The inside story behind Kesha’s emotional Grammy moment
Kesha performs at the 60th Grammy Awards at Madison Square Garden in New York on Sunday.(Matt Sayles / Invision / Associated Press)
Kesha, center, performs with, from left, Bebe Rexha, Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Andra Day and chorus members at the 2018 Grammys.(Kevin Winter / Getty Images for NARAS )
Kesha, left, performs “Praying” as Camila Cabello, center, and Andra Day stand by.(Matt Sayles / Invision / Associated Press)
From left: Cyndi Lauper, Julia Michaels, Andra Day, Kesha and Bebe Rexha backstage at the 2018 Grammy Awards.(Christopher Polk / Getty Images for NARAS)
Kesha, center, flanked by her collaborators onstage at the 2018 Grammys.(Kevin Winter / Getty Images for NARAS)
Kesha is hugged by Bebe Rexha, Cindy Lauper, Camila Cabello and Andra Day.(Timothy A. Clary / AFP / Getty Images)
Kesha’s emotional performance at this year’s Grammys was in the works long ahead of Sunday’s ceremony, with its origins tracing back to late last year when the pop singer-songwriter played to a sold-out crowd at the Hollywood Palladium.
It was the final stop of her Rainbow tour — a trek that for the singer and her fans seemed improbable after a tumultuous legal battle with her one-time mentor and collaborator Dr. Luke stalled her career for a number of years.
In the audience was Ken Ehrlich, the Grammy telecast’s longtime executive producer. Ehrlich had watched Kesha rise to pop stardom with boozy party anthems such as “Tik Tok,” “Your Love Is My Drug” and “Die Young” and was never sold on the singer — until that night in November at the Palladium.
Bruno Mars, center, accepts album of the year for “24K Magic” with his production team onstage.(Kevin Winter / Getty Images)
Khalid, from left, Logic and Alessia Cara perform “1-800-273-8255” as the suicide hotline prevention number appears on screen.(Kevin Winter / Getty Images)
Alessia Cara performs her part in “1-800-273-8255” during an in memoriam tribute.(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Logic performs his suicide-awareness anthem “1-800-273-8255.”(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Chris Stapleton and Emmylou Harris perform “Wildflowers” during an in memoriam tribute to Tom Petty.(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Alicia Keys presents the award for record of the year to Bruno Mars for “24K Magic.”(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Sza performs “Broken Clocks.”(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Patti LuPone performs “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” during a tribute to Leonard Bernstein and Andrew Lloyd Webber.(Matt Sayles / Invision )
Ben Platt, right, performs “Somewhere” during a tribute to Leonard Bernstein and Andrew Lloyd Webber.(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Sir Elton John, left, and Miley Cyrus perform his “Tiny Dancer.”(Kevin Winter / Getty Images)
U2 appears via satellite as they perform “Get Out of Your Own Way” on the Hudson River.(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Kesha (unseen) is hugged by Bebe Rexha, Cindy Lauper, Camila Cabello and Andra Day after performing her song “Praying.”(Timothy A. Clary / AFP / Getty Images)
Kesha performs “Praying.”(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Chris Stapleton, left, accepts the award for best country album for “From A Room: Volume 1” from presenters Donnie Wahlberg and Hailee Steinfeld, who donned cowboy hats before calling his name.(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Janelle Monáe told the audience that “time’s up for pay inequality, discrimination or harassment of any kind and the abuse of power.”(Timothy A. Clary / AFP / Getty Images)
Maren Morris, left, and Eric Church perform.(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
The Brothers Osborne perform as names of victims of tragedies appear onscreen.(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Rihanna performs “Wild Thoughts.”(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP )
Shaggy, left, and Sting perform “Englishman in New York.”(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Comedian Dave Chappelle, left, accepts the comedy album Grammy for “The Age of Spin & Deep in the Heart of Texas” from Trevor Noah, right.(Kevin Winter / Getty Images)
Cardi B, left, and Bruno Mars, right, perform “Finesse.”(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Cardi B performs “Finesse” with Bruno Mars.(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Bruno Mars performs “Finesse.”(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Pink performs “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken.”(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Joe Saylor, left, Jon Batiste and Gary Clark Jr. perform a tribute to Chuck Berry and Fats Domino.(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Alessia Cara accepts best new artist Grammy Award.(Kevin Winter / Getty Images )
Karen Fairchild, left, Jimi Westbrook, Kimberly Schlapman and Philip Sweet of Little Big Town perform “Better Man.”(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar accept best rap/sung performance for “Loyalty.”(Kevin Winter / Getty Images)
Sam Smith performs “Pray.”(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Host James Corden opens the 60th Grammy Awards.(Kevin Winter / Getty Images )
Lady Gaga plays piano as she performs onstage.(Kevin Winter / Getty Images)
Mark Ronson and Lady Gaga perform at the 60th Grammy Awards.(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Comedian Dave Chappelle speaks onstage in between Kendrick Lamar’s performance.(Kevin Winter / Getty Images)
Kendrick Lamar, center, performs at the 60th Grammy Awards.(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Kendrick Lamar opens the 60th Grammy Awards.(Matt Sayles / Invision / AP)
Paul Shaffer, left, presents the award for traditional pop vocal album to recording artist Tony Bennett, center, and audio engineer Dae Bennett for “Tony Bennett Celebrates 90,” at the(Theo Wargo / Getty Images)
Left to right, recording artists Zachary Scott Carothers, Eric Howk, Jason Wade Sechrist, Kyle O’Quin of Portugal. The Man, winners of pop duo/group performance for “Feel It Still,” accept the award(Theo Wargo / Getty Images)
James Fauntleroy accepts the award for R&B song(Theo Wargo / Getty Images)
Dwan Hill accepts the gospel performance/song award for “Let Them Fall in Love”(Matt Sayles / Invision / Associated Press)
Chris Stapleton accepts the country solo performance award for “Either Way” a(Matt Sayles / Invision / Associated Press)
Members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, winners of world music album for “Shaka Zulu Revisited: 30th Anniversary Celebration,” accept the award(Theo Wargo / Getty Images)
Jason Isbell accepts the American roots song award for “If We Were Vampires”(Matt Sayles / Invision / Associated Press)
Ice T performs with Body Count during the Grammy Awards pre-telecast show.(Timothy A. Clary / AFP / Getty Images)
Jazzmeia Horn performs during(Theo Wargo / Getty Images)
Justin Hurwitz accepts the compilation soundtrack for visual media award for “La La Land.”(Matt Sayles / Invision / Associated Press)
Stile Antico performs at the 60th Grammy Awards pre-telecast show.(Matt Sayles / Invision / Associated Press)
Reba McEntire accepts the award for roots gospel album for “Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope.”(Matt Sayles / Invision / Associated Press)
Residente accepts the Latin rock, urban or alternative album for “Residente.”(Matt Sayles / Invision / Associated Press)
India Arie performs during the 60th Grammy Awards pre-telecast show in New York.(Timothy A. Clary / AFP / Getty Images)
Paul Shaffer performs at the 60th Grammy Awards pre-telecast show.
