Recording artist Kesha performs onstage during the 2016 Billboard Music Awards at T-Mobile Arena on May 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Kevin Winter—Getty Images
May 23, 2016

At the Billboard Music Awards Sunday night, Kesha took to the stage to cover Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” — the singer’s first televised performance amid her legal battle against her former producer Dr. Luke, whom she has accused of sexual assault.

The original Dylan track is sweet and wistful, and Kesha’s rendition — available in its entirety via USA Today — was even sweeter, even more wistful. Kesha made her name with glittery, sugary pop hits, but her performance on Sunday was everything but — candid and endearingly grave, accompanied by Ben Folds on piano.

The pathos of the occasion was heightened by the facts of Kesha’s ongoing struggle with Dr. Luke, as the producer Lukasz Gottwald is professionally known. Gottwald has sued Kesha and her mother for defamation and breach of contract after Kesha sued him for, among other things, inflicting emotional distress. In the initial suit, Kesha said that Gottwald drugged and raped her over the course of their decade-long professional relationship. He has denied all wrongdoing.

Sunday’s performance in fact almost never happened: Dr. Luke’s record label, Kemosabe Records, initially barred the performance, worried she would use it as a platform to discuss the ongoing litigation.

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