At the Grammys, a mostly unremarkable and borderline-unwatchable 893,924 hour tribute to Sting that saw the promise that a deserving nominee might actually take home Album of the Year dashed faster than you can put your pinky finger to the moon, a few performances shone against the doldrums of the night. One of those highlights came from Kesha, who clutched a gold microphone as she half-sung, half-almost-sobbed “Praying,” her anthem of survival.
Kesha says that producer Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald raped and abused her for years. (He denies her allegations.) She’s been mired in a legal battle to get out of her contract with him since 2014, which is part of why “Praying” is the first song she’s released in nearly four years. The album on which it appears, Rainbow, marks her first musical reckoning with the abuse she alleges and her ongoing healing.
When Kesha released “Praying” last July, she wrote an accompanying essay in Lenny letter detailing the creative process behind the song, which is a collaboration with Macklemore’s Ryan Lewis: “I have channeled my feelings of severe hopelessness and depression, I’ve overcome obstacles, and I have found strength in myself even when it felt out of reach.”
She wore all white (with colorful flowers on her jacket), as did the performers who surrounded and supported her: Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Andra Day, Julia Michaels, Bebe Rexha, and the Resistance Revival Chorus.
Aside from Kesha’s performance, artists attending the Grammys theoretically had a Time’s Up statement-making game plan: Wear a white rose. But it was hardly the presentation of solidarity achieved by the all-black dress code at the Golden Globes just weeks ago.
Some men dutifully pinned a rose to their lapels. But some stars walked the red carpet holding a single rose by the stem, like off-brand Bachelor contestants, then ditched it once the show got underway. Still others — like Cardi B. and Khalid — wore or carried them to little effect; against the pale fabrics of their outfits, the petals failed to pop. And plenty of stars went without.
In a courtroom in Michigan last week, a judge told a room full of sexual abuse survivors how she admired them: their strength and their eloquence, their insistence on survival. She saw their futures unfurling in front before her, glittering with all the “magnificent things” they would do. To their abuser, whom she sentenced to 175 years in prison, she said, “I’m signing your death warrant.”
Not everyone delighted in Judge Aquilina’s aggressive turns of phrase. Though this was a sentencing and not a trial, there was a sense that she crossed a line of decorum, that perhaps she was basking too much in all the attention surrounding the case of Larry Nassar. But she was a champion in the eyes of the survivors who testified; Olympian Aly Raisman thanked Aquilina “from the bottom of my heart” for, among other things, her “compassion.”
Kesha has found no such compassion in the courtroom. She has been trying to extricate herself from a recording contract with Luke’s Kemosabe (which was a Sony imprint until Sony let Luke’s contract expire last summer) since 2014. No dice. The judge presiding over the case, New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich, has sided with Luke more than once.
Last March, Kornreich rejected an amended lawsuit from Kesha in a ruling that amounted to, “If he abused you before, you should have known he would abuse you again; so if you signed a contract with him anyway, that’s on you.”
As ThinkProgress reported at the time:
As the ruling explains, [Kesha] alleges abuse dating back to 2005. She “pled that Gottwald’s verbal and physical threats were not foreseeable” when she signed with Kemosabe/Kasz Money Inc. and Prescription Songs (the production and publishing companies, respectively, owned by Gottwald). But [Kesha] signed with Prescription on November 26, 2008, at which point, Kornreich ruled, “Gottwald’s allegedly abusive behavior was foreseeable.”
It was harsh then and reads as even more callous now, against the background of a chorus of Me Toos.
Janelle Monae introduced Kesha with one of the night’s only noteworthy speeches. She kicked things off with a perfectly tweetable line about what she and her “fellow sisters” are about: “We come in peace, but we mean business.”
She went on:
And to those who would dare try and silence us, we offer you two words: Time’s up.
We say time’s up for pay inequality, time’s up for discrimination, time’s up for harassment of any kind, and time’s up for the abuse of power. Because you see, it’s not just going on in Hollywood, it’s not just going on in Washington, it’s right here in our industry as well.
And just as we have the power to shape culture, we also have the power to undo the culture that does not serve us well. So, let’s work together, women and men, as a united music industry committed to creating more safe work environments, equal pay and access for all women.
“Praying” was up for a Grammy for best pop solo performance, and Rainbow was nominated for best pop vocal album. Kesha lost both to Ed Sheeran.