In February, American singer-songwriter Kesha lost her lawsuit against Dr. Luke, a music producer. The lawsuit Kesha filed would have freed her from her contract with Dr. Luke, which currently requires her to record music exclusively under his record label. On April 6, Buzzfeed reported that Kesha’s case was further denied when a judge threw out her claims against the producer.
Now, the reason Kesha had filed this lawsuit is ugly. In October 2014, Us Weekly referred to documents in which Kesha said that Dr. Luke drugged her, sexually assaulted her (Kesha stated that she had awakened in Dr. Luke’s bed with no clothes and no recollection of how she had gotten there) and made threats of violence toward her. Essentially, if these allegations are true, she just doesn’t want to work with a scumbag. However, that’s not what we’re discussing here.
Soon after the ordeal had ended with Kesha’s defeat, many influential celebrities showed their support via Twitter. Lady Gaga spoke out about Kesha’s bravery, while Lorde stated that she was “standing with @KeshaRose through this traumatic, deeply unfair time.” Taylor Swift even donated a whopping $250,000 to help out with the costs Kesha could be facing.
There are many fans and celebrities who have spoken out about standing with Kesha, but my question is: should all celebrities who regard themselves as “socially conscious” be speaking out about this issue?
Nowadays, it is really hard to earn and maintain a personal brand — and by personal brand, I mean the label and product that celebrities call “themselves.” At one end of the spectrum, it could be argued that celebrities have an obligation to be active participants in social issues; a lot of people look up to them, and that means that they sign into a “social contract” of sorts. As a celebrity, the things you say, as well as your opinions, become public information. To summarize that thought, remember what Uncle Ben from Spider-Man said: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Not long ago, Leonardo DiCaprio won an Oscar, and he went up and talked about the issue of global warming. He didn’t talk about anything to do with sexual violence, even though it was brought up in the awards show. Why climate change? Because it is a cause he seems to care about, so he wants to attach it to his personal brand. Perhaps he doesn’t actively speak out about sexual violence because he isn’t poised to speak about it.
Dealing with issues that could affect a celebrity’s personal brand takes a lot of thought. Many celebrities have public relations people to deal with most of their charity work — Taylor Swift even had a spokesperson speak for her donation to Kesha. It’s only celebrities who are well versed in certain subjects who find themselves able to directly speak out against high-profile incidents like Kesha’s. This limits the amount of damage their image takes, because they begin to incorporate these issues into their personal brand. In fact, Lady Gaga released a song explicitly about sexual assault last September.
The expectation for all celebrities to speak out on every major incident is really a tall order. As fans, we should definitely hold celebrities accountable for what they do and say; however, we need to recognize that celebrities have to pick and choose the battles they want to fight, especially if they are not well versed in specific topics, such as sexual assault.
Images compiled from Twitter by Madison Kerr.