Women in Music 2016
Watch Billboard and American Express' 'Women in Music: Inspiring a Generation' Video
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Dr. Luke Lawsuit Arrives During Down Year for Super-Producer
The high-profile legal battle with Kesha arrives during a prolonged absence of hits for Luke.
The gloves are off between Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald and Kesha: the pop superstar has filed a lawsuit against the producer for alleged emotional abuse and sexual assault, and the pop maestro has fired back with a defamation lawsuit. Dr. Luke’s lawyer, Christine Lepera, has called Kesha’s claims that the producer abused the singer for years “spectacular and outrageous fiction,” while Kesha’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, alleges that Luke “thinks that because he's got more money than he knows what to do with, that he can take these young impressionable artists and destroy them."
The situation is extremely messy, and may not be resolved for months. The details of Kesha’s lawsuit — which attempts to end the pop star’s contract with the producer — are disturbing, and Luke is refuting all of them. And the news of Kesha’s lawsuit and Luke’s countersuit comes near the end of what has quietly been a down year for Luke’s production work, at least from a commercial standpoint.
Dr. Luke, who has produced or co-produced a staggering 37 top 10 hits on the Hot 100 chart, ended last year with a burst of success: Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” each hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 in September, and two songs that made their chart debuts in October 2013, Perry’s “Dark Horse” featuring Juicy J and Pitbull’s “Timber” featuring Kesha eventually went to the top of the tally in early 2014. All four singles were inescapable at their cultural peaks, and showcased the expanding range of Luke’s well-worn synth-pop formula, now moving into power-pop balladry (“Wrecking Ball”) and faux-country dance (“Timber”).
Since that heightened period of radio dominance, however, Luke has had some curious missteps — or, more accurately, his production offerings have not fully connected with the pop-consuming public. “Wild Wild Love,” Pitbull’s “Timber” follow-up featuring new girl group G.R.L., peaked at No. 30 on the Hot 100 in May; another Pitbull track, the World Cup anthem “We Are One (Ole Ola)” featuring Jennifer Lopez and Claudia Leitte, peaked at No. 59. “Dare (La La La),” the most rambunctiously electronic song on Shakira’s self-titled new album, spent 11 weeks on the Hot 100 but could only muster a No. 53 peak in June. Nicki Minaj’s mid-tempo single “Pills N Potions” was supposed to be the first major event from her third album, but failed to enter the Top 20 (“Anaconda,” produced by Polow Da Don, Anonymous and Da Internz, has instead served as the Top 10 single to preview new album The Pinkprint). And the ever-reliable Katy Perry’s latest Luke-produced single, “Birthday,” topped out at No. 17 in June — good but not great, relatively speaking for the superstar.
Of the songs he has produced that debuted on the charts in 2014, the biggest win for Dr. Luke is probably “Shower” by Latin pop newcomer Becky G, who is signed to Luke’s Sony imprint Kemosabe Records. “Shower” is a deliriously enjoyable sing-along and a breakout moment for the 17-year-old singer-rapper — although the single topped out at No. 16 on the Hot 100, never quite reaching the ubiquity of Luke-driven breakout singles like Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” or Kesha’s “TiK ToK.” The aforementioned G.R.L., also signed to Kemosabe Records, released the Luke-produced single “Ugly Heart” on a self-titled EP in July, and the single did not chart on the Hot 100; in September, the quintet’s Simone Battle committed suicide, and the girl group’s future remains uncertain.
None of these chart stats are devastating for Luke — sometimes singles reach the Top 40 of the Hot 100 without becoming global smashes, and that’s no tragedy. No one views Becky G’s “Shower” as a failure for “only” reaching No. 16 on the chart, nor should they. Still, compare Dr. Luke’s recent chart run with that of frequent collaborator Max Martin: the Swedish pop mastermind is enjoying one of the biggest years of his career, thanks to production credits on Top 10 hits like Ariana Grande’s “Problem” and “Break Free,” the Jessie J/Grande/Minaj collaboration “Bang Bang” and Taylor Swift’s pop triumph “Shake It Off.” Martin has helped turn Grande into a top-line artist and Swift into a mainstream pop maelstrom, while Luke — a producer best known for engineering Kesha’s early success, helping Katy Perry become a Super Bowl-worthy artist and scooping up smashes for everyone from Taio Cruz to Avril Lavigne — has slightly struggled launching new artists and mining hits for established ones.
Luke has bounced back from chart lulls before — nine months passed between Kesha’s “Die Young” in December 2012 and “Roar,” his next Top 10 single as a producer. Although "Dark Horse" was released last year, the song has become Perry's longest-running Hot 100 hit (56 weeks on the chart, and counting), and stayed in the Top 10 until June. Another Dr. Luke hit could very well be right around the corner, and it’s far too early to proclaim that he’s “lost it” as a super-producer. Yet this lawsuit showdown with Kesha arrives at an interesting time for Luke as a producer: after a decade of playing one of pop’s most steady whizzes, he’s currently in something of a drought. It will be fascinating to watch how long it lasts, especially with this fine mess he’s in now.