To say that Kesha’s performance at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards on Sunday night had some advance publicity is a major understatement.
The singer, who for months has been embroiled in a legal battle with former mentor Dr. Luke in which she claims that he raped and psychologically abused her, was originally slated to perform a cover of Bob Dylan’s 1964 song “It Ain’t Me, Babe” during the show. But then Luke — whose contract with the singer gives him veto power over certain performances — barred her from appearing for fear that she would use it as an opportunity to speak out against him. Then, after receiving assurances that she would not do that, he relented and allowed her to perform.
“Kesha’s performance on the Billboard Music Awards was always approved, in good faith. Approval was only suspended when Kemosabe learned Kesha was to use the performance as a platform to discuss the litigation,” a statement from Dr. Luke’s record label released on Thursday reads. “Now that Kemosabe has obtained assurances, that it is relying upon, from Kesha, her representatives and Dick Clark Productions that neither Kesha nor her supporters will use the performance as such a platform, the approval has been restored.”
Owing to her standoff with Luke, the singer has become a sort of poster child for artists bound by contracts that give the label an unusual degree of control.
That complicated situation formed the backdrop for Sunday night’s performance, but Kesha, clad in what appeared to be a Nudie suit, played it straight. Accompanied by Ben Folds and a violist, she delivering the song in a slow and stately manner, carefully enunciating the song’s kiss-off lyrics, showing off her vocal chops without overdoing it. The slow tempo allowed her to play gently and unostentatiously with the song’s melody and phrasing, putting a lift here, a pause there. She smiled gently at the end, raising her hands together in thanks for the standing ovation that followed.
No statements, no histrionics — she let the music do the talking.