Give Me A Crash Course In … Kesha

The singer-songwriter is in a legal battle over her contract with Sony Music’s Kemosabe label

Who is Kesha? Kesha Rose Sebert is one of today's leading singer-songwriters. On the musical spectrum she is somewhere between Madonna and Lady Gaga. Now 29, she has already had a 10-year stellar career performing her own songs and writing hits for others such as Britney Spears. She has sold more than 60 million records worldwide.

Why are her legal battles all over the news? Kesha signed a recording contract with Sony Music's Kemosabe record label, operated by music producer Lukasz Gottwald – aka Dr Luke – when she was 18. She now wants out of that contract because she alleges that Dr Luke raped her, forced her to take drugs and verbally and physically harassed her to the point where she developed an eating disorder over his comments about her appearance and weight. Dr Luke denies all the allegations and has countersued the singer.

What happened this week? Kesha is likening her recording contract with Dr Luke and Sony to "slavery". But on Wednesday this week, in her appeal against a previous decision, a New York State Supreme Court judge rejected her claims of emotional distress, gender-based hate crimes and employment discrimination, citing a lack of evidence and jurisdiction. This means that Kesha must continue working with Kemosabe/Sony. For its part, Sony says that Kesha need not work directly with Dr Luke but, because it has invested so much money in her career, it wants Kesha to honour her contract by releasing her upcoming albums on the Kemosabe/Sony label.

Isn't this the same as what happened in the 1990s when Prince referred to his record contract as "slavery"? Not at all. Prince wanted more artistic freedom within the confines of his recording contract with Warner music. Kesha wants out of her contract because of her allegations of rape, forced drug taking and physical and verbal harassment.


The singer says, “I know I cannot work with Dr Luke. I physically cannot. I don’t feel safe in any way.”

Many big name stars – including Adele and Taylor Swift – have publicly called for Kesha to be released from her contract.

Why is Wednesday's court decision proving so controversial? Supreme Court judge Shirley Kornreich rejected Kesha's claims and said in her ruling that "her claims of insults about her value as an artist, her looks and her weight are insufficient to constitute extreme, outrageous conduct intolerable in a civilised society" and that "every rape is not a gender-motivated hate crime".

The reaction to this week's ruling? The Guardian said it was "offensive, dismissive and utterly predictable". Many commentators wondered what it would take for the crime of rape to be legally listed as a "gender hate crime".

The Los Angeles Times asked if the Kesha case could become "a tipping point for women in an industry that celebrates misogyny".

So this is no longer about a musical recording contract? No, the very nature of the case has meant that Kesha's legal plight has now become an issue of how the legal system in general views and treats allegations of rape of physical and verbal harassment against women.

What now for Kesha? As it stands, she is still legally obliged to record and release her future music on the Kemosabe/Sony label.