What the Kesha case tells us about the music industry


The hashtag #FreeKesha is all over the internet these days. A judge decided Kesha is not cleared from her contract to work for Sony Records under Dr Luke,  the producer who has both mentally and sexually abused her, she claims. Although this story could easily be seen as a ‘he said, she said’ situation, there is a lot more going on here. What happened with Kesha actually tells us a lot about the power relations that are still very much ruling the music industry these days and it is safe to say this is a major problem.

Imagine for a moment you are a young girl trying to make it in the music industry, as Kesha was in 2005. Just 18 years old at that moment, she signed a contract with Lukas Gottwald’s Kemosabe Records (which is part of Sony Records) that would hunt her until this very moment. More than once she has tried to get herself out of the contract as she claims the guy she is supposed to work with, actually abuses her. Last week she requested a temporary injuction, to allow her to work on new music with different people under another label, but the judge denied her this opportunity. To put it clearly, this means that the American law decided that a young woman was forced to work for the same company that looked away when she was abused, if you would believe Kesha’s claims. It is important not to forget that she actually signed this deal when she was just 18 years old, a decision that should not have been so all defining when made by such a young person who is just starting out in the industry. It is baffling to realize that when you are a woman in the music industry, a contract that you sign at such a young age, can still mean you have no freedom what so ever more than ten years later.

An interesting thought here, is that it seems absolutely impossible for either Sony Records bosses or the judge, to know for sure Kesha is not speaking the truth. It is hard to think of a situation in which they can be positively sure they are not forcing a woman to work with the guy who, she claims, made her life a hell in the past couple of years. Just to make sure, I am not claiming either Kesha or Dr Luke is speaking the truth, as I don’t know all the facts, but it is hard to believe the judge or Sony bosses do. The real problem here, is that Kesha spoke out against her alleged abuser and in the end it seems nobody believes her. This sets a terrible example for other people who are struggling with the same kind of horrible reality and want to speak out. It shows how million dollar contracts have more value than the freedom of a broken woman to both the industry and the law.

The whole Kesha case makes painfully clear how imbalanced the music industry still is these days when it comes to the power of artists and label bosses, women and men. The fact that Kesha is both denied creative freedom and personal freedom is alarming to say the least. She literally has no chance to decide with whom she is working under which company, which sound like basic rights for every citizen. Imagine a situation in which you accuse your boss of abusing you. You want to quit, leave, work with other people, for another company, but in reality you cannot. You are obliged to stay there. Because of money. That is the exact situation Kesha is going through.

In reality this case has become so much bigger than the question if Kesha is speaking the truth or not. In fact only Kesha and Dr Luke know the true story, but still the label bosses and the judge decided on assumptions, that Kesha is not free to do what she wants. Like a bird in a cage, the song she will be singing is theirs. This makes clear maybe more than ever that power relations in the industry are still way off. The fact that so many female artists spoke out in her defense, like Adele, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande and Kelly Clarkson (or donated money in Taylor Swift’s case), shows that female artists realize that everyone of them deserves an environment in which they can work safely and in freedom, while being treated respectfully. Let’s keep the #FreeKesha pressure rising and maybe one day we will hear a song in which Kesha can put this all behind her, preferably in a world wide hit. But even more importantly, let’s keep raising awareness for a musical environment in which the rights of female artists, no matter what age or which genre, are valued higher than the money the industry tries to make from their existence.


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