Over the course of R Kelly’s successful 30-year career he has won 110 awards (including 3 Grammys), written multiple hit songs (several No. 1s) and collaborated with many top artists including Lady Gaga, Jay Z, Celine Dion and Michael Jackson. When it came to his professional life, Kelly was winning in all areas. His personal life was not the same and has recently been the focus of many people across the world. Over the past two years multiple allegations and charges have be made against the singer. In 2017, Buzzfeed released a long and detailed report of a sex cult being ran by the singer, he has been accused of sexually abusing multiple underage girls (some as young as 14) and in 2019 a six-part documentary called ‘Surviving R Kelly’ went into details about all these allegations, interviewing victims and former employees of the singer.
However, this is not the first time the singer has been accused of these things. The allegations started back in 1994 when Kelly, at the age of 27, married 15-year-old goddaughter and singer Aaliyah. This was later annulled in 1995. Both Kelly and Aaliyah (who died in 2001) didn’t speak about the nature of their relationship, both claiming to be ‘best friends’ and extremely close. In the 2019 documentary Kelly’s former backup singer claimed to have witnessed Kelly and Aaliyah engaging in ‘things that an adult should not be doing with a child’. Kelly’s most infamous case happened in June 2002 when the singer was charged with 21 counts of making child pornography (the infamous urination sex tape). Despite multiple people including family, close friends and teachers identifying the 14-year-old girl in the tape, the victim refused to testify resulting in an acquittal. Moreover, during his career, Kelly also referred to himself as the Pied Piper, referencing the character who lured children away from their parents with music. Was this him subtly confessing his true nature or making a mockery of the allegations?
So how was Kelly’s career able to flourish despite all these allegations? Some believe that people did not care for the victims since they were mainly black girls. The activist who started the #MuteRKelly campaign told Buzzfeed “We protect problematic black men in the black community and discard black girls in all communities”. Whilst others believe that Kelly’s music was good enough for people to turn a blind eye – separate the art from the artist. Are we that mesmerised by music as a society that we refuse to see the truth?
Recently, the singer sat down with Gayle King to discuss the allegations and recent uproar surrounding them. After watching this interview, I came to several conclusions, the main one being that I believe he is guilty and that his current girlfriends are being abused. Majority of what he said and did during the interview just painted him in a bad light. The singer said multiple things that were quite problematic for me, he claimed that the allegations and cases in the past didn’t matter because he was found not guilty. When King brought up the fact that all the stories and allegations made against him had similar features and he shut it down claiming all the victims were angry exes. Throughout the interview Kelly tried to play the victim, at one point he even asked for help but spun it to make it seem that he was being betrayed by his friends.
There are many issues and questions surrounding these allegations made against Kelly, one being if people should stop listening to his music. The #MuteRKelly campaign became very popular in recent months with streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify agreeing to stop adding Kelly’s songs on their playlist (this was later reversed). The singer was dropped by his record label and many of the songs he’s written for artists like Lady Gaga have been removed. Many famous people including Viola Davis and John Legend have publicly spoken out against Kelly calling for an investigation into these allegations. However, a lot of fans believe that they should separate the art from the artist, Kelly’s songs for many people are connected to a lot of happy memories like weddings, birthdays and graduations. I initially found it hard to delete his songs from my phone since I have quite a few childhood memories of dancing and singing to songs like “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Happy People”.