On Friday, February 19, 2016, musician Kesha appeared in court for a hearing in the lawsuit against her longtime producer Dr. Luke, whom she claims "sexually, physically, and verbally abused" her throughout the 10 years since he signed her as an 18-year-old artist. She also accused him of putting her "life at risk."
From the courtroom, BuzzFeed News reporter Mary Ann Georgantopoulos tweeted that the judge's first order was to deny Kesha's request to get out of her contract with Dr. Luke's Kemosabe Records label.
It's the latest wrinkle in the lawsuit, which has been dragging on since October 2014 and getting uglier and more complicated along the way. Here's what to know.
Why is Kesha suing her producer?
On Tuesday, October 7, 2014, it was revealed by TMZ that Kesha had filed a civil lawsuit against Dr. Luke. Of all the artists Dr. Luke has produced, his relationship with Kesha is the most involved. At the time she filed the suit, Kesha had nine singles, eight of which were written and co-produced by Dr. Luke.
The suit begins with Kesha's signing with Dr. Luke at age 18. In it, she claims that he pressured her to drop out of high school, and that while she was in rehab for an eating disorder in 2014, doctors concluded that the "unrelenting emotional and psychological abuse" by Dr. Luke caused Kesha to suffer "severe depression, post-traumatic stress, social isolation, and panic attacks." Continuing contact with him "would be 'life threatening."
The most incendiary allegations are those of a sexual nature. Here's one example:
"In one instance, Kesha claims he forced her to snort something before getting on a plane ... and during the trip he forced himself on her while she was drugged.
On another occasion, Kesha claims after forcing her to drink with him, Dr. Luke gave her what he called "sober pills." Kesha claims she woke up the following afternoon, naked in Dr. Luke's bed, sore, sick ... and with no memory of how she got there."
Kesha also says there was physical abuse ... once she says he attacked her at his Malibu house where he was "violently thrashing his arms at her." She says she escaped and ran barefoot down PCH and hid in the mountains.
The lawsuit also references how Dr. Luke forced Kesha into a contract that was bad for her career and has had the alleged effect of denying her "any meaningful profit from her work due to Dr. Luke's exploitation of her over the last decade."
The lawsuit can be read in full at the Hollywood Reporter. It also contains a section asking that Kesha be removed from her current contract with Dr. Luke, which would allow her to make music without him.
"This lawsuit is a wholehearted effort by Kesha to regain control of her music career and her personal freedom after suffering for 10 years as a victim of mental manipulation, emotional abuse, and sexual assault at the hands of Dr. Luke," the pop star's attorney, Mark Geragos, told Rolling Stone.
On Wednesday, December 3, 2014, Geragos said on Twitter that Dr. Luke had also raped Lady Gaga, after Gaga talked about being sexually assaulted on The Howard Stern Show. Gaga, however, has adamantly denied that Dr. Luke was the producer who assaulted her.
How did Dr. Luke respond?
The same day Kesha filed her lawsuit, Dr. Luke filed his own, suing her for defamation and breach of contract. He claims Kesha used the suit as an extortion method to try and get out of her contract with him.
Kesha's claims certainly do make Dr. Luke look like an asshole. In her lawsuit, she claims that he bragged about getting girls drunk in order to sleep with them, and that he blackmailed his wife into getting an abortion. His attorney said it's all part of the singer's campaign against the producer.
"Kesha and her mother are engaged in a campaign of publishing outrageous and untrue statements about Dr. Luke to third parties, including scurrilous and false statements of purported physical and mental abuse of Kesha," his attorney, Christine Lepera, told Rolling Stone.
Why is Kesha famous?
Kesha Rose Sebert, previously known as Ke$ha, rocketed to pop stardom in 2010 with the release of her debut album, Animal. She's known for manipulating the pop star system to rocket to fame. She embraced vapid superficiality as an aesthetic, and people loved it. She added feathers to her hair and glitter cannons to her concerts. She claimed to brush her teeth with "a bottle of Jack," but she also scored ridiculously high on her SATs.
