Barely a month into 2019, we have our first big celebrity exposé through the Lifetime docu-series “Surviving R. Kelly”. Streamlining Kelly’s decades of sexual deviancy into a simple bite-sized 6-episode format, the general public was finally subjected to the full brunt of his revolting behavior that had been drip-fed to us over the years.
The backlash was swift. Celebrities and journalists alike saw the opportunity to come out of the woodworks and condemn him while calling for his boycott, with past collaborators like Chance the Rapper and Lady Gaga each providing their own accounts on the controversy. They went as far as to remove their R. Kelly collaborations off streaming services, almost as if erasing a newfound blight from their careers.
Yet despite all the calls for his ‘cancellation’ by social media users, his career appeared to gain a second wind, as his Spotify stream rising by a staggering 116% since the documentary aired. Even after the gruesome and disgusting details were revealed, listeners willingly overlooked it and chose to ignorantly support Kelly. Whether its genuine curiosity or a sign of actual support, every stream and listen given to this abuser is a sign for his label to continue funding his career.
Fortunately, the pressure was high enough on Sony Music that they had to drop R. Kelly from the label. Though it was a purely business-prone decision, it does cut him off from one of his major sources of income, which is intricately tied to his abuse.
Although, it still beckons the question – what becomes of the legacy that Kelly left behind? What about the fans that still wish to listen to his music? Is it right or wrong? How much can the art be separated from the artist when the work produced is inherently tied to the core issue?
The recently deceased XXXTentacion was also a lightning rod for controversy that sparked similarly themed discussions. Even when he openly admitted that he physically abused his then-girlfriend and indiscriminately stabbing 9 people, his many adolescent fans still chose to support his work after his death. Whether or not he deserves this support is a whole other conversation, but one of the main reasons why devoted fans still stick to him can be attributed to the content of his music.
Drowning within his depression and unbridled aggression, X’s music has always been an avenue for him to vent. To curse at the world that made him into the person that he was and blaming his environment for his actions. Though it doesn’t absolve him of any consequences, it does paint a picture of a man that’s self-aware enough to MIGHT have been realizing that he was wrong. It’s seen as a redeeming trait in the eyes of fans that are willing to overlook his transgressions in order to enjoy his music. There were even glimpses of him trying to better himself through the numerous charity events that he held for his community, though he was gone too soon for it to have any lasting effect. Unfortunately, the same atonement can’t be seen in R. Kelly at all.
Age ain’t nothin’ but a number
Throwin’ down ain’t nothin’ but a thang
This lovin’ I have for you, it’ll never change
A prime example of this is Aaliyah’s hit song “Age ain’t nothing but a number”, which was produced and written by Kelly. At the time of release, Aaliyah was 15 while Kelly was 27, which made the track all the more scandalous due to the couple’s then-alleged (now confirmed) secret marriage due to a pregnancy scare. Sung from her perspective, it’s a ballad on how age difference doesn’t matter in matters of the heart. How much of the track translates Aaliyah’s actual intentions, we will never know.
With the content of the track predatory enough as it is given R. Kelly’s involvement, it also hints that his manipulative nature that we are now all too familiar with. Even after his sex cult was exposed on mainstream media in 2017, he remained largely silent on the issue. It wasn’t till mid-2018 that he dropped the 19-minute confessional track “I Admit” (which is monetized on Soundcloud), shining the spotlight on his numerous transgressions in a way that only R. Kelly could.
She said, “What about Aaliyah?”
I said “love”
She said, “What about the tape?”
I said, “Hush”
I said my lawyer said, “Don’t say nothing'”
But I can tell you I’ve been set up (Up)
Brushing aside the allegations up to that point as inconsequential, he also frames pedophilia as a matter of opinion.
I admit I fuck with all the ladies
That’s both older and young ladies
But tell me how they call that pedophile
Because of that, shit that’s crazy
You may have your opinions
Entitled to your opinions
But really am I supposed to go to jail
Or lose my career because your opinion?
Yeah, go ’head and stone me
Point your finger at me
Turn the world against me
But only God can mute me
As a man that is hell-bent on self-proclaiming his absolution from his past crimes, R. Kelly’s stubborn insistence on playing the victim of media slander is revolting as much as it is puzzling. After nearly 3 decades of unchecked rampage, his detachment from reality can be dangerously appealing to fans that wish to overlook his sins. If Kelly is willing to act as if nothing ever happened, it becomes easier for his fans to do the same.
Blatantly treating women as if they were commodities, this isn’t an artist that can be simply forgiven by claiming that he made ‘bad decisions’. Even with his history of being a sexual assault victim himself, his actions following that are inexcusable and do not warrant any kind of support from anyone.
Despite his overwhelming legacy as an iconic R&B artist, there isn’t a need for him to remain within the public consciousness any longer than he has. With Aaliyah and many of the songs in his discography as a prime example, R. Kelly has chosen time and time again to profit off of his predatory nature. As a man that’s unapologetic for his actions, there’s little to no reason for fans to justify them.
R. Kelly’s career won’t die out as soon as anyone would hope, but his fans can play a part in ensuring it doesn’t progress any further than it already has. It’s the least we can do to hurt him.