Why the #FreeKesha Movement Needs More Than Just Tweets
Last Friday, images of Kesha distraught and crying in a courtroom began to circulate, forming a new chapter in a legal saga that has been years in the making. It was in the courtroom that a judge denied the singer the right to leave her contract with her former producer and manager, Dr. Luke. This is significant because, as most of you know, Dr. Luke has been accused of physically, psychologically, and sexually abusing Kesha over the span of a decade while she recorded with him under the Sony Music label. The complication comes from the recording contract itself, which forces her to complete six albums with Luke before she can be released from her contract. Since October 2014, Dr. Luke, Kesha, and Sony Music have been ensnared in a number of different lawsuits against each other based on this history of abuse. And now, it’s reached a tragic stopping point. Because her injunction was denied, Kesha cannot make money without it funneling back into the bank account of her alleged rapist. She cannot release new music without the help of her alleged rapist. She is, effectively, living a nightmare that has taken away all creative freedom she’s had—it’s taken away her voice.
The case itself is a big, complicated mess with allegations flying from both sides. Kesha with her allegations of abuse and Dr. Luke and Sony with their allegations of extortion to get out of a contract. We’re not diving deep into the courtroom drama. This is about a woman whose artistry has been cut away lest she step back into the recording studio with someone who allegedly abused her. Even more importantly, this is about women who have been abused and suffered because of unrealistic expectations that come with being female in the music industry. Kesha has suffered through an eating disorder, a decade of alleged abuse, and now, she’s suffering through legal hell. The singer is not trying to have Dr. Luke arrested—she simply wants out of her contract so she can make music again without the help of her alleged rapist.
This may sound familiar to those well-versed in the fine art of musician contract disputes, or to Tina Turner historians. The Kesha situation recalls the contractual nightmare that Tina went through to get out of her contract with her then-husband and abuser, Ike Turner. Also, it’s not like other artists haven’t been released from their Sony Music contracts before. One need only look at Zayn Malik last year for proof of that—the former 1D singer left his contract with Sony because he was unhappy. Kesha is literally accusing her former manager and producer of rape and abuse, yet she’s stuck in the contract. Do you know how many rape cases end in false accusations on average? Between two to ten percent. It is a horrifying nightmare for her that has gone largely unnoticed for far too long—until now.
Stars and fans from across the world have united over the past several days under the #FreeKesha hashtag to show their support for the embattled singer and songwriter. Female musicians and entertainers like Margaret Cho, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Lorde, JoJo, and more have tweeted out their support. While this is important, it also stands in stark contrast to three artists who have gone beyond tweets in the aftermath of Friday’s verdict. Both Zedd and Jack Antonoff have offered to produce music with Kesha, while Taylor Swift has donated $250K to help the singer with her legal fees from the never ending court battle—and led one artist to fight back against the virtues of monetary support. Demi Lovato took to Taylor’s IG comment section to unleash her thoughts on Swift’s donation. While it was pretty unfortunate to see attention move from Kesha’s plight, it did bring up a few interesting points about the ethics of support.
Demi addressing the backlash. She has a point. 👏🏻 pic.twitter.com/ZIM1fD15O3
— Shady Music Facts (@musicnews_shade) February 22, 2016
Demi: "I didn't shade Taylor, I'm just tired of women using feminism to [promote] brands." pic.twitter.com/Cld3FEraov
— Shady Music Facts (@musicnews_shade) February 22, 2016
Taylor’s donation could be seen as throwing money at a problem rather than confronting it, but that ignores the fact that Kesha’s lengthy legal battle has been both emotionally and financially exhausting. Not everyone can donate large sums of money to help but, in contrast, isn’t it better to donate when you can rather than sending out a quick tweet to raise awareness? Tweets, much like the Paris flag Facebook filters that overtook our News Feed last year, show that someone’s heart is in the right place. That’s indisputable. The problem is that giving encouragement in 160 characters or less for a woman who has been devastated by a loss of freedom for years just ends up feeling hollow.
A tweet can raise awareness, but in the grand scheme of the larger issue—the music industry’s abuse of women—we can’t help but worry that support for the #FreeKesha movement could start and stop at a tweet. Kesha’ story is threaded into a larger narrative of sexism and sexual assault within the industry and beyond. The hashtag movement? It serves as a reminder rather than a solution. Lady Gaga has famously spoken out about sexual abuse and even released a song about the issue, yet she continues to collaborate with fashion photographer Terry Richardson, who’s been accused of such questionable behavior in the past. Tweeting is a great start to changing the industry, but it’s just that—a start. This isn’t just about Kesha. It’s also about women across the industry. It’s about the countless sexual assault victims who have been scared to speak out. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that dialogue is only as strong as the actions that follow it.
Stay tuned to Milk for more on this developing story.
Images via Mary Altaffer, Business Insider, and Jefferson Siegel.