At 18, she signed to Dr. Luke's record company and quickly made her debut singing the background to Flo Rida's No. 1 single "Right Round." Her first album scored a No. 1 single with "Tik Tok." So did her second album with "We R Who We R." Her third album also featured a No. 1 single called "Die Young." Since then, though, Kesha has been largely absent from the pop industry. She hasn't produced a full-length album since 2012, though she was the subject of a 2013 MTV documentary series, Kesha: My Crazy Beautiful Life, filmed by her brother Lagan Sebert.
In March 2013, an unreleased Kesha song called "Dancing with the Devil" leaked.
The song is a pop-rock anthem about being stuck in a messy relationship, which some fans say directly addresses her relationship with Dr. Luke: "I keep on dancing with the devil / I sold my soul, ain't no turning back / I keep on dancing with the devil / You and I made a deal / I was young, and shit got real."
Who is Dr. Luke?
Dr. Luke, real name Lukasz Gottwald, is a Grammy-nominated music producer known for creating Top 40 hits and major pop stars. Producers generally shepherd albums from start to finish. They create the chord progressions, master the riffs, and add in the beats and instrumental sounds.
Dr. Luke got his start as a Saturday Night Live guitarist before he was tapped by megaproducer Max Martin to help create Kelly Clarkson's 2004 hit "Since U Been Gone." Dr. Luke continued his successful partnership with Martin, quickly co-writing and producing Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" and Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl." In October 2013, Dr. Luke had two No. 1 songs on the Billboard charts in back-to-back weeks with Katy Perry's "Roar" and Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball."
Dr. Luke is known for working with both live instruments and prerecorded samples. "It is a very careful balance," he told the New Yorker, of "the right artist with the right song at the right time."
What was Kesha and Dr. Luke's professional relationship like over the years?
Tumultuous, clearly. When Kesha signed to Dr. Luke's label in 2005, he was busy producing several artists' work in the wake of his success on Kelly Clarkson's 2004 Breakaway, and Kesha ended up switching management companies to work with David Sonenberg's company, DAS Communications. The intricacies of her contract with Dr. Luke are unclear, but when DAS tried to sign her to Warner Bros Music in 2008, her existing contract with Dr. Luke kept the deal from going through.
Kesha and Dr. Luke have been in a battle for the future of her career since the beginning. Kesha spent the first six years of her contract working on her debut album, Animal. She claimed that she wrote more than 200 songs for the album. Dr. Luke was the executive producer on Animal, though he was helped by Max Martin and Benny Blanco. It went platinum, with "Tik Tok" selling almost 14 million copies.
Kesha's 2012 album Warrior was again produced by Dr. Luke and Max Martin, but this time the ante was upped. After the release of the album, Kesha also released an illustrated autobiography and a TV documentary. The lead single, "Die Young," did well, but the second and third singles on the album bombed by Top 40 standards. Kesha's mother, songwriter Pebe Sebert, publicly blamed Dr. Luke.
In September 2013, a fan-made petition circulated asking for Kesha to be "freed" from Dr. Luke. After that, the dominos fell quickly. Kesha claimed she was forced to sing the single "Die Young." In October, she released another No. 1 single with Pitbull, "Timber." In November, her fans carried a banner to her concert that read, "Fuck Dr. Luke." Her mother announced that she blamed Dr. Luke for Kesha's lack of creative inspiration.
In January 2014, the singer entered rehab for an eating disorder. When she emerged in March, she had dropped the $ from her name.
This is sad. Can we take a music break?
Yes, of course. Here's a really bizarre video for Kesha's "Blow," which features some unicorns!
What's the takeaway?
Young artists are routinely trapped in impossible contracts they cannot escape in the record industry. The first picture Kesha's camp is painting is one of a young, terrified artist whose entire career rests in the hands of a producer holding her against her will. The second is of a young girl who was taken advantage of by an older man. Both stories are far too common. Whether Kesha's claims are true or Dr. Luke's are is open to the interpretation of the court, but the story she's telling is one we've heard before.