On Feb. 11, 2022, pop singer Kim Petras released her fourth extended play, titled “Slut Pop.” Instead of online discourse centering on the dance-pop compositions or the record’s themes of sex-positivity, the phrase #FreeKesha began trending on Twitter. This occurred after fans and music critics found out that the infamous producer Lukasz Gottwald — professionally known as Dr. Luke — produced and co-wrote all seven songs on the EP. He was accused of raping and continuously emotionally abusing singer-songwriter Kesha Sebert — better known by her single-name moniker, Kesha. Furthermore, his alleged inappropriate behavior caused her preexisting eating disorder to worsen to such a degree that she needed to check into a rehabilitation facility in 2014. With the revitalization of the once-popular social media movement, Kesha supporters are attempting to use the recent news coverage on the topic to sustain and further efforts to free her from her contract with Dr. Luke.
Kesha and Dr. Luke worked together for over 10 years before the movement came about. He is also linked to hits such as Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” and Doja Cat’s “Say So.” In 2005, Kesha, 18 years old at the time, signed to his label, Kemosabe Records, and music publishing company Prescription Songs. Both organizations are owned by Sony Music Entertainment. The musical artist’s most popular albums from the 2010s, “Animal” and “Warrior” (the former containing Kesha’s second highest-selling single, “Tik Tok”), were produced by Dr. Luke. On the outside, it appeared as if both people enjoyed collaborating with the other.
Kesha Takes Legal Action
Public perception changed in October of 2014 when Kesha filed a lawsuit against Dr. Luke for the previously mentioned actions as well as gender violence, threatening her family and not paying her for her musical contributions. Her main objective through the court case was and still is to be released from her contract. The producer denied these claims and filed a countersuit asserting that the allegations were made so Kesha could unfairly break her contract.
While this case is ongoing as of now, some decisions have been made in favor of the defendant. In April 2016, Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich threw out claims of “sexual, emotional, and physical abuse” due to her belief that Kesha did not present sufficient evidence to support her allegations. Kornreich also wrote in her decision a controversial line: “Every rape is not a gender-motivated hate crime.” Following the ruling, information has come out revealing the New York State Supreme Court justice is married to an attorney who represents Sony Music Entertainment, a clear but undisclosed conflict of interest. Kesha experienced other setbacks, like certain allegations falling outside of the statute of limitations. Dr. Luke was declared to be someone who is not a public figure even though he has received Grammy Awards and extensive publicity. Included among these setbacks is also a defamation charge against the singer for a private text she sent to music artist Stefani “Lady Gaga” Germanotta years prior.
Responses to the Case
Legally, Kesha has not had a win yet. However, the media, celebrities and the general public have shown their support for her and desire for her to receive justice. Some of the most vocal people consist of musical artists Adele, Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift (who donated $250,000 to help the singer with legal fees). Furthermore, Gaga, a fellow sexual assault survivor and friend to the singer, gave a deposition in which she stood by Kesha and denounced the producer’s alleged actions.
Dr. Luke has garnered the opposite reaction. He continues to win accolades and create music with famous pop stars despite the allegations, but his image has been forever tainted by the case. Due to his less-than-stellar reputation, more than one song credits him with the pseudonym Tyson Trax so that listeners will not refuse to listen to his music. Moreover, people who craft and release songs with him face immediate anger from their fans, like Petras. The producer’s attempts to stay away from public scrutiny have failed; he does not have the level of respect he possessed before Kesha came forward.
Shifting back to the singer, it is also important to note that Kesha’s personal struggles and lawsuit led to the formation of the #FreeKesha movement in 2016. Fans of the singer banded together and used the hashtag to post about the abuse she faced, allowing the cause and the case itself to gain national attention. Some fans have even been a part of this campaign for “almost a decade” when the movement was not mainstream and confined to the fandom.
One of the most recent efforts made by the movement, other than the consistent posts criticizing Petras for choosing to work with Dr. Luke, materialized during Super Bowl LVI. Flags with the words “Free Kesha” and “#FreeKesha #MuteLuke” were draped over a sign at the front of Sony Music’s Los Angeles office.
Other Women in the Industry Support #FreeKesha
Kesha’s fans have called upon fandoms connected to pop stars like Swift and Britney Spears, who herself was recently released from a 13-year-long conservatorship. For Spears, a majority of the success surrounding her newfound freedom can be linked back to the #FreeBritney movement that was promoted by dedicated fans of hers. Those who belong to the #FreeKesha movement desire the same level of support Spears received.
Regardless of whether or not Kesha is able to end her contract with Dr. Luke, this situation, unfortunately, is just one of multiple instances of young women trapped in harmful, inescapable circumstances. The toxic behavior and excessive power held by executives and other influential figures are so ingrained in the music industry that the only way victims will be listened to is if there is pressure from the public. Spears and Kesha are two women whose hardships are well documented and reported on. There is no way to know the number of women who have been or are in terrible legal binds like the two singers. Until society and Hollywood can get their act together and end the toxic cycle, people should try and #FreeKesha once and for all.