Pop singer Kesha Rose Sebert has been trying to get out of her recording contract since 2014. She alleges that mega-producer Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald abused her, drugged her, and raped her, as well as engaging in unfair business practices with her. She is signed to Kemosabe, Gottwald’s label, an imprint of Sony.
Last month, New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich declined to grant Sebert a preliminary injunction that would get her out of her contract; Sebert has either three or four albums left on her contract (depending on how you count her EP, Cannibal).
Fans and industry heavyweights alike were horrified by the ruling, which while technically a minor legal setback in a long case scanned to the public as yet another instance of a victim of sexual assault being mistreated and ignored. The hashtag #FreeKesha trended across Twitter as stars like Adele and Lady Gaga publicly voiced their support for Sebert. Taylor Swift gave Sebert $250,000 to help out during these “trying times.” The outcry was clear: Why wouldn’t Sony just free Kesha from her contract?
The Wrap is reporting that, according to inside sources at the label, Sony is opting for a different solution: Instead of freeing Kesha, they’re going to free Gottwald.
According to The Wrap, Sony Music is expected to terminate its contract with Gottwald one year early. Gottwald signed a five-year agreement in 2011 which is slated to end in 2017. (A Sony Music representative did not comment on the story, nor did anyone from Gottwald's camp.) As "one individual familiar with upper management's thinking" told The Wrap:
There is no contest. Kesha has no case in regards to her contract but they can’t afford the Adeles of the world out in the streets calling the label unsupportive. The fact that this hasn’t already been taken care of with Luke is confusing, especially for people in the building.
It's been reported that Gottwald's deal with Sony is for $60 million and that he was really hired so Sony could have a hit-maker in their stables, not for his ability to manage a label and recruit artists. Other artists signed to Kemosabe include Lunchmoney Lewis, Becky G, and Juicy J.
But if there's anything to be gleaned from Sebert's experiences in trying to extricate herself from her own record deal, contracts that are swiftly signed are not so easily broken. As The Wrap notes, the smoothest way out would be for both parties -- Gottwald and Sony -- to agree to dissolve the partnership, a move that would "save face" and not constitute a direct breach of contract.
By releasing Gottwald instead of Sebert, Sony would manage to do some reputation-salvaging -- by appearing to be on the right side of a rape case -- while keeping Sebert, by far the best-known artist on Kemosabe's roster, even though she hasn't released new music since 2012. Gottwald, one of a fleet of Swedish pop-whisperers responsible for the lion's share of Top 40 music since the late 1980s, is the guy you can thank for Katy Perry smashes from "I Kissed a Girl" to "California Gurls," Miley Cyrus hits like "Party in the U.S.A." and "Wrecking Ball," and plenty more. But his track record as a label head is far less remarkable, not to mention less profitable; Sony could have more to lose by keeping him than by letting him go, from a financial standpoint as much as a PR one.
Sebert has made conflicting statements about her willingness to work with Sony, outside of the purview of Gottwald. When she first filed suit against Gottwald in October 2014, she did not express any reservations about recording music with Sony as long as Gottwald weren't involved. But the following June, she amended her complaint to add Sony as a defendant. Gottwald's “proclivity for abusive conduct was open and obvious” to Sony brass, she claimed, and those with the power to intervene either ignored or facilitated Gottwald's misconduct. They "provided Dr. Luke with unfettered and unsupervised access to vulnerable female artists beginning their careers, and who would be totally dependent upon Dr. Luke for success.”
Gottwald's attorney has denied that Sony is dropping Gottwald in a statement to Entertainment Weekly: "This is not true. Luke has an excellent relationship with Sony. His representatives are in regular contact with executives at the highest levels at Sony and this has never come up."