Becky G Files $105M Lawsuit Claiming Dr. Luke Pressured Her to Endorse Core Water
As the beverage brand heads towards a massive acquisition, the singer claims she was taken advantage of for influencer marketing without fair compensation.
Becky G has filed a lawsuit against Core Nutrition, LLC, makers of Core Hydration bottled water -- a product she has promoted since early on in her career.
The crossover Latin pop star alleges she was taken advantage of as an influencer marketing the brand, pressured into promoting the product by her former label boss Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald, given an inequitable share of the company in exchange for her services and then had those shares taken away unjustly just as Core is headed towards a massive acquisition. In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Becky G accuses the company of breach of oral contact, breach of implied-in-fact contract, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, violation of business and more.
Becky G, born Rebecca Gonzalez, now 21, was just 14 when she signed to Dr. Luke's Kemosabe Records imprint with Sony Music. She broke out with her single "Becky From the Block" in 2013 and the next year went double platinum with her track "Shower," produced by Dr. Luke and Cirkut. During this time, Luke told her about a water company he co-founded called Core Water and enlisted her as a spokesperson and brand ambassador.
The lawsuit asserts Luke was and is Core's co-founder, among its largest shareholders with a 40 percent stake currently, was a board member and still controls a number of board seats today through proxies, and was and is an agent of Core. The Core offices were located in Gottwald's home in Los Angeles and instead of paying for traditional advertisements the Core business model was to use celebrity influencers to promote the brand, including Katy Perry, Adam Levine, Diplo, Juicy J and others.
Dr. Luke is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but could be added as one of the current 50 Does included. The superstar producer is currently embroiled in an ongoing defamation lawsuit with Kesha, who has accused him of drugging and raping her. Kesha, who signed with Kemosabe when she was 18, has also accused Dr. Luke of withholding her music from release.
As Becky G was building her career, she says she was "directed" by Core and Dr. Luke to talk about Core in interviews, to prominently feature the water in her music videos, host and attend events where she would discuss the benefits of Core's signature product, promote it on social media, perform with a bottle onstage and generally represent the brand wherever she went. The suit states Becky G -- still a minor at the time, believed she was a partner in the company and was helping build a brand that could help people -- "or so she was told by Core."
According to the lawsuit, Dr. Luke's staff would micromanage Becky G's promotion of Core so closely, she would receive orders on the product's positioning and the length of time it would appear with her onstage, in her videos, during interviews and promotional events and other appearances. Becky G's identity, the filing states, "became so linked with the Core brand that [she] was frequently asked by her fans to sign Core water bottles."
The filing continues, describing an inherent conflict of interest Core and Dr. Luke exploited in order to control Becky G's promotion of the brand, calling the producer "the gatekeeper of Ms. Gomez's dreams and career aspirations." Still, after seven years of working under her Kemosabe deal with Dr. Luke, Becky G never had a full-length album released. Instead, she was only able to release singles with music videos, "which directly benefited Core and Dr. Luke by prominently showcasing their product." Becky G now releases under Sony Music Latin.
"It became apparent that Core was simply using Ms. Gomez as a walking, talking, and singing billboard to turn its irrelevant water brand into a hip and culturally relevant water company," the suit states. "All the while, Dr. Luke made it clear both directly and implicitly that Ms. Gomez's ability to have a music career would be tied to her continuing involvement in promoting Core."
Dr. Luke, as the lawsuit describes, "exploited and took advantage of his trusted position" to serve his self interest and those of Core at Becky G's expense. He allegedly would consistently insert himself in the middle of communications with Becky G and her team and Core, often personally dictating the parameters of her marketing duties. "Ms. Gomez, as a signed exclusive recording artist and songwriter to companies controlled solely by Dr. Luke, was left with a Hobson's choice: either support Dr. Luke's water brand, or, have her dream of success in the music business be squashed out by not cooperating."
As part of Becky G's compensation for promoting Core, according to the lawsuit, between November 2014 and August 2015, over three different agreements, Becky G was promised a total of 50,000 Class A shares of the company. As well, she claims to have repeatedly discussed her desire to enter into a formal marketing agreement with Dr. Luke and Core, but the company never formulated such a deal. This agreement on its own, the lawsuit states, is inequitable and the result of "the power differential" between Becky G as a young, developing artist and Core and Dr. Luke. It states, "If not for an unbalanced coercive relationship between herself (as a minor) and Dr. Luke, Ms. Gomez should have received the industry standard of 20%-50% of the equity in the Core brand as its key endorser."
What's more, Becky G was never informed of the true value of the company -- she alleges it was often downplayed -- and the suit states her deal was never ratified by a judge, given her status as a minor at the time. But then, in July 2017, Core claimed it was "requiring" all of Becky G's non-vested membership shares -- nearly half of her total interest. This "in fact was nothing short of Core stealing these shares," the suit states, adding this was Core and Dr. Luke's "plan from the outset."
When Becky G challenged this action, "and in direct retaliation," according to the filing, the company told her it would not honor any of its previous agreements or understandings with her and she would not receive any of the promised shares in the company. The cause, Core said, was Becky G failed to provide "adequate" brand promotional services as contemplated by her agreements with the company. But Becky G's camp argues she provided services "far in excess" of what was required of her, even risking her own brand value, credibility and reputation to do so. "In addition, and at one point, Ms. Gomez's promotion and endorsement of Core's product in one of her videos was met with widespread ridicule and backlash from her growing fanbase."
Now, Core is nearing a $525 million buyout from beverage conglomerate Keurig Dr. Pepper and Becky G is looking to ensure she too profits from that deal.
Becky G is seeking what the suit calls "the true value of her stake in Core," requesting 20-50 percent of Core's outstanding stock or an amount equal to no less than the present value of the 50,000 Class A shares in Core she was promised. If granted that could equal at least $105 million at Keurig Dr. Pepper's purchase price. As well, she is seeking punitive damages for Core's alleged conduct, "which was undertaken with fraud, oppression, malice and with the intent or reckless disregard for the truth."
The suit states Becky G is "bringing this action not just on her own behalf to recover for the damages she has been caused, but on behalf of all artists, to prevent this exploitative and predatory behavior on artists driven by corporate greed. In this celerity-influencer obsessed marketing milieu, fairness, basic human dignity, and being a good person and corporate citizen must always prevail."
Becky G's reps declined to comment. Dr. Luke and Core reps did not respond to requests for comment.