By Matt Clizbe
Controversial producer Dr. Luke is back in the news this week now that his parent company Sony Music Entertainment have severed their relationship with him and his imprint Kemosabe Records. The former Saturday Night Live band member, who’s real name is Lukasz Gottwald, built Kemosabe with SME in 2011 after a stellar track record as the protege of Swedish mega producer Max Martin, co-producing Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone”, and Katy Perry’s breakthrough smash “I Kissed a Girl.” As discussed in Eriq Gardner’s article for The Hollywood Reporter, Sony gave Luke a unique level of creative control with his Kemosabe label deal, but none of it would have been possible without a successful collaboration with Kemosabe’s flagship artist Kesha. That is why this week’s #TBT goes back 8 years to celebrate Kesha’s breakthrough single, “TiK Tok.”
Sadly, a closer look at the success of “Tik Tok” requires a closer look at Kesha and Dr. Luke’s now very complicated relationship, and the role it played in turning them both into household names. As a young songwriter, Kesha’s networking with BMI earned the then 18 year old a publishing and production deal with Luke and what would become Kemosabe entertainment back in 2005. Things got complicated once she signed though. At the time, Luke’s career was still heavily reliant on producing songs under Max Martin, and although she was contractually bound to work with him, he was unable to work with her and supplement her career for some time. During that time Kesha worked on what would become her debut album Animal, while supporting herself as a waitress. She also continued to turn heads as a songwriter for others.
While still in contract limbo with Luke, Kesha’s networking also got her work as a songwriter alongside the likes Toby Gad and The Veronicas for Warner Bros. Records. Attention from a competing label must have reminded Luke what he had in her. Collaborating with Warner sparked the interest of former American Idol Judge and then WBR A&R Kara DioGuardi, and resparked her deal with Kemosabe in reaction. Signing with Warner wasn’t an option, but she was finally getting options from working with Luke. He leveraged his high profile connections, and finally put her in play, first as a background singer on albums for Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, and then later after making a cameo in Katy Perry’s titillating “I Kissed A Girl” music video, the whole industry heard as her then uncredited voice helped set the tone for Flo Rida’s 2009 world wide hit “Right Round”. With momentum finally beginning to build, the entire music business was buzzing about Kesha, and the former waitress had what she needed to begin stepping into the mainstream.
After navigating some inevitable industry politics, these circumstances empowered Luke to negotiate the multi-album package deal for Kesha and Kemosabe entertainment with RCA Records, which would facilitate the success of her star making first single, and set him up as a leader at Sony Music Entertainment. “Tik Tok” was born out of Kesha’s real life celebratory experience, that resulted in her waking up in a room full of beautiful women. At least in that moment, she imagined that her moment of excess matched the everyday persona of Bad Boy Records founder/entertainment mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, who became the song’s initial inspiration. She then took the concept to Dr. Luke and fellow producer Benny Blanco, and the trio completed the “Diddified” tune as a carefree pop anthem about never letting life bring you down, complete with an actual P. Diddy cameo. The sound was electric, and upon released in August of 09, the song exploded. “Tik Tok” topped the charts in 11 countries, and broke records in the US, selling 610,000 digital downloads in one week. It has since been certified 5x platinum by the RIAA, and was featured exclusively in a custom parody by classic animated sitcom The Simpsons, who had their cast perform the song in its entirety as part of the opening credits. As a result, the names Kesha and Dr. Luke became brand names in pop music. Off of the strength of “Tic Tok,” Kesha became a powerhouse, complete with multi-platinum follow up singles, “Blah Blah Blah” with 3OH!3, and “Take It Off”, which completed her chart topping debut album Animal.
Thanks to her success, Sony agreed to expand the previously mentioned production/publishing deal to a fully funded record label subsidiary for Dr. Luke to share with SME labels Columbia Records, Epic Records, and RCA Records. Thusly Kemosabe Records gave him authority over the remainder of Kesha’s discography to date, as well a roster of talent that included Juicy J, Lunchmoney Lewis, Lil Bibby, GRL, R-City, Bonnie McKee, Savi, and recent Power Rangers star Becky G. Sadly, aside from key footnotes from Bonnie McKee, GRL, and R-City, much of Kemosabe Records’ signees failed to meet expectations, with many of them enduring inexplicable delays. It’s only natural to assume that success was hampered by what lead up to Kesha and Luke’s very public fall out in 2014. As previously reported, Kesha has accused Dr. Luke of rape and abuse as the basis to exist her contract with Kemosabe, RCA, and Sony Music. Unfortunately, a New York Judge rejected her attempt at an injunction, obligating her to Kemosabe/Sony music, and throwing out some of the claims based on a technicality. However, the public outcry of her fan’s “Free Kesha” campampain wasn’t in vein. The intense allegations surrounding Dr. Luke’s behavior has caused Sony to apparently want to cut ties with the former hitmaker. A source told the Hollywood Reporter that the two sides are in the midst of negotiating a split. Court papers also indicate that he is no longer the CEO of Kemosabe Records, and the company asserts he no longer has authority to act on its behalf.
We don’t know what else is going to happen between Kesha and Luke now that Sony has bowed out. Kesha is appealing the issues, and Dr. Luke is counter suing for defamation of character. These two could be tied up in court for quite a while. The only thing that we do know for sure is that this truly is the end of an era. In hopes of a free and happy Kesha, this week’s Throwback Thursday is her star making debut “Tik Tok.” Enjoy!