Who and what can actually help Kesha?
On Friday, pop star Kesha received the news that she wouldn’t be receiving a legal injunction that would allow her to break her contract with Sony Music and her alleged abuser, producer Dr. Luke.
Since then, a lot of women within the music industry have publicly voiced their support for the embattled singer:
And on Sunday, a representative for Swift told media outlets that the squad star had donated $250,000 to help Kesha with “any of her financial needs during this trying time.”
We’re gonna call it: Even if the money is mostly symbolic in its gesture (as Kesha presumably has money of her own, though it’s both difficult and inappropriate to guess as to how much), we’re sure Kesha and her legal team appreciated both the cold hard cash, as well as the rhetoric of support and overall goodwill Swift’s alignment brings. (And, notice how it’s overwhelmingly female musicians who have voiced their support: Et tu, dudes?) But pop star support aside, what will actually help Kesha get out of her Sony contract, or at least allow her to put new music out there in the world, as her lawsuit against Dr. Luke crawls forward in our legal system?
Releasing free mixtapes
From Miley Cyrus to Drake to many, many others, artists have been utilizing the free mixtape drop to get around label restrictions for decades. Because these releases don’t directly lead to financial gain for labels, in theory, Kesha should in theory have an out.
But by all accounts, Kesha’s initially contract with Dr. Luke, put together when she was only 18, is frighteningly ironclad, tethering the two together for six albums. (Kesha’s only put out three.) There’s no way she hasn’t considered this option, and the fact that she hasn’t utilized it seems to suggest that there are restrictions on her ability to release any music, free or otherwise, under her current pop name and persona. Which brings us to…
Releasing new music under a new name and style
Kesha’s tested this water with her new band The Yeast Infection, but that performance featured rock covers of her and others’ existing songs, not any new music. It seems incredibly likely that Kesha’s contract prevents her for ever competing with her current label outputs — as in, she’d have to change her performing name and style in order to release music independently of the Kesha/Sony brand.
But as that is, how far would she have to go to change her public image in order for that to happen? And, how would she distribute her music without major label help? Yes, the indie music “scene” can certainly accommodate her voice and creative vision, but as former Universal Music Group president/CEO Jim Urie wrote in a court affidavit on behalf of Kesha, “No mainstream distribution company will invest the money necessary to distribute songs for an artist who has fallen from the public eye. If Kesha cannot immediately resume recording and having her music promoted, marketed, and distributed by a major label, her career is effectively over.” It’s not a matter of Kesha delivering music; it’s a matter of her being able to fully control her musical output and public image, without having to dance around legal caveats with hair trigger restrictions.
Amending/breaking her contract
Then there’s this idea: Kesha could break, or close out, her contract. It’s been done before, most recently and notably by former One Direction member Zayn Malik. In his case, he moved from one branch of Sony Music (Simon Cowell’s Syco Music) to RCA Records; still, he presumably had the constant support of Sony throughout the process, and the label certainly wanted to keep the now Billboard No. 1 hit star on their roster. (Though Malik reportedly paid many millions to get out of his first contract, no small feat for any artist.)
In Kesha’s case, what would she have to pay in order to get out of her contract? Though people assume pop stars are constantly swimming in cash, ponying up millions from an individual fund is still A Lot for most artists, even those as pop culture prominent as Kesha. And the longer she’s effectively barred from monetizing her talent, the more unlikely she’ll be able to put that kind of fuck-off fund together.
Then there’s Sony and Dr. Luke’s suggestion that she works directly with Sony rather than Dr. Luke’s Kemosabe Records. While that idea is certainly tempting, and indeed was a point of contention for the judge of Friday’s court proceedings, there’s no actual way of guaranteeing that Kesha won’t still be interacting with Dr. Luke on a regular basis — a rather grave concern for Kesha, considering the nature of the allegations she’s leveled against him. And really, any business contact, even if it’s through Sony Music at large, could still subject Kesha to Dr. Luke’s whims, as Sony has kept its ties with the hitmaker.