The Week In Pop

The Week In Pop: The History Of Kesha Vs. Dr. Luke

When Kesha and Dr. Luke traded lawsuits earlier this week — Kesha alleging a decade of sexual, physical, and verbal abuse, Luke alleging that she made it all up in an attempt to get out of her contract — the rotten core of one of this decade’s most successful pop partnerships was ripped open and exposed for all to see. If she’s telling the truth, this is gross. If he’s telling the truth, this is gross. It’s gross no matter what.

What it’s not, in large part, is new. Even though their feud just went nuclear, this week’s lawsuits are hardly the first shots fired in Kesha’s war with her longtime svengali. Luke, born Lukasz Gottwald, signed an 18-year-old Kesha Rose Sebert in 2005, landed her uncredited work singing the hook on Flo Rida’s mega-hit “Right Round” in 2009, and oversaw her smash hit debut album Animal and its follow-up EP Cannibal. Although Dr. Luke has worked with a who’s-who of mainstream pop stars, he’s tied most closely to Kesha. Because she’s signed to his RCA imprint Kemosabe Records, the producer maintains a high degree of control over her career. In recent years Kesha has bristled at that control, and a power struggle has unfolded. There’s been a lot of passive-aggression and outright shit-talking leading up to this impasse, stretching back at least as far as the bumpy promotional campaign for Kesha’s 2012 album Warrior. Below, find a timeline of the relationship’s public unraveling.

December 2012: Kesha says she was forced to sing the lyrics to “Die Young”
After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a lot of radio stations pulled Kesha’s #2 hit “Die Young” from the airwaves. Kesha tweeted that she had her own concerns about the song’s lyrics but was “forced” to sing them. She later backed off from the claim, saying she wasn’t forced but felt uneasy about the lyrics. The implication: Dr. Luke made me do it.

May 2013: Kesha performs the Dr. Luke-rejected “Machine Gun Love”
The fifth episode of Kesha’s MTV reality show My Crazy Beautiful Life showed her recording “Machine Gun Love,” one of several rock-oriented tracks she wrote for Warrior that Dr. Luke ultimately discarded. In the episode, Kesha implied that she had no creative control and that Dr. Luke was preventing her from diverting from his hit-making pop template. The same week the episode aired, Kesha performed the song in concert and encouraged fans to record it. It ended up on YouTube the next day and in the second season of the MTV series in December.

September 2013: Fans begin to circulate a petition to “Let Ke$ha have creative freedom”
After the chart failures of cookie-cutter Warrior singles “C’Mon” and “Crazy Kids” and the My Crazy Beautiful Life plotline about Dr. Luke’s overzealous control, Kesha’s core fan base, the “Animals,” declared war on Luke. Nearly 13,000 people signed an online petition demanding creative freedom for Kesha. An excerpt: “Dr. Luke is controlling ke$ha like a puppet, feeding her what she doesn’t want, and her creativity is dwindling and affected negativity.”

October 2013: Dr. Luke describes his battle to control Kesha
A profile of Dr. Luke in The New Yorker depicted Luke’s fraying relationship with Kesha: “But now that her pop-star dreams had come true she was proving hard to control.” The story quotes Luke regarding Kesha, “I haven’t heard from her in a while.” The article confirmed that Kesha wanted to use Warrior “to establish her rock bona fides,” while “others involved in the making of the record felt that she should continue in the party-girl dance-pop vein of her debut.”

October 2013: Kesha and her mom align with the petition for creative freedom
In a Rolling Stone interview, Kesha acknowledged her fans’ petition to give her creative freedom and admitted that she had none. “What’s been put out as singles have just perpetuated a particular image that may or may not be entirely accurate,” she said. “I’d like to show the world other sides of my personality. I don’t want to just continue putting out the same song and becoming a parody myself. I have so much more to offer than that and I can’t wait till the world really gets to hear that on the radio.” A few days later, Kesha’s mom/manager/co-songwriter Pebe Sebert tweeted a link to the petition and blamed Dr. Luke for restricting Kesha’s creative freedom.

November 2013: Wayne Coyne fuels speculation that Dr. Luke blocked Kesha’s album with the Flaming Lips
After Kesha appeared on the Flaming Lips’ guest-heavy 2012 release The Flaming Lips And Heady Fwends, she planned to make an entire LP with the Lips entitled Lip$ha. Coyne gave several enthusiastic interviews about the project throughout 2013, but in November he tweeted, “As of now …sadly there will be no Lip$ha…. I can’t say why… It is sad…” He then retweeted disappointed fan responses, including a couple that blamed Dr. Luke for blocking the release.

January 2014: Kesha blames Dr. Luke for her eating disorder
After checking into rehab for an eating disorder, TMZ reported that her struggle began when Dr. Luke called her a “fucking refrigerator” at a video shoot in 2012. In an essay for Elle, she later described the showbiz pressures that led to her eating disorder but did not mention Dr. Luke by name.

May 2014: Coyne again suggests that Dr. Luke blocked Lip$ha
In a tweet announcing that the Flaming Lips/Kesha album would be released after all, Coyne more overtly suggested that Luke was the one preventing its release in the first place: “Yessss!! Lip$$ha is still comin!!! Soon as Ke$ha works out her stuff with Luke..”

October 2014: Kesha sues Dr. Luke
It all came to a head this week when Kesha filed a lawsuit against Dr. Luke alleging that he did all kinds of terrible things throughout their nine-year business partnership, including at least one incident of drugging and raping her and another instance when she had to flee barefoot into the mountains to get away from his violently thrashing arms. She said she’s finally worked up the courage to come forward after years holding back in fear.

