Last Friday, a New York Supreme Court judge ruled that pop singer Kesha could not be freed from her six-album contract with Sony Music Entertainment and its imprint, Kemosabe Records, owned by super-producer Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald. You can read the awful details of the case here, but to sum up: Kesha filed a civil suit against Dr. Luke in 2014, alleging that she endured years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse while working with him, including at least one rape. Dr. Luke filed a countersuit the same day calling the accusations “defamatory” and “false.” The two parties have been waging a messy legal battle ever since.
Last week's court ruling denied Kesha's request for a temporary injunction that would allow her to record for other labels until the conflicting lawsuits can be resolved. She has not released any new music since 2013; Dr. Luke, on the other hand, continues his production work with numerous artists, including R. Kelly, Flo Rida and Ciara. Last summer, he scored a Top 10 hit with “Locked Away,” a track he co-wrote and co-produced for the Caribbean duo Rock City, with Adam Levine on guest vocals.
Whether you believe Kesha's side of the story or Dr. Luke's, this last point is important. Although Sony has insisted (and the judge agreed) that Kesha is free to work with producers other than Dr. Luke, she remains under contract to Sony's RCA Records label through Dr. Luke's Kemosabe imprint. Essentially, she is being held captive by her contract, forced to continue working (or choosing not work, as she has done) for a label whose owner may have raped and assaulted her.
There's a pretty straightforward and ugly reason why, in this equation, Dr. Luke gets to keep working and Kesha does not: They are not fighting this battle on a level playing field. The music industry is still overwhelmingly dominated by men like Dr. Luke (an estimated 95 percent of all producers and engineers are male) and his mostly male employers at Sony Music Entertainment. Don't believe it? Just look at this month's Billboard Power 100 list, which purports to rank the most influential people in the music industry. According to that list, the people who control Kesha's creative output are overwhelmingly male.
The Sony Music Entertainment executives on the list include CEO Doug Morris, at No. 4, and a trio of suits sharing No. 44: Executive VP/CFO Kevin Kelleher, Global Digital Business & U.S. Sales President Dennis Kooker, and Executive VP Business Affairs/General Counsel Julie Swidler, one of only two female Sony employees on the entire list (the other is Epic Records President Sylvia Rhone). Tom Corson and Peter Edge, President and Chairman respectively of Kesha's label, RCA Records, share No. 23. Three male executives of Sony/ATV Publishing, the division of Sony that controls Dr. Luke's and Kesha's songwriting, also made the list, as did the male chairman of Vevo, the video streaming service co-owned by Sony, which controls all of Kesha's videos.
No matter how you slice it, that's a lot of men (and, OK, one woman) controlling the fate of one female recording artist.
In her ruling, New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich sided with Sony and Dr. Luke, accepting their argument that Kesha is free to work at Sony with producers other than Dr. Luke and noting that Kesha and her legal team had failed to provide any evidence of abuse. “My instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing,” Justice Kornreich said, adding that releasing Kesha from her contract could cause “irreparable harm” to Sony.
If you're still wondering why no one seems to care about about whatever “irreparable harm” this is all doing to Kesha's career, the Billboard Power 100 list might offer some answers.