"Free Kesha now! Free Kesha now!"
Those were the cries ringing out from protesters outside New York City's Supreme Court on Friday morning (Feb. 19). While the clouds blocked all traces of the sun, the dozens of fans of pop star Kesha helped to brighten the atmosphere. They stood in front of the courthouse with signs that read "Free Kesha Right Meow!," "I Heart U Kesha" and "Fuck Dr. Luke." They transformed the stoic location into a heartfelt celebration.
In recent years, no legal saga has shaken up the music industry more than Kesha’s case against Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald. The pop singer has been involved in a messy and eye-opening battle with her longtime producer—who helmed smashes like "TiK ToK," "Die Young" and "Blow" for the singer—since October 2014, when she claimed that he “sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally abused” her for a decade.
The pile-up of allegations—from Kesha’s mother blaming her reported post-traumatic stress disorder on Dr. Luke, to claims that the producer threatened to abuse the singer's pet dog—has been stunning, and have posed a question of how much support young female artists are actually receiving from their management, as well as what is hidden behind closed doors as hit singles continue to be accrued.
On Jan. 26, Kesha was supposed to head to court in New York City for a hearing, after she requested to sever her recording contract and have permission to record music with anyone outside of Dr. Luke. It was later pushed back due to “travel problems with the weather.” But on Friday (Feb. 19), the singer’s hearing was back on schedule—and her fans (who refer to themselves as “Animals”) showed a tremendous outpouring of support.
To coincide with the court hearing, 18-year-old college student and Kesha fan Michael Eisele organized a “Free Kesha” protest rally outside of Manhattan’s Supreme Court. An accompanying petition asking Sony to free the singer of her contract currently has 118,000+ supporters, which is not far from its 120,000-signature goal. Eisele was on the front lines on Friday morning, wearing a denim jacket and providing the crowd with coffee and treats.
“Kesha has always been such an inspiration to me," Eisele told Fuse over the phone on Thursday, ducking out of a college class to discuss the protest. "She inspired me to accept myself and come out of the closet to my parents, and she’s always been a strong crusader for human rights. To see that get taken away from her and struggle through this is just heartbreaking.
“I think [the situation] speaks on a global level—not only does it affect Kesha, but it affects victims of sexual abuse all over the world," Eisele continued. "This is just completely not fair for her.”
While he hasn’t spoken to anyone on Kesha’s team, Eisele was confident about her team, including her attorney, prior to Friday's hearing. “Mark Geragos is a very intelligent man, and he’s had strong words for this campaign and for Kesha," he says. "I tweeted some quotes of his from my @KeshaToday account, and I have full faith in him. This case will go well. The Twitter account has been a platform to bring this campaign to a more international level.”
At the protest, Eisele’s assurance vibrantly shown on a cloudy, frigid morning in Manhattan. Roughly 50 fans gathered in front of the Supreme Court steps, some dressed up, some waving signs, all incredibly adamant about expressing their loyal support both for Kesha and women’s rights.
Women and men of all ages and backgrounds turned the grounds outside of the courthouse into a mini-concert, as they belted Kesha favorites like “Warrior" and “We R Who We R.” There were clouds of gold glitter and waves of neon-colored wigs. The energy level rose even more once the “Timber” singer, who looked quite overwhelmed and emotional, emerged from her black SUV to enter the courthouse. As soon as the car doors opened, fans roared with their “Free Kesha now!” chants while press photographers raced forward, trying to get that perfect shot.
“She really speaks for tons of victims all around, the world and it shows that you can be really strong and come forward about abuse,” said a protester named Kat, who was holding a sparkly purple "Free Kesha" sign that matched her coat. “You shouldn’t keep it in. I think [the case] is really empowering and a big step.”
Annie M., who came to the protest from Orlando and sported a leopard coat as an Animal, said, “It’s really important because no woman should ever have to be contracted into working with your abuser. ... Kesha is an amazing artist, and the fact that Sony has such a hold on her is horrible, especially since she preaches about light, love and happiness.”
Anna Wilhelm from Yorktown Heights, NY shared her confidence in the case, sporting a smile under her green wig. “If she wins, it will create a precedent for women where they don’t have to stand for this kind of treatment," she said. "And if she doesn’t win, it’ll create an uproar! But no matter what the outcome will be, women will see that she is fighting for it, and that they should fight for it, too.”
Kesha's motion for a preliminary injunction, which would have allowed the singer to record outside of her current contract, was denied once she was inside the courtroom on Friday morning (a rep for Sony did not have a comment for Fuse when asked about the hearing). Based on tweets by Buzzfeed News reporter Mary Georgantopoulos, Judge Shirley Kornreich did not share the point of view of Kesha's fans:
The ruling reportedly had Kesha in tears in the courtroom. One day before the hearing, Eisele could not believe that it's a conclusion that the judge could come to.
"It’s just not right,” he said. “I think for people and companies looking at the protest, it will set an example to not allow this to happen again. It can possibly give artists more creative freedom, and maybe management will become more lenient.”
Eisele, who is currently studying music management at Naugatuck Valley Community College, wants to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, partially to try and right some of the wrongs he's currently witness. “I would love to work for a record label and try to reinvent it, because obviously it’s terrible what Sony is doing," he says. "I’m sure they’re not the only company that’s doing this, who care more about profit than the people working for them.”
For people who don’t know much about the case, this is what he thinks is the most important note they should take away from it: “I really want people to start taking sexual abuse more seriously. This case not only represents Kesha, but every victim of abuse across the world. It’s not fair that her career is being stripped away from her, and she has to endure so much.”