A jury convicted R. Kelly; will his music suffer any consequences?
NEW YORK – Will a criminal conviction do to R. Kelly’s music what years of ugly accusations could not do?
Monday’s justice moment – when a federal jury in New York City found the 54-year-old R&B superstar guilty of all nine counts in a sex trafficking trial – is unlikely to mean much to his fans, reckons. given all the horrible things they had learned. already, say some observers.
“The lines have already been drawn,” said Jem Aswad, associate editor of the music publication Variety, which has covered R. Kelly for 20 years. “People who go to listen to R. Kelly’s music always listen to this. I don’t think a guilty verdict is going to change their mind.
Still, lawyers hope the criminal conviction brings a moral calculation.
Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, understands how irresistible R. Kelly’s music can be for people who have fun on songs like ‘Ignition’, but said, ‘People should just think about what message ‘She’s sending. “
“This generation knows very well who R. Kelly is, don’t they? These young people found the information that this person is an abuser, right? “Said Burke.” And if we can’t go beyond our personal tastes and desires, dancing to a song to send a message to these little girls and boys, at some point I’m just going to draw a line.
“I don’t want to support someone who will cause this kind of harm in my community. I just urge people to think about it, ”she continued. “Is it really worth it?”
Kelly had long managed to avoid the professional consequences amid decades of sexual abuse of young women and children, her illegal marriage to R&B phenomenon Aaliyah in 1994, when she was just 15 years old, to an arrest in 2002 in which he was accused of registering. sexually abusing and urinating on a 14 year old girl.
The #MeToo era and the 2019 “Surviving R. Kelly” docuseries saw her music downgraded by streaming services and subject to boycotts, and Kelly abandoned by her label, but it still remains widely available and attracts millions of streams. weekly.
The Grammy winner, once called the King of R&B, had a dozen albums that reached platinum status or multiple platinum records. His biggest hits include “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Bump N ‘Grind”. His songs ranged from the explicit to the romantic, popular both in clubs and at weddings.
People he has worked with are popular music stars including Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Quincy Jones, Toni Braxton and Janet Jackson.
Its popularity has taken a hit as allegations have escalated over the past five years. Her last three songs to hit Billboard’s Hot 100 peaked in 2013, including a duet with Lady Gaga titled “Do What U Want” and “PYD” with Justin Bieber. He hasn’t had any Hot 100 hits since then, despite releasing two albums and several singles. He had more success on other charts.
According to MRC Data, formerly Nielsen Music, a data provider that powers the Billboard charts, Kelly’s broadcast rounds and audience declined significantly between 2017 and 2021, and digital sales followed a similar trend.
However, its on-demand streaming numbers have stayed about the same, averaging over 6 million per week for most of 2021.
A group of fans who continue to support him blew their music up outside the courthouse on Monday, with one shouting, “We’re not giving up on R. Kelly!”
Neither Spotify nor Apple Music responded to questions on Tuesday about whether they would change their use of R. Kelly’s music on their platforms.
Spotify has already taken such a step but was rejected.
In 2018, amid the momentum of the #MeToo movement and a campaign for #MuteRKelly, the service removed its music from playlists after establishing a new hate content and hate behavior policy. Her music was still available, but Spotify stopped promoting it.
Yet, as many pointed out at the time, the history of pop, R&B, and rock is overloaded with artists who not only sexually abused underage girls, but also celebrated it in their songs.
And legendary producer Phil Spector, whose hands are on classic hits available everywhere, was a convicted murderer.
“Those kinds of moral lines are hard to draw, and Spotify discovered it very quickly,” Aswad said. “You look where you draw the line. If so, has anyone been convicted? Convicted of what? A crime? What if someone steals a car? “
But when Lifetime aired “Surviving R. Kelly” in early 2019, action against him was inevitable. His RCA label abandoned him and Lady Gaga apologized for working with him and pulled their duo off streaming platforms.
At the height of Kelly’s success, Aswad said, the fortune he amassed has helped him fight the stories about him, and the people who made money with him made them less likely to get it. to give up.
But his finances seem to have seriously declined. Crain’s Chicago Business reported that a $ 2.9 million foreclosure was lodged at Kelly’s suburban Chicago mansion in 2011, and it was auctioned off in 2013 for $ 950,000. The Chicago Sun-Times reported at the time that he owed the IRS more than $ 4.8 million.
He was evicted from two Atlanta-area homes for over $ 31,000 in 2018, and the following year he told a judge he couldn’t pay $ 161,000 in child support.
Kelly’s audience is aging as well, and he’s unlikely to make any new music, with a long jail term and other lawsuits pending in other states.
Time alone might do what condemnations, allegations and boycotts could not.
“I think over generations it might get quieter because it fades into the background,” said Gail Mitchell, executive director, R & B / Hip-Hop at Billboard Magazine. “As more generations, younger generations grow up, there will be a separation. It will be a bookmark that people can access. But the music will probably fade away. “
Dalton reported from Los Angeles. Hall reported from Nashville.
See the AP’s full coverage of the R. Kelly investigations.