Grammy award-winning American singer-songwriter Robert Sylvester Kelly—known colloquially as “R. Kelly”—was recently charged with 10 counts of sexual abuse. Claims have also risen that he was running a sex cult out of his homes in Chicago, controlling girls’ lives and punishing them for not following his rules. Prosecutors confirm that the victims’ timelines run from as early as 1998 to as late as 2010, one individual claiming her abuse started when she was only fourteen. The singer entered a not guilty plea and posted $100,000 in bail, 10% of the required $1 million bond.
While there have been talks of R. Kelly’s criminal past for some time now, these charges come in the wake of Lifetime’s recent harrowing documentary, “Surviving R. Kelly.” The film describes his extensive history of sexual misconduct and the effects of his crimes on his victims and their families. Just a few weeks after the documentary aired, Kelly's record company dropped him and his concerts in the U.S. and New Zealand were canceled.
One of Kelly’s more dedicated fans, Brittany Martin, expressed her unconditional allegiance to Kelly and his music by actively posting in a Facebook group with over 11,000 (mostly female) fans just like her. She defended the singer and compared the alleged “false accusations” against him to those against convicted sexual assaulter Bill Cosby, saying “I believe that he is being a target, and he is being set up.”
Many of those who discredit R. Kelly’s victims claim that the women are simply trying to exploit the musician for money. However, that motive seems unlikely, as many have reported R. Kelly’s financials to be in a critical state. Kelly’s own attorney, Steven Greenberg, has presented this hypocritical case, stating both that the accusers “are lying…everyone’s trying to profit off of R. Kelly,” and that Kelly’s financials are “a mess” and that “he really doesn’t have any money at this point.” Furthermore, the victims, many of whom were minors at the time of their abuse, don’t seek financial retribution. One survivor explains her motivation as follows: “All I want is for justice to be done, and this to never happen to someone else.”
Prosecutor Michael Avenatti, who is defending three of R. Kelly’s alleged victims, argues that others complicit in Kelly’s abuse should be held accountable. In an interview, Avenatti asserted that Kelly “could not have accomplished this for 28 years without the assistance of others who looked the other way because they didn’t want the R. Kelly gravy train to end.”
Beyond that, many followers of the case have voiced disappointment that law enforcement failed to investigate R. Kelly earlier or more vigorously, given the rumors and previous accusations through the years. Avenatti’s linchpin evidence is a video he obtained with footage of Kelly having sex with a 14-year-old girl. He submitted the video to the Cook County State’s Attorney's Office in Chicago this February.
With these charges, extensive victim testimony in court and on film, and expository evidence at hand, the pieces of Kelly’s conviction aren’t too difficult to put together. Seeing that guilt is on the table, it’s hard not to ask what this means about his music.
Is it possible to separate his crimes from his music? There are surely cases of extreme fans who will claim Kelly’s innocence no matter what the outcome of the case is, but perhaps more troubling are those who acknowledge his guilt but disregard what that means about his music. We gave up on The Cosby Show after Bill Cosby and we stopped watching House of Cards after Kevin Spacey. What does this mean for R. Kelly? Maybe it’s time to put the remix to "Ignition" to bed.