Kesha in legal shackles despite new album

NEW YORK • Three years into an acrimonious legal and public relations battle between pop singer Kesha and her long-time producer Dr Luke, who was once one of the industry's most untouchable titans, the pair remain deeply, uncomfortably entwined not just in court, but in business.

Today, Kesha will release Rainbow, her first album since Warrior in 2012, chronicling, with an inspirational bent, her years of personal and professional turmoil on songs such as B*****ds, Let 'Em Talk and Learn To Let Go.

But she will do so under the same extensive recording and music publishing contracts with Dr Luke (born Lukasz Gottwald) that existed before she claimed in a 2014 lawsuit that he had, for years, "sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally abused" her. He has strongly denied the accusations and no criminal charges have been filed.

Although #FreeKesha became a cause celebre - at its height, pop star Taylor Swift said she would donate US$250,000 (S$341,200) to support the singer - and her comeback has been greeted by fans as a victory and a rebirth, it follows a string of legal defeats that prevented Kesha from releasing music outside of her deals with Dr Luke.

While her contract claims were largely rejected by the court or withdrawn, she continues to face a lawsuit for defamation and breach of contract from Dr Luke, who argues that her campaign against him has caused his work to dry up.

Although he has contributed to 40 Billboard Top 10 hits in his career, he has not been credited on one since 2015.

For the past year, as the cases wound slowly through the system, Kesha and companies closely affiliated with Dr Luke have worked together on completing Rainbow.

The album will be released by Kemosabe Records - a subsidiary of Sony Music started in 2012 as a joint venture with Dr Luke - and RCA, another Sony label, with Dr Luke still standing to profit off an artist he first signed more than a decade ago.

Here is a breakdown of where things stand between the parties. Will Kesha's success benefit Dr Luke? The short answer is yes - any commercial triumphs Kesha experiences with Rainbow are, on paper, a win for Dr Luke as well, given the ongoing contracts that cover her recorded music and songwriting royalties (or publishing).

Why is the album coming out now? According to her collaborators, including Ricky Reed and Ben Folds, Kesha began recording demos of new songs on her own and, as the legal quagmire continued, eventually handed over 22 tracks in various states of completion to her labels.

From there, executives at Kemosabe and RCA helped to steer the album process, jointly approving producers; lawyers for Dr Luke said Kesha was paid a "substantial recording advance", as stipulated in her contract, while Dr Luke was still Kemosabe's chief executive.

While Kesha's contracts stipulate that Dr Luke must produce at least six songs on any album she releases, he has forgone that requirement on Rainbow and will instead pursue the equivalent producer royalties in court. Is Kesha barred from mentioning Dr Luke? Lawyers for the producer say no.

Kesha's promotion of her raw new music - including op-eds she has written for publications such as Rolling Stone and Mic - has relied on not-so-veiled allusions to her oppressors without mentioning Dr Luke explicitly.

"This song is about feeling empathy for someone else even if they hurt you or scare you," she wrote of the single Praying in the website Lenny Letter.

Where do the lawsuits stand? Dr Luke's allegations against Kesha, which include breach-of-contract claims and two claims for defamation, are in the early phases of fact discovery, expert discovery and depositions, with a trial unlikely until next year.

She has appealed the dismissal of her claims (infliction of emotional distress, gender-based hate crimes and employment discrimination), as well as her request for a preliminary injunction, which would have allowed her to release music apart from Sony and Dr Luke.

There has been little movement on either appeal.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2017, with the headline 'Kesha in legal shackles despite new album'. Print Edition | Subscribe