In the past week, news surrounding R. Kelly has reached a peak following his televised interview with Gayle King. In his interview, R. Kelly continually denied numerous allegations, claiming women are attempting to “make him look like the devil.” His defensive attempts to appear a victim amidst horrendous sexual assault accusations included lines such as, “I am a man and I make mistakes.” The interview was relentlessly mocked and even made a special appearance in two skits on SNL, one of which was Pete Davidson’s bit on Weekend Update.
Davidson spent a few minutes harping on the question of whether or not it was okay to still listen to Kelly’s music. His final solution was that listening was okay as long as you balanced your R. Kelly consumption with donations to a charity of your choice. His monologue—paired with the recent documentary regarding the abuse accusations against Michael Jackson—made me spend some time discussing the topic with my friends: Is it okay to support the art of someone who has committed such crimes?
I do believe it is morally irresponsible to support an artist in the situation of R. Kelly, but I’m not sure that means a complete ban on his music. While wearing his merchandise or outwardly supporting him as a person would seem blatantly disrespectful, how far does this hate go?
The real problem, as I see it, is the fine line between supporting art and supporting an artist. Picture this: you’re dancing at a party (probably too hard) and Remix to Ignition comes on. Do you turn the lights on, stop the song, and call all those who kept dancing moral delinquents? Is everyone at the party automatically labelled as horrible R. Kelly supporters, or do they simply like party music?
It is unrealistic to suggest that you can only listen to or enjoy the art of an artist with whom you agree with on every moral, political, or cultural stance. At that point, I’m pretty sure we could only listen to The Wiggles. (Upon further investigation, I googled the phrase “Wiggles Controversy” and an article came up exposing that three of the original Wiggles left the band amid accusations of “Machiavellian scheming.” I’m not sure what that is, but it sounds dramatic, so I guess we’ll just be listening to silence then?) Whether you like it or not, there is a strong correlation between personal turmoil and art. It seems as though successful artists more often lead lives riddled with drama, baggage, or criminal activity. Whether the fame or the tortured artist behavior comes first is up for debate.
Some people may argue that listening to music directly supports artists through the money that they get from royalties. Unless you listen to R. Kelly nonstop for the rest of your life, I don’t think that will actually amount to anything. Spotify pays $0.006 per stream—a number that has to be split amongst producers, the record label, managers, and the artist. All of this division ultimately adds up to a very negligible number for the artist.
Obviously, personal choice plays a huge factor in whether you will continue to listen to Kelly’s music. Considering the nature of his allegations, paired with his over sexualized and misogynistic lyrics, it is hard to separate his music from his actions. The songs that once were equated with corny dance moves now have a tinge of guilt and sadness regarding the reality that men and women are facing sexual abuse every day.
That is why my final conclusion is that…drum roll please…it is completely up to you! As long as you are respectful of those who feel morally opposed to listening and you admit his personal choices are wrong, you can continue secretly playing the Remix to Ignition on your airpods. Worst comes to worst, if you still feel guilty you could always follow Pete Davidson’s advice and donate to charity! I never would have thought I would tell anyone to follow Pete Davidson’s advice, but here we are. What has the world come to?