha’s lawsuit against former producer represents bigger issue.
By JJ Brewis
Pop icon Kesha re-emerged several weeks ago, but it wasn’t a catchy new single that had the world abuzz. Rather, it was a brave statement that Kesha released, shocking fans and media alike. If this whole situation plays out as it should, the entertainment realm may have its first dose of female justice in a long time. Given the state of male-female power dynamics going on in the world, it’s well needed.
In a civil suit filed at Los Angeles County Superior Court, Kesha sought to end a contractual agreement with longtime collaborator Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, alleging the producer has committed against her sexual assault, battery, sexual harassment, gender violence, and emotional distress. According to the suit filed by Kesha, she “nearly lost her life” and “Dr. Luke abused [Kesha] in order to destroy her self-confidence, self-image, and self-worth so that he could maintain complete control over her life and career.” Specifically, Kesha alleges that Gottwald “forced [Kesha] to take drugs and alcohol in order to take advantage of her sexually while she was intoxicated” and that he “threatened that if she ever told anyone about these abusive incidents, he would destroy both [Kesha] and her entire family.”
It’s quite the cocktail, and if Kesha wins this suit it will be the most important career move she’s seen to date. Not only will she be out of an iron-clad exclusivity contract with Gottwald, but Kesha will have the ultimate payoff: personal and creative freedom that releases her from the shackles of what she claims to be a pretty horrifying working relationship that has kept her stifled on several levels. The suit claims, among many things, that Gottwald has abused her sexually, physically, and emotionally for the duration of their 10-year working relationship. Kesha has uncharacteristically kept quiet on social media since filing the suit, but Gottwald has been fairly vocal, filing countersuits against both Kesha and her mother/manager Pebe Sebert. Gottwald claims Kesha is just trying to break out of an exclusive recording contract, countersuing for defamation, and claiming Kesha has “orchestrated a campaign of publishing false and shocking accusations.”
The fact that she’s even come forward with the allegations and suit is impressive, given how much power men still hold in the entertainment business, and overall in society. If this were to backfire, Kesha could find herself yesterday’s news in terms of public interest. Considering that the majority of the music industry is run by males, Kesha’s suit has put her at risk of being a potential liability to future collaborators. Ultimately, she has put her health and safety at the forefront, focusing on the principle and ethics of what has happened, rather than making a business move in terms of career. Given the possibility of Kesha, win or lose, potentially shooting herself in the foot here, it’s likely the claims are backed by some substantial details and clout.
Her allegations are pretty severe, and the fact that she’s standing up for herself is an important milestone not just for her, but for women everywhere. It’s particularly important to women who have been wronged by (and in many cases, silenced by) a male in power. So often, the abused female is silenced, blamed, scorned, or slut-shamed. Our society has virtually built the system this way, and it’s long overdue that we take into account these women’s claims. According to Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 97 per cent of rapists “will never spend a day in jail” for the crimes they commit. Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USA) reports that roughly one in five females experience a form of rape in their lifetime. These figures are shocking and demand more consideration that they are given.
Women in the entertainment industry have a long running history of suffering a hard deal at the hand of a man who is somehow directly involved in their career. Often, these men are quickly shamed by the public and then, oddly enough, their careers go on without a hitch, despite the fact that they’ve done deplorable things in both their business and personal lives. Just a week ago, famous CBC journalist Jian Ghomeshi was outed on allegations of rape and sexual harassment and many citizens blindly sided with him before hearing any elements of the story.
Famous celebrity husbands like Ike Turner and Bobby Brown beat their iconic superstar wives Tina Turner and Whitney Houston. Both Ike and Brown went on to relatively successful careers. Chris Brown physically abused then-girlfriend Rihanna on the way to the Grammy Awards in 2009. Three years later, he attended and performed at the Grammys, and took home an award.
The most famous case shows a lot of mirrors to the Kesha/Dr. Luke prototype. Former Ronettes lead singer Ronnie Spector was wooed by her producer Phil Spector back in the ‘60s, and then went on to marry him. After years of mental and emotional abuse, Ronnie divorced Phil – she went on to a modest career, while he went on to produce records for John Lennon and Leonard Cohen (until he ended up facing jail time in 2009 for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson). Ronnie sought independence from Phil by seeking divorce and emancipation in the form of a smaller scale recording career. Thankfully, a lot has progressed in our world in the last 40 years, but the music industry seems to be lagging. Kesha’s case may have a chance of breaking that problematic cycle, and in her case, may personally allow her to effectively navigate the rest of her career the way she wants to. This pattern is well overdue for a change.
The shadows of abuse can leave permanent scars. Kesha is both brave and smart in trying to set the future on a brighter path for herself. Turns out the party girl image she’s portrayed since the release of her debut single “Tik Tok” in 2008 is a far cry from the real version she’s wanted the public to see, but Dr. Luke has been squashing for years.
Much about this story is empowering for the masses in terms of both opening our eyes to the realities that women of any stature face in day-to-day realities. It’s not just entertainers this happens to. According to Statistics Canada, half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. But these women are not being taken seriously. This is a glaring problem only further emphasized as that statistic being from 1993, since women in our country have not been polled about their life-time violence since then.
After 10 years of silence, Kesha taking a stand is an important milestone for all of humanity on this subject. Regardless of the result of her suit, she should be commended, ultimately, for her bravery, and receive support for standing up for herself in spite of the suffocating silence she’s been placed under. Although our society has a tendency to point the finger at the victim rather than the abuser, this case is a reminder that there are two sides to every story, and it takes a lot of courage to stand up against the person who has abused you. It’s a very personal decision, but it’s one that, after 10 years of being controlled by Gottwald, Kesha made it out. It’s history in the making, and even if her recording career does end up suffering as a result, it’s likely to be the most influential step of her career thus far.