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Kesha (who formerly went by Ke$ha) is one in a small handful of pop artists that always intrigued me. “Tik Tok” and “Die Young” were songs I would hear on the radio right when I began experimenting with alcohol. It was also a time in my life when I was calling everything “fake”. When I first heard Ke$ha, she embodied everything that I had perceived to be “fake”.
The quantized and synthetic instruments.
Her auto-tuned sing-talk voice.
The boring, uninspired lyrics.
The precise 128 beats per minute tempo that begs to be played in a club.
It was painfully formulaic. Instead of brushing Ke$ha off as another come and go pop star as I normally would, she really caught my attention with, believe it or not, her Myspace page. Specifically, her list of influences:
I understand some pop artists can have incredibly diverse influences and still want to create, for lack of a better term, “trendy pop”. But for someone who has collaborated with artists like Flo Rida and Pitbull, Kesha’s range of influences (falling everywhere on the spectrum, from Neutral Milk Hotel to Butthole Surfers) made me more than a little suspicious. While she claimed to have been influenced by critically acclaimed and successful acts, she still made shitty, purposely uninspired music as pointed out by her twitter handle, @KeshaSuxxx.
Unfortunately, Kesha’s situation is far worse than that. For years, she was being abused by her longtime producer, Dr. Luke, and sought to end her contract with him. Recently, the court ruled that she is still contractually obligated to finish four more albums with her current label, Sony. This would fulfill her six album contract she agreed to when signing.
For those unfamiliar with the industry, your average pop album usually takes a minimum of one to two years to make, along with a minimum of one year to promote. So with four albums left, this ties Kesha to the institution that allows her abusive producer Dr. Luke to continue working in for at least another eight years.
Sadly, this is nothing new for the industry. As Lady Gaga pointed out, “What happened to Kesha has happened to many female artists, including myself” (Vice). The fact that all the artists who have worked with Dr. Luke declined to comment on the controversy is also alarming. Dr. Luke himself has recently responded on Feb 22 via Twitter saying,
“Imagine if you or somebody you loved was publicly accused of a rape you knew they didn’t do. Imagine that. I have 3 sisters, a daughter, and a son with my girlfriend, and a feminist mom who raised me right. Kesha and I made a lot of songs together and it was often good but there were creative differences at times. It’s sad that she would turn a contract negotiation into something so horrendous and untrue.”
We should consider that as rare as false rape accusations occur, they do exist from famous musicians, to students here at Fordham. That’s about as far as I’ll go defending the guy, because in the case where physical evidence is lacking, we have to flip Dr. Luke’s point and imagine what it would be like if you or somebody you loved was sexually assaulted and the abuser got away with it. There is little to no reason to believe Dr. Luke is innocent in all this. She has even gone to rehab for an eating disorder that she blames Dr. Luke for. The producer allegedly called her a “fat fucking refrigerator” because clearly, this comment was essential to aid her in the creative process.
Record contracts that sign away years of your life shouldn’t exist. Period. They only heighten the chances for abuse. As long as there are multi-album contracts with record labels, creative, physical, sexual, psychological etc. abuse will continue to threaten artists. Critics of Kesha’s situation may argue that she shouldn’t have signed such a contract in the first place. However, the general public may not know that the chances of “making it” in the music industry is about slim to none. A six album deal with a large record label like Sony almost always guarantees success. Record labels know this and this is exactly why they take advantage of artists.
Despite all signs leading to the contrary, it is my hope that Kesha can have the freedom she deserves. Miley Cyrus, after working with Dr. Luke on her 2013 album Bangerz, cut ties with him and went on to make her most ambitious, experimental, and best work yet, Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz. This album in particular is noteworthy because it was a collaboration with Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, someone who had planned to work with Kesha years back, right before she went to rehab for her eating disorder. Wayne Coyne just recently expressed his desire to release the four or five songs they managed to record together and recalls Kesha telling him that Dr. Luke would never let her put this music out.
At this point, we can only remain optimistic that Sony will make the right decision and free Kesha in every sense of the word.