October 2014: Dr. Luke countersues Kesha
Dr. Luke fired back with a suit of his own the same day, claiming that Kesha and her mother had been threatening to smear his name if he didn’t let her out of her contract and that her accusations are “scurrilous.” Now this battle moves from the court of public opinion to the court of law, where it promises to get even uglier. With such serious allegations on the table, here’s hoping justice is served.

CHART WATCH

Welcome to the top 10, Bobby Shmurda! Viral smash “Hot Nigga,” rechristened as “Hot Boy” for widespread consumption, rises to #10 this week, which is pretty damn impressive for something so homemade and raw. Of course the Shmoney Dance already made it all the way to the Ryder Cup, so it was only a matter of time. Let’s work our way up from there: Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” holds at #9, while Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” has fallen to #8. Maroon 5’s “Animals” and Jeremih/YG’s “Don’t Tell ‘Em” are both up a spot to #7 and #6 respectively. The top 5 is all-female for a record sixth straight week, starting with the Jessie J/Ariana Grande/Minaj hit “Bang Bang” at #5. Tove Lo is now a contributor to this record run as “Habits (Stay High)” rises to #4. Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora’s “Black Widow” holds at #3 for a second straight week. And at the top of the chart, Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” remain 1-2 for a sixth straight week. Billboard reports that women have only monopolized the top 5 for 12 weeks ever, so this streak accounts for half those weeks.

The upper reaches of the album chart tends to see a lot more turnover than the top of the singles chart these days, and indeed, there are two new records at the peak this week. Jason Aldean’s Old Boots, New Dirt sold 278,000, good for a second straight #1 debut and the third-best sales week of the year per Billboard. (Only Coldplay’s Ghost Stories and Eric Church’s The Outsiders had bigger opening weeks.) SNL guest Hozier, introduced in last week’s column, enters at #2 with 58,000 in sales for his self-titled LP.

Legendary old-timers Barbra Streisand and Tony Bennett continue to sell well, with Streisand’s all-star duets album Partners (49,000) and Bennett’s Lady Gaga duets album Cheek To Cheek (37,000) at #3 and #4 respectively. Weezer manages a #5 debut for Everything Will Be Alright In The End despite selling only 34,000. Blake Shelton’s Bringing Back The Sunshine, last week’s #1, is down to #6 with 34,000. Stevie Nicks’ 24 Karat Gold: Songs From The Vault, on which she made new recordings of old unreleased demos, starts at #7 with 33,000. The X Factor champions Alex & Sierra land their debut album It’s About Us at #8 with 27,000. Keyshia Cole’s Point Of No Return sold 25,000 to debut at #9, and Smith’s In The Lonely Hour climbs back to #10 with 24,000.

TRACK CITY

Fall Out Boy – “Immortals”
I was actually a big fan of Fall Out Boy’s pop metamorphosis pre-breakup, but since they’ve gotten back together they’ve basically been Imagine Dragons. This song is straight garbage.

Meghan Trainor – “Lips Are Movin'”
Whereas the rest of Meghan Trainor’s EP used sounds and subject matter similar to “All About That Bass,” this one — a new track that wasn’t on the EP — sounds like a remix of the same song. It’s a little less gimmicky, the beat is almost DnB, and parts of it take me back to Christina Aguilera’s “What A Girl Wants,” so it’s not a complete mess. Still, it reinforces the prevailing sentiment that the clock is ticking on Ms. Trainor’s 15 minutes.

Calvin Harris – “Slow Acid”
This instrumental is kind of a minor tune in the Harris discography, but it’s sneaky-good — not on par with his best pop tracks yet way less grating than his worst. I feel like it should be soundtracking a heist scene in a late-’90s action movie. (As Idolator points out, it could very much be a Prodigy song.)

Betty Who – “All Of You”
What an excellent piece of pop songcraft: A big, bold, danceable singalong, classic yet modern, sleek yet aggressive. It’s like Justice gone disco inferno, and I’m all about it.

Melanie Martinez – “Carousel”
“Carousel” was recently used in an American Horror Story: Freak Show, and it sounds like the perfect soundtrack for that sort of spooky kitsch. It seems like the carousel is supposed to be a metaphor for chasing a romance that’s never going to happen, but then how could this line not be a euphemism for sex? “Come one come all/ You must be this tall/ To ride this ride/ At the carnival.” Anyway, decent song.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • There’s a snippet of a new Taylor Swift song in her new Diet Coke commercial, which plays up the whole “crazy cat lady” thing. [YouTube]
  • Ariana Grande will lend her voice to the animated movie Underdogs, which also features Katie Holmes and Glee’s Matthew Morrison. [MTV]
  • Grande also confirmed that she’s dating Big Sean, calling him “one of the most amazing men in the whole world, and that includes my grandfather and my brother.” Maybe she hasn’t heard how he talks to his exes? [Miss Info]
  • Macklemore spoke at the 20th anniversary of King County Drug Court, a program that lets defendants receive drug treatment rather than go to jail. [The Seattle Times]
  • Britney Spears’ Vegas show is bringing the city an extra $20 million in income. [Popdust]
  • Like the headline says, Paula Abdul’s breast cancer awareness video sure is something. [Jezebel]
  • Mel C AKA Sporty Spice thinks Rihanna should tone down her sexualized image to be more appropriate for kids. [Refinery29]
  • Pitbull’s new album cover is freaking me out. [Idolator]
  • Afroman has remixed “Because I Got High” in support of marijuana legalization. [EW]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME

HOLD ON, WE’RE STILL GOING HOME