It’s the kind of showbiz horror story that usually comes out only in whispers and rumors, sometimes in confessional memoirs written years after the fact. But in a rare move, a star currently at the peak of her career is publicly lobbing accusations of sexual harassment against a producer currently at the top of his own game.
Platinum-selling pop star Kesha on Tuesday sued longtime collaborator Dr. Luke — the global hitmaker who launched her in the recording industry — accusing him of sexual assault, battery and emotional distress, and seeks to get out of her current contract with him.
Dr. Luke immediately filed a countersuit of his own, saying that the allegations are false and a gambit for Kesha and her singer-songwriter mother to extort him into an early release from her recording agreement. “These defamatory statements contain lurid allegations of physical and mental abuse — allegations that Kesha and Pebe [Sebert, her mother] have themselves admitted are false,” the complaint reads.
In a long, disturbing lawsuit published by the Hollywood Reporter, Kesha (last name Sebert) claims Dr. Luke “sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally abused” her over the last decade working together, “to the point where [she] nearly lost her life.”
“Dr. Luke abused Ms. Sebert in order to destroy her self-confidence, self-image and self-worth so that he could maintain complete control over her life and career,” reads the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles on Tuesday and first reported by TMZ.
Kesha, 27, says Dr. Luke coerced her to drop out of high school in Nashville and move to Los Angeles in 2005, where he promised to make her a recording star. The suit claims that shortly after she arrived, Dr. Luke started to “violently abuse” Kesha and make sexual advances toward her. Kesha alleges that one night, Dr. Luke forced her to drink with him and then take a “sober pill,” which turned out to be a date rape drug. She says she woke up the next day naked in Dr. Luke’s bed “sore and sick,” and had no memory of how she wound up there.
“Dr. Luke repeatedly threatened that if she ever told anyone about these abusive incidents, he would destroy both Ms. Sebert and her entire family,” the suit says.
“Casting couch” stories have circulated through show business for years with many prominent women (and some men) acknowledging they faced sexual pressure early in their careers. Joan Collins has said that she was offered the starring role in “Cleopatra” if she slept with a studio head; Susan Sarandon told Elle magazine about a meeting during her early days in New York where “a guy practically threw me on the desk.” But in many of these stories, the men remain nameless, the stories generally only told years later.
The story in Kesha’s lawsuit continues into her early years of fame. After she reportedly received no compensation for vocals on Flo Rida’s monster hit “Right Round” (famously the reason she changed the “s” in her name to a dollar sign for a while), she rocketed to fame with dance-rap anthem “Tik Tok.” The suit says Dr. Luke continued to destroy her self-esteem and bilk her of pay, even as she dominated pop with hits including “Your Love is My Drug,” “We R Who We R” and “Die Young.”
“He would tell Ms. Sebert that she was nothing but his pawn, and if she did not obey his orders, that he would end her career,” the suit alleges.
The counterclaim from the producer (born Lukasz Gottwald) holds that their dispute is simply about money. He says the unknown artist he turned into an international superstar fell in with a new manager who persuaded her to end their exclusive deal and seize a larger financial stake in her music.
“Kesha’s repudiation of this contractual relationship, and her and her mother’s ongoing campaign to extort a release by tarnishing Gottwald’s reputation, has caused damage to Gottwald,” it reads.
The complaint claims that Kesha and her mother “orchestrated a campaign of publishing false and shocking accusations ” to get out of the contract. Dr. Luke’s lawyer Christine Lepera says that the producer has not seen Kesha’s lawsuit, and that it’s “nothing more than a continuation of her bad and offensive acts.”
“We are confident that Dr. Luke will prevail in all matters, and that our client will be awarded substantial damages for this malicious conduct,” she said.
It was already clear earlier this year that the duo’s lucrative working relationship had deteriorated. Kesha’s mother accused him in a People magazine story of taunting her daughter about her weight, triggering an eating disorder that sent her to rehab. Dr. Luke’s reps called the allegations “completely false.”
Dr. Luke helped jumpstart Kelly Clarkson’s post-“American Idol” career in the mid-2000s and quickly became known as a go-to beatmaker for the era’s dominant pop divas: Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Pink, Miley Cyrus, Rihanna and many more. He has been nominated for several Grammys, including his work on Perry’s top-selling “Teenage Dream” album.
Since her stay in rehab, Kesha has toned down her once-flamboyant image — dropping the dollar sign in her name, abandoning the absurd costumes and body glitter. Her latest project is decidedly mainstream, signing on as a judge for ABC’s reality singing competition “Rising Star.”
After seeing Dr. Luke’s countersuit, Kesha’s lawyer Mark Geragos fired back. “This is just another pathetic and entirely predictable example of Dr. Luke’s continued abuse, and a misguided attempt to keep Kesha under his tyrannical control,” he said. “This lawsuit has absolutely no basis in fact, the law or reality. Kesha is focused on reclaiming her voice and her freedom. She is determined to move on with her life and her career by putting this dark period behind her.”
(This post has been updated with Geragos’s new statement.)