Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

It’s time to stop ignoring R Kelly’s creepiness.

The music industry has been propping up the singer for long enough.

Thu, Dec 19, 2013, 09:07


One of the most irritating ‘trends’ of the past decade or so is the hipster adulation of R Kelly, the RnB singer who found fame in the 90s and although his career was dented by allegations of sexual assault, he went on to carve out new (and increasingly white) audiences in this post-genre world that we live in where everyone listens to Drake next to Eno.

I’ve always felt the allegations stacked against R Kelly gave the vibe of the Roman Polanski of RnB. Everyone seems aware of his borderline dodginess, yet he’s still “critically acclaimed”, applauded ironically/non-ironically/not-sure-anymore at Coachella, and courted by Lady Gaga. His music is dissected by Pitchfork, who gave him an emphatic seal of approval with their festival headline slot. And he’s still seen as a bit of gas, an eccentric who uses the institutional misogyny of the genre of RnB and soft hip-hop to his advantage, perpetuating the image of himself as a sexytime slow jamz type of dude, instead of a straight up sleaze.

Earlier this week the Village Voice published this “stomach-churning” post on the sexual assault accusations against R Kelly. Everyone should read it all the way through.

There is also the unavoidable race issue. R Kelly found special popularity with white fans after his ‘Trapped In The Closet’ series caught a surreal wave endorsed by South Park-loving college bros. The evangelising of R Kelly by hipsters and the largely white mainstream music press has positioned him as some kind of racy black sex god with his smoove baby-making music, a ridiculous racial stereotype that’s offensive to everyone involved. R Kelly himself plays this up. He named his latest album released this month Black Panties for God’s sake, a cover of which features a clothed R Kelly lying in a sea of topless women (the standard cover features R Kelly playing a topless woman with a bow.) The deluxe edition comes with a pair of lace knickers. Seriously, don’t tell me this isn’t someone bigging up at the very least a ‘handsy uncle at a wedding’ reputation.

R Kelly was acquitted on the charge of making child pornography, and he has never been tried for rape. These remain allegations. But do you think it’s normal that the person at the centre of these historical allegations inflates an image of a sexual predator? That’s just beyond creepy. So why then, does R Kelly’s creepiness continue to be endorsed? I know Lady Gaga mightn’t have the wisest choice in collaborators (hello, Terry Richardson) and I know Aaliyah isn’t around the defend her relationship with R Kelly, but we’re talking about someone who is widely known for the allegations against him and not only does not try to brush them under the carpet – like any regular dysfunctional musical – but actually plays up the reputation for sleaze in order to sell records. And his audience KNOWS that. People listen to R Kelly fully knowing that something dark went on in the shadows of the past.

I like ‘Ignition’ as much as the next person, but placing R Kelly on a pedestal is bizarre, and the industry, his fans, and especially the “artist” himself, need to cop on.