Tables turned on singer Kesha


NEW YORK• The most shocking lawsuit in music may have backfired.

Two years ago, singer Kesha rattled the pop world when she filed a lawsuit seeking to end her recording and music publishing contracts with Dr Luke, one of the industry's most successful producers.

In a lurid 2014 filing in California, a lawyer for Kesha claimed that throughout the partnership beginning in 2005, Dr Luke had "sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally abused" her. (No criminal charges were ever filed and Dr Luke strongly denied the accusations.)

Almost overnight, Kesha, now 29, became in the eyes of many an underdog feminist symbol and attracted support from fans and peers including Adele and Taylor Swift, who donated US$250,000 (S$348,550) to her cause.

But public support has not translated into legal victories. In the two years since her initial civil filing, most of Kesha's claims have been rejected by the court or withdrawn. She has swopped legal teams and expressed a desire to get back to work, though her situation remains precarious as she tries to regain a professional foothold after years without new music. (Her last album, Warrior, was released in 2012.)

Legally, Dr Luke, 43, seems to hold the stronger hand. He is aggressively pursuing his own lawsuit against Kesha in New York for defamation and breach of contract, claiming the abuse allegations stemmed from an acrimonious contract renegotiation that amounted to extortion. And the producer, known for his hits with Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus, has the financial means to press his case in an effort to restore his wounded reputation.

Kesha remains signed for up to three more albums, barring appeals, with Dr Luke's label, Kemosabe, a joint venture with Sony Music.

Ms Deborah Wagnon, an entertainment lawyer and associate professor of contracts and intellectual property at Middle Tennessee State University, said that without a criminal claim, Kesha has "a difficult road" ahead if she is still seeking to separate herself from Dr Luke.

"Does she want to have a career and go forward?" Ms Wagnon said. "Then she needs to record under her agreement until she can get free via a creative contractual option", such as a third-party buyout.

Kesha, too, sees a path forward through music.

After years of dormancy, during which she claimed her career had been punitively "put on hold by Dr Luke", Kesha has recently re-emerged on tour, shoring up her finances and public support, singing You Don't Own Me and I Shall Be Released as fans chant furiously against Dr Luke. In August, she began publicly expressing a desire to release a new album as soon as possible, even as her deal with Dr Luke remained in place.

"Kesha has been trying for six months to record and release new music," Mr Daniel Petrocelli, a lawyer for Kesha, said in a statement. But he said that progress had been made only in the last month, adding: "It is hardly enough. Kesha still has received no commitments on promotion, songs or even a release date. We hope things turn around fast."

Ms Christine Lepera, a lawyer for Dr Luke, said in an interview: "She had stopped her own career; no one else did. For her to say, 'Now I'm ready, so let's hurry up' - she could have been doing this all along."

Dr Luke said he intended to take the defamation and breach of contract claims to trial, which could begin early next year.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2016, with the headline 'Tables turned on singer Kesha'. Print Edition | Subscribe