Kesha Rose Sebert, the lawsuit states, "grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. At eighteen years old, she was an intelligent, family-oriented, and joyful young woman. Ms. Sebert was enrolled in the prestigious International Baccalaureate (IB) program at her high school, audited classes at the nearby university, and had nearly perfect SAT scores. Ms Sebert excelled academically and had a bright future ahead of her."
Not long after, the suit details how Sebert was convinced to move to Los Angeles and sign a music label run by producer and writer Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald, Kemosabe Entertainment, which she did in 2005. For the next nine years, Sebert alleges, she was sexually, physically, and emotionally abused by Gottwald, including an incident in which she says he drugged her with GHB before raping her while she was unconscious. On another occasion, he reportedly threatened to have her dog put down. When Sebert went to a rehab facility early in 2014 to get treatment for an eating disorder, her mother blamed Gottwald for criticizing Sebert's physical appearance and comparing her to a refrigerator.
The relationship between Sebert, formerly known as Ke$ha—who emerged as a raunchy, outrageous, audacious pop star in 2010 with the release of her debut album, Animal—and Gottwald was contentious even before then. The producer has filed his own lawsuit against Sebert, claiming that she's attempting to get out of her contract by publicly defaming him, and that she had previously tried to extort him by threatening to go public with her allegations. As a producer and a writer, Gottwald has worked with a litany of musicians over the past decade: Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Pink, Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, and Flo Rida, whose 2009 single, "Right Round," featured Sebert's vocals in an uncredited performance. A 2010 Billboard profile noted that at the time of publication, Gottwald had a hand in four songs in the current top 10, while also being able to take credit for four out of 20 of the best-selling digital songs of all time. During a particularly prolific year, he had as many number one songs in a 12-month period as the Beatles.
To say that he has sway in the music industry is an understatement, which is one of the reasons why, Sebert's lawsuit says, she never reported his abuse to the police, or spoke about it until now. In the 2010 Billboard profile, she praised his style, saying, "He really lets me be myself. All the crazy shit I say, he embraces, because he really embraced my personality. A lot of producers have tried to tone it down. And I wouldn't be as successful as I have been had I been watered down."
Of all the sad and salacious details that can be picked out of the lawsuit, the saddest thing of all is how familiar it all sounds, regardless of whether you believe Sebert or Gottwald is telling the truth, and how much that familiarity says about the leviathan hit makers in the entertainment industry. Ever since there have been stars, there have been businessmen and studio heads giving them uppers to stay awake and downers to get to sleep, and pills to make them peppier and drinks to help them relax. Judy Garland was one example; Marilyn Monroe was another. Corey Feldman wrote a book about his long-term abuse by powerful figures in Hollywood, and rumors abound about the troubled stars who graduate from the Disney and Nickelodeon machines. In 2012, long-buried allegations about British television star Jimmy Savile came to light after his death, with the resulting findings being that Savile had abused as many as 589 victims in his forty-year broadcasting career, many as young as eight.
Gottwald allegedly told Sebert that he liked to take girls out and get them as drunk as possible before having sex with them; 10 years ago this month, a Fox News producer accused Bill O'Reilly of telling her about his sexual habits in a case that was settled out of court. Sebert accused Gottwald of giving her drugs against her will on more than one occasion; earlier this year, CeeLo Green pleaded no contest to putting ecstasy in a woman's drink before having sex with her, and he later tweeted, "People who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!" Coincidentally, the lawyer representing Sebert, Mark Geragos, represented Michael Jackson in the early stages of his trial for child molestation, and repped Chris Brown after he was arrested for felony assault on his then-girlfriend, Rihanna.
It's impossible to know whose account is accurate, only that the opposing suits paint an ugly picture of a business whose primary demographic is teenage girls, and whose chief asset, even more than money, is power. A 2013 profile of Gottwald in The New Yorker mentioned the frosty relationship between the producer and his one-time protégé, with Gottwald saying only of Sebert that "he hasn't heard from her in a while." The article described how Sebert was "proving harder to control" now that her pop-star dreams had come true: "If one examines Gottwald's metamorphosis from Lukasz to Kasz to Dr. Luke, the progress is towards increasing control over the process of creating and selling music … But to have real control—to be more than the appetizer-maker to the queen—Dr. Luke needs to discover and develop his own superstars, so that he can participate in every aspect of their career. That's what he hoped to do with Kesha, but things weren't going exactly as planned."