It’s been seven years since controversial music producer Dr. Luke, who is still embattled in a lawsuit with pop star Kesha, has been nominated at the Grammys
NEW YORK — With dark clouds looming behind him, controversial music producer and hitmaker Dr. Luke rose to the top of the Billboard charts last year with Doja Cat’s ubiquitous funk-pop jam “Say So,” along with Saweetie’s anthemic bop “Tap In” and Juice WRLD’s Top 5 pop smash “Wishing Well.”
It marked a creative resurgence for the pop prince, who remains embroiled in a lawsuit with Kesha. His chart domination was followed by his first Grammy nomination in seven years — cementing his comeback.
That has the music world is split — some believe the art and the person should be separated, while others have blasted the Recording Academy for rewarding the hitmaker with a nomination for one of its top prizes.
But not all of the academy members may have been aware they were voting for Dr. Luke when they completed their ballots this year. That’s because he used a moniker — Tyson Trax — for Doja Cat’s “Say So,” which he produced and co-wrote. The hit tune is competing for record of the year, where Dr. Luke is in contention as the song’s producer.
“It’s difficult to say whether or not Grammy voters are aware that ‘Tyson Trax’ is used as a pseudonym,” Harvey Mason Jr., the academy’s interim president and CEO, said in a statement to The Associated Press. “While it’s true that the ‘Tyson Trax’ producer credit would be visible on the ballot entry, I would imagine that a lot of voters were making their selection with Doja Cat in mind, thinking primarily about the artistic merits of her performance.”
Doja Cat, who released her debut EP on Dr. Luke’s Kemosabe label in 2014 before Kesha’s lawsuit, is also nominated for best new artist and best pop solo performance at the March 14 Grammys. Dr. Luke produced multiple songs on her sophomore album “Hot Pink.” Those include the double-platinum success “Juicy” and the Gucci Mane-assisted hit “Like That,” which reached No. 3 on the R&B charts last year. For those songs, he’s credited as Tyson Trax.
“I didn’t know that Tyson Trax was Dr. Luke. I could have looked it up, but I didn’t, and I didn’t care. It’s a name and I’m voting on the artistic merit of the record, so it didn’t matter,” said Susan Rogers, a professor at Berklee College of Music and Prince’s former staff engineer who is a Grammy voter.
“Your judgment should be based upon who did the best, most creative, most artistic work during the year; what work is going to advance the state of the industry. That’s the only thing that we’re voting on,” she said. “Anytime we bring anything else into that mix — how we feel about someone personally, whether we like them or dislike them, know them or don’t know them — we’re being unfair to all the others.”
Dr. Luke, 47, has also used the Tyson Trax pseudonym for his contribution to Toronto rapper-singer Benny Mayne’s “Hokey Pokey.” He’s been referred to as MADE IN CHINA for his work with pop singer Kim Petras. His producer credit on Lil Wayne’s “Shimmy” from his 2020 album “Funeral”? Loctor Duke.
Evan Minsker, news editor for the music publication Pitchfork, admitted that some of his colleagues didn’t recognize Dr. Luke was Tyson Trax: “It’s their job to be plugged in (and) they didn’t know Dr. Luke was Tyson Trax.”
“I think there probably are a lot of cases of (Dr. Luke) sneaking under the radar, people not connecting what his other pseudonyms are with who he is,” Minsker said.
“Regardless of who he is and what his various names are, clearly there is some kind of proven result in what Dr. Luke and Doja Cat did together,” he continued. “I think while maybe some people didn’t know, I wouldn’t be surprised if some people did and just don’t really have a hard time falling asleep at night after putting his name through.”
Dr. Luke was last in Grammy contention in 2014 when he competed for non-classical producer and record of the year for his work on Katy Perry’s “Roar.” He emerged as the protege of pop music maestro Max Martin, who produced 23 No. 1 hits throughout his career, working with everyone from pop idols such as Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and N’Sync to contemporary stars like Adele, Taylor Swift and The Weeknd.
Together, Martin and Dr. Luke crafted hits for Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Pink and Kesha, who he signed in 2005. Eventually Dr. Luke stepped into the forefront, helming successes for Miley Cyrus, Pitbull, Nicki Minaj and Flo Rida, logging 17 No. 1 hits.
Dr. Luke has gotten a taste of his former life on top of the charts, with every major label — including Sony Music, Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group — launching a hit with him last year. In addition to his work with Doja Cat, Juice WRLD, Saweetie and Lil Wayne, he also produced “Blind” for rapper DaBaby and co-wrote “Broken Glass” for hit DJ-producer Kygo. This year he produced another hit for Saweetie with “Best Friend,” which is currently No. 10 on the rap charts.
“I think (the Grammys) set themselves up a little bit to fail because instead of having this big celebratory moment, there were a lot of questions all of a sudden. ‘How come you got Dr. Luke in (one of) the big four (categories)?’ That’s pretty surprising,” Pitchfork’s Minsker said. “I can see why this is the moment for (‘Say So’) and I also was surprised to see that it would be nominated in such a way that (Dr. Luke) would get an award at this stage in his life.”
Kesha, 34, has accused Dr. Luke of sexual assault during their yearslong partnership, allegations he vigorously denies. The court case continues, despite a New York judge dismissing Kesha’s sexual abuse-related claims in 2016 on procedural grounds; no ruling was made on whether the allegations were true. Kesha lost another round when a judge said she made a defamatory statement about Dr. Luke in a 2016 text message telling Lady Gaga the producer had also raped Perry.
Kesha’s lawyers are appealing the ruling, which didn’t resolve other aspects of his defamation and breach-of-contract suit, including the crucial question of whether Kesha’s rape allegation is true. The judge said that’s for a jury to decide at trial.
Fiona Apple, who is nominated for three Grammys, slammed the academy for Dr. Luke’s inclusion this year. She questioned the organization because three years ago, they invited Kesha to perform “Praying” — the deeply emotional and touching piano tune arguably about her experience with Dr. Luke — at the show. Kesha was joined onstage by Cyndi Lauper, Andra Day, Bebe Rexha, Camila Cabello, Julia Michaels and the Resistance Revival Chorus for the widely praised performance.
The song appeared on the album “Rainbow,” which was released on Dr. Luke’s label but was the first time she created music commercially without him. The music even earned Kesha her first pair of Grammy nominations.
Berklee’s Rogers explained that “as a member of the female sex … we have to be sensitive and tolerant of women who make accusations of sexual impropriety or coercion or any number of things that they might be victim of. We have to listen to them. We have to be credulous. We have to believe them.
“We also have to recognize it’s a two-sided conversation,” she continued. “Both sides have the right to express themselves. I don’t dismiss Kesha’s (claims) … I don’t dismiss the fact that she had a rough time with Dr. Luke — what I’m saying is that I recognize that it has absolutely nothing to do with my vote as a member of the Recording Academy.”