2009: Kesha sings an uncredited verse on Flo Rida’s “Right Round,” which leads to a record deal with RCA and mega producer Dr. Luke, who has worked with Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Rihanna and Miley Cyrus. She begins performing under the name “Ke$ha.”
January 2010: “Tik Tok,” from Ke$ha’s debut album Animal, reaches the top of the Billboard pop charts.
2010-2013: Ke$ha’s team cultivates her image as the dirty and brash alternative to the ubiquitous pop princess—she sings about partying, drinking and casual sex; she rebuffs any pressure to become a role model.
2013: After the Sandy Hook school shooting, radio stations pull “Die Young;” Ke$ha takes to Twitter to say she was forced to sing the lyrics, then retracts her statement. #FreeKesha begins popping up on Twitter as her fans feel Dr. Luke is heavily controlling her image and music. They want her released from her contract.
January 2014: Ke$ha enters rehab for emotional issues and an eating disorder. While there she reconnects with her estranged mother, songwriter Pebe Sebert. Sebert alleges that Dr. Luke contributed to her daughter’s eating disorder by calling Ke$ha a “refrigerator.” Post-rehab, Kesha emerges healthier and drops the $ from her name.
October 2014: Kesha files a motion to void her contract with Dr. Luke, thus allowing her to record music and publish with other labels. She alleges 10 years of verbal, emotional and sexual abuse including drugging.
Dr. Luke countersues Kesha, her management team and her mother, alleging they concocted a story to get her out of her contract; he alleges breach of contract and extortion.
(The lawsuits are complicated and varied: Sebert is suing Dr. Luke for inflicting emotional distress and causing PTSD, he is countersuing for defamation. The lawsuit has been dismissed in New York but is pending in Tennessee.)
February 2016: A judge denies Kesha’s request for an injunction that would allow her to record music with other labels while all the lawsuits are before the courts.
In her statement, the judge says that Kesha is free to record without Dr. Luke’s presence in the studio, but she must do so under the Sony label; Dr. Luke would effectively remain her boss. Kesha sobs in court.
Many artists quickly come out to support Kesha, including Miley Cyrus, Fiona Apple, Kelly Clarkson and Lady Gaga. Taylor Swift donates $250,000 to help keep Kesha afloat, prompting a very public thank you from Sebert. Demi Lovato takes to Twitter to ask for more vocal support amongst women in the industry (and not just money), causing a social media war of words among fans and feminists.
Taylor Swift has just generously donated $250,000. to Kesha, as a show of support during this difficult time.AMAZING!! — keshas mom (@grannywrapper) February 22, 2016
Take something to Capitol Hill or actually speak out about something and then I’ll be impressed.
— Demi Lovato (@ddlovato) February 22, 2016
Producers Jack Antonoff and Zedd offer to work with Kesha and “leak” her music as she is not legally allowed to write, produce or record outside of Dr. Luke’s Kemosabe label (a subsidiary of Sony).
Lena Dunham dedicates a Lenny Letter to Kesha, decrying both the process that professional and financially ties Kesha to her alleged abuser, and says: “What’s happening to Kesha highlights the way that the American legal system continues to hurt women by failing to protect them from the men they identify as their abusers.”
Adele, also on the Sony label, wins a 2016 Brit award, which she dedicates to Kesha, saying “I would like to take this moment to publicly support Kesha.”
Dr. Luke takes to Twitter to deny all accusations, and his lawyers told Rolling Stone that Kesha is free to record music without him, saying: “Any claim that she isn’t ‘free’ is a myth.”
Kesha herself speaks publicly for the first time, thanking her supporters via Instagram (and promises a more in-depth statement later).
I am beyond words in gratitude. thank you is not enough but it is all I have. a million times over and forever thank you. the support I have received has left my face swollen from tears. I love you all so much. ❤️ a statement too large for this format is coming….
A photo posted by Kesha (@iiswhoiis) on
With mounting pressure on Sony to release Kesha from her contract (which calls for six more albums, or roughly the next 12 years of her life) it will be interesting to see if it will continue to pursue its “$60 million dollar investment”—or bow to public outcry.