The hashtag #FreeKesha has been circulating on social media, with millions of tweets supporting the American superstar. So what has happened to Kesha Sebert? Liam Austen investigates.
Edited by Natalie Whitmore
On February 19, Kesha Rose Sebert arrives at the New York State Supreme Court Building alongside her family with the hope of being freed from her contract with Sony. Outside, a large group of fans holding huge posters brandishing quotes such as “Sony Sucks” are chanting “free Kesha now”, and: “Dr. Luke is really whack, Kesha needs her freedom back”. Just hours later Kesha leaves in tears, hand over her face, with the world left in bewilderment. What does this all mean?
Let’s go back to October 2014, where after numerous reports of Kesha having no creative control within her career (for example, her collaborative LP with The Flaming Lips was not allowed a release under unknown circumstances) a lawsuit is filed. Within the complaint Sebert accuses her producer Dr. Luke (real name Lukasz Gottwald) of sexual assault and battery, detailing some of the heinous instances in which Gottwald supposedly used his power within the music industry to manipulate her. His comments are said to be what led Kesha to admit herself into rehab at the beginning of 2014 for bulimia, her mother following suit for post-traumatic stress disorder. While protests from her fans demanding Sebert’s freedom from Gottwald had begun to spread, inklings of his involvement in Sebert’s situation at this point became more and more evident.
Over a year later, she finds herself still stuck in the same situation and, unfortunately, the future looks bleak. In the courtroom Sebert was reduced to tears as Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich told her that Gottwald investing $60 million into her career “decimates [her] argument”, adding: “my instinct is to do the commercially viable thing”. Dismissing Sebert’s request for an injunction, which would let her record and release music without the involvement of Gottwald, Kornreich stated: “I don’t understand why I have to take the extraordinary measure of granting one”.
Unfortunately, there is a strong air of victim blaming within this case. Time and time again victims of sexual abuse are encouraged to come out and tell people about it, and yet these victims are also hardly ever believed. The victims of Bill Cosby did not make their stories known until decades after the abuse had actually happened. This then leads people to believe that these victims are liars, and that is the exact story that Gottwald and his attorneys, led by Christine Lepera, are going with. In conjunction with Gottwald’s counterclaims of defamation, Lepera yesterday told the court how Sebert’s claims are “too late and too vague”, and that her claims are a way to “extort money” and get out of her 8 album contract early (only two albums have been made in her 10-year career). Kornreich has not yet ruled on throwing out Sebert’s claims against Gottwald, with the trial being held on May 18.
One given reason for why Gottwald has not been proven guilty is a lack of evidence against him; an understandable reason, yet not without its doubts. There are plenty of apparent witnesses that can back up Sebert’s claims, some of which more serious than others. One incident described in her complaint details how, just after her 18th birthday in 2005, Gottwald gave Sebert “sober pills” in order to sober up after drinking. Sebert then woke up “the following afternoon in Dr Luke’s bed, sore and sick with no recollection of how she got there… she did not know where her clothes were”. She claimed that Gottwald had raped her, and tests at the hospital showed that instead of sober pills she was given a form of gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), more commonly known as the “date-rape drug”.
Gottwald reportedly continuously told Sebert how he would “destroy her and her family’s lives” if she ever told about the abuse, also threatening their physical safety. She was not paid for her involvement on songs such as ‘Right Round’, stating in previous interviews that she used to hear the song on the radio when living out of a car and shopping for tinned food at the dollar store. An unreleased song titled ‘Dancing With the Devil’ surfaced in early 2013, rumoured to be about Dr. Luke.
One of the most recent offences was on the set of the ‘Die Young’ music video, where Gottwald reportedly called Sebert “a fat f**king refrigerator”. Comments like these contributed to her diagnosis of bulimia nervosa. A young girl alone in Los Angeles within desperate reach of a career of her dreams will undoubtedly feel pressured to remain silent under the hands of a tyrannical, power-hungry figure with such influence. Kesha’s mother, Pebe Sebert, has been active on Twitter describing Gottwald’s actions to this day.
Dr Luke is trying to BLACKMAIL ME, into taking my name off "Timber" as a songwriter, by blocking all 16 writers from being paid.
— keshas mom (@grannywrapper) February 2, 2016
What is really unfortunate is just how valuable a person Kesha Rose Sebert is in today’s society, and how the government has restricted her chance to showcase it. A woman known for standing up for human and animal rights strongly throughout her career, her motto that is echoed by her fans even today is “be yourself, unapologetically, always”. Hundreds of incredible unreleased songs, spanning from before she was even signed, exist only on YouTube as they were not permitted a release. She is the first global ambassador for Humane Society International. Just this month, it was announced that she will be awarded the Visibility Award at the HRC Nashville Equality Dinner for using “her influence and international platform to bring attention to the challenges faced by the LGBT community”. Her two album titles, ‘Animal’ and ‘Warrior’, are a self-proclamation of strength and courage. Sebert’s fans are collectively known as animals, and she is constantly appreciative of their benevolent love and their efforts in standing up for their idol, as seen in a video taken before she flew to New York this week.
Thankfully, Twitter alone has seen over two and a half million uses of the hashtag #FreeKesha at the time of writing, and the support isn’t slowing down. Other female megastars in the industry have been quick to show their support, some even hinting at their distaste for Gottwald.
There are people all over the world who love you @KeshaRose. And I can say truly I am in awe of your bravery.
— Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) February 19, 2016
standing with @KeshaRose through this traumatic, deeply unfair time. send good vibes her way everyone
— Lorde (@lorde) February 19, 2016
Trying 2 not say anything since I can't say anything nice about a person… so this is me not talking about Dr. Luke https://t.co/lLhtUHbmgG
— Kelly Clarkson (@kelly_clarkson) February 19, 2016
And there are thousands more people, some famous, some fans, some not, all rallying together in support of one of music’s most important stars. Hopefully this year sees Kesha break free from the restraints of an insidious relationship that is currently doing more harm than good and showcasing injustice by default within the realms of the music industry. A woman brave enough to speak out publicly in defence of herself and countless other victims of sexual and emotional abuse deserves to be free.
Kesha’s ‘Machine Gun Love’ is a song that was cut from her second album ‘Warrior’ per Gottwald’s request. Included on her tour, Sebert performed the track at every date whilst explaining how “someone” kept her from putting out the music she loved. Listen to the track below: