By Jarod Todeschi
People in unicorn hats, glitter and all of the colors on the spectrum packed the intimate Roseland Theatre on Saturday night to see pop star Kesha on the Portland stop of her current Rainbow Tour. So far, Kesha’s jaunt around the country has proved enormously successful. Fans — or as Kesha refers to them, “Animals” — have flocked to see the star after a lengthy hiatus from music, lasting nearly five years.
Though Kesha was absent from the charts, the same could not be said for her presence in the spotlight. In 2014, Ke$ha checked herself into a two month rehabilitation program, seeking treatment for anorexia and bulimia. Upon completion, she expressed excitement for what was to come, hinting at an identity re-brand dropping the dollar sign from her name, additionally tweeting “2014 gon be the year of truth and freedom.”
As it turned out, this was just the beginning of what would become a long battle for Kesha. Later that year, she shocked the music industry by filing a lawsuit against producer Dr. Luke, after suffering nearly 10 years of sexual and emotional abuse under his contractual ownership. The contract dates back to 2005, beginning when Kesha dropped out of high school and moved to Los Angeles for a chance in the music industry.
Many of Kesha’s pop star peers vocalized their support in the midst of her legal battle. Kelly Clarkson and Pink both referenced Dr. Luke by name, saying they had previously refused to work with the producer, calling him “demeaning,” of “poor character” and “not a good person,” respectively.
Though the abuse allegations attracted the most attention from the lawsuit, she was suing for the right to release music without Dr. Luke’s involvement. At the time, the entirety of her catalogue was creatively controlled by Dr. Luke, and she was only halfway through the six album exclusivity agreement within their contract.
After a New York judge denied her permission to release music outside of her contract with him, Sony Records, the parent company of Dr. Luke’s Kemosabe imprint, insisted that she would be able to record her album without the presence of the producer, though the contract still allowed him final approval and profit from all of her releases.
This prompted backlash online, fans and allies sharing hashtags such as #FreeKesha and #PersonOverProfit.
Though hindered in her creativity, Kesha started to shift the conversation once again with her performance at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards. Dr. Luke notably stopped her from performing initially, and only granted permission after she agreed not to reference him or their legal case in. She performed an acoustic Bob Dylan cover, garnering acclaim for the vocals previously concealed by Dr. Luke’s party productions.
While working for her right to release, she hit the road for “Kesha and the Creepies: F**k the World Tour,” playing pop, metal and country covers, as well as genre altering arrangements of her own collection of hits. The tour packed venues around the world and showed off the talent and showmanship behind the gimmicks of the dollar sign persona.
“Praying” came as a welcome surprise over the summer as the lead single to her hotly anticipated third LP, proving her rawest single to date. But still, like the others it followed, the track found digital success and radio longevity.
“Rainbow,” Kesha’s first album without any involvement from Dr. Luke, debuted at number one. On the set, Kesha dips her toes in all kinds of influences, featuring both The Eagles of Death Metal and Dolly Parton. Across the eclectic track list she ultimately builds a cohesive album, her most critically successful, built with co-writers, sounds and producers of her choosing.
Though all of the album’s success is due to work done by Kesha, the album legally had to be released through Kemosabe Records. All of her curated success is filling Dr. Luke’s pockets. Kesha is perhaps his most consistent form of income after being widely blacklisted in the music industry.
Despite the truths of the past and the present, Kesha’s live show is a celebration of many sorts. The Rainbow Tour in large part acts as the catharsis of her uphill battle. Dr. Luke may still lurk in the shadows of royalty profits and tour grosses, but Kesha does not seem to be bothered, dancing in confetti and singing in the spotlight. Though it should not be forgotten that Kesha’s fight is far from over, her triumphs continue to prove that limiting circumstances are no factor for the limitless.