The young woman in the photographs is attractive and well groomed: hair in loose blonde waves, minimal makeup, high-necked white blouse. In a word, she looks respectable.
But her face is a picture of utter anguish. Her mouth widens in a sob, eyes welling with tears.
I’m talking about Kesha, of course, the singer who found fame as Ke$ha. On Friday, she lost her initial legal battle to be freed from a contract with her producer, Dr. Luke.
In a nutshell, Kesha alleges that Dr. Luke (Lucasz Gottwald) physically and emotionally abused her for years, including drugging and raping her. She wants to get out of a contract with him and Sony which would require her to make another six albums with him.
Six albums! That’s an entire career for most pop stars.
Because of her refusal to work with Dr. Luke, she hasn’t released an album in three years; her career is effectively being held hostage. Regardless of what you think of Kesha’s music, her catchy songs made her immensely successful. In the fickle world of pop stardom, three years is an eternity.
The court didn’t rule on Kesha’s allegations of abuse, by the way. It just stated that Sony would suffer “irreparable harm” if the contract was negated. (It’s also not the end of Kesha’s legal options, but it does mean she has an uphill battle ahead of her.)
It’s right around this point that I start to wonder if I’m hallucinating, because the idea that harm to a monolith of a company can be considered worse than harm to a human being is inconceivable to me.
But Kesha is a woman, and women’s bodies have always been considered of lesser importance than those of men and corporations.
It doesn’t matter if you believe the rape allegation (I do, for what it’s worth); it’s clear that Dr. Luke has, at the very least, been emotionally abusive. Among other things, he allegedly called her a "fat f***ing refigerator"; she eventually sought treatment for an eating disorder.
I began this piece with a description of Kesha’s appearance because her appearance has always been a performative part of her image — glitter and sequins, smudged eye makeup, tangled hair, torn clothes. We are taught to associate certain concepts with the girl with the dollar sign in her name: trash. Slut. Party girl. Whore.
And all of those concepts work in Dr. Luke’s favour, because who would believe that he raped a girl like that?
Of criticism against her, Kesha has said, “I’ve been called the death of good music, trash, stupid, pointless, disposable. I don’t understand. I’m just trying to make people happy. And it’s such positive, fun music. Like, why are people so angry?”
Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, a rape anthem, was one of the most popular songs of 2013. Chris Brown is still successful, despite being a domestic abuser.
But Kesha can’t escape a hell in which her only way to make music, to do what she loves, is to work with a man who abused her.
That is rape culture.