Paul Shaffer and the W.M.D. Band perform at the 60th Grammy Awards pre-telecast show.(Matt Sayles / Invision / Associated Press)
“I’d seen her years ago and I was impressed, but thought she had some growing to do. When I saw her at the Palladium, she was at the top of her game,” he recalled. “She was strong, humble and a great showman. That’s what got me.”
Ehrlich wanted the singer on this year’s telecast, especially after hearing the Grammy-nominated “Rainbow,” the first body of work she released since stunning the pop world in 2014 by alleging a decade of sexual, physical and mental abuse at the hands of Luke. He vehemently denied the claims.
When Ehrlich approached the singer about performing, she chose her stunning, redemptive ballad “Praying” — a cathartic record that many have resoundingly seen as the singer’s response to the turmoil that put her life and career on pause — and sent Ehrlich a reference track to the version she planned on staging.
“It gave me goosebumps,” Ehrlich said. “It was powerful … and in context with what’s happening.”
As the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have brought the worlds of Hollywood, politics and the media to their knees in recent months, there’s been increased scrutiny for the music world to make change. Situations like Kesha’s and R. Kelly’s, who has been trailed by sexual misconduct allegations for two decades, are being reexamined.
Although Kesha’s case garnered high-profile coverage, it took more than a year of litigation before the singer saw a windfall of support from her peers and the public after video of the singer sobbing on the stand during a 2016 hearing made the industry pay attention.
In the 2014 suit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, she alleged that years of abuse resulted in an eating disorder and a stint in rehab that sidelined her once white-hot career.
According to the lawsuit, on one occasion, “Dr. Luke instructed [her] to take what he described as ‘sober pills.’ ... [Kesha] took the pills and woke up the following afternoon, naked in Dr. Luke’s bed, sore and sick with no memory of how she got there.”
The suit continued with similar, detailed claims dating back to when she was 18 and first moved to Los Angeles, opening a nasty legal battle in which Dr. Luke, whose full name is Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald, countersued in New York for defamation and breach of contract. Kesha’s Los Angeles lawsuit was dismissed in 2016 after a judge ruled that even if the allegations were true, the five-year statute of limitations had run out.
“Kesha is very brave,” Cyndi Lauper said after rehearsing with the singer for Sunday’s performance.
Lauper, Camila Cabello, new artist nominee Julia Michaels, Andra Day, Bebe Rexha and members of the Resistance Revival Chorus — a collective of women who come together to sing protest songs — joined Kesha for the performance that was an explicit nod to #MeToo and Time’s Up.
Lauper was one of the first calls Kesha made to join her for Sunday’s performance; the two women have been friends for years. “We actually asked her to do [a run in the musical] ‘Kinky Boots’ but she couldn’t because of contractual issues,” Lauper said.
“I’m so glad she didn’t do it because … she needed to go away and make this record. And I’m so proud of her that she did this.”
Kesha’s performance added to a call to action for the music industry that began in the days before the telecast when an open letter was circulated among the music industry by a group calling itself the “Voices of Entertainment.”
Taking its cues from the Time’s Up campaign that defined the Golden Globes, the group requested attendees and nominees wear white roses in support of “equal representation in the workplace, for leadership that reflects the diversity of our society, workplaces free of sexual harassment and a heightened awareness of accountability.”
“It’s [about] equality and respect. I know some people are saying the music industry was slower to keep up than other industries, but we haven’t had as many award shows,” Lisa Loeb said backstage. “Plus, a lot of us have been spreading this in our music and in our interactions with fans every day.”
At a private rehearsal on Friday, Kesha was overcome with tears during a run through of “Praying” alongside her choir of activists and pop star peers.
With encouragement from Lauper and Cabello, who both stretched out their arms to embrace the singer, Kesha tilted her head back and let out a roaring vocal that stilled the dozen or so people who were seated in the audience during rehearsals.
“Wow, I’m speechless,” Grammys show host James Corden said after the singer completed a full pass of the song.
“This is a powerful moment of women coming together,” Lauper said. “We need equality in the workspace. We need a safe workspace. We need more women in the workspace.
“We need to equalize the power, and men have to be taught that women aren’t to be treated unfairly,” she continued. “End of … story.”
For more music news follow me on Twitter:@GerrickKennedy
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