Since 1994, rumors of R. Kelly as a sexual abuser and even pedophile have followed the singer, despite his thriving career. Though these allegations have been in the public eye for 25 years, Lifetime’s 3-part documentary miniseries, “Surviving R. Kelly,” brought renewed outcry from previous critics, fans and even collaborators alike. However, not all reactions, both now and through the years, have been completely condemnatory.
The event cited as the first public display of the R&B star’s sexually abusive behavior is his 1994 marriage to singer Aaliyah, when she was 15 and he was 27. The marriage, which was annulled just a year later, was revealed to be fraudulent due to Aaliyah forging her age as 18 on the wedding certificate. Since this first controversy, 3 more women accused Kelly of an inappropriate relationship while they were minors, along with charges for a total of 33 counts of child pornography.
Every time a new accusation surfaced, Kelly’s audience and society at large were shocked and outraged, but his record sales never faltered. Just a year after his allegedly predatory relationship with Aaliyah, his 1995 album R. Kelly reached #1 on the Billboard Charts. Chocolate Factory, TP-2.com, Double Up, and TP.3 Reloaded also all ranked #1 between 2000 and 2007, while more controversial charges, lawsuits and accusations continued to arise steadily.
No notable new charges or allegations surfaced after 2004 until July of 2017, when Jim DeRogatis published an exposé in Buzzfeed, accusing Kelly of leading a controlling, abusive “cult,” in which he allegedly “seduced young women when they approached him for help with their music careers, before taking control of their lives,” as reported by the BBC.
DeRogatis said that Kelly regulated “what they [ate], how they dress[ed], when they bathe[d], when they [slept],” not to mention Kelly’s alleged obsessive control of the young women’s sexuality, sexual health and contact at all with the outside world. It was an accusation that stunned the entertainment industry, brought forth by worried loved ones and employers of the suspected victims of brainwashing.
Fast-forward to January 3, 2019. As stated by Lifetime, “For the first time ever, survivors and people from R. Kelly’s inner circle, are coming forward with new allegations about his sexual, mental, and physical abuse.” The docuseries, airing over 3 days included interviews with over 50 victims, family members, and collaborators of Kelly. Notably, R. Kelly’s ex-wife, ex-girlfriend and even brothers appeared in series, condemning the singer for 30 years of habitually predatory behavior.
However, as with Kelly’s prior controversies, the theme of shock and outcry accompanied by a boost in net success for the artist has occurred this month with the revelation of “Surviving R. Kelly.” Just three days after the premiere, Kelly’s daily sales for both albums and songs more than doubled, his streams increased by 76% and video streams of his music were boosted by 85%, according to USA Today.
The inexplicable boost in sales and fanfare has led many around the world to hashtag #MuteRKelly in an attempt to promote consequences and accountability as a result of decades of accusations, as opposed to the supposed monetary gain Kelly’s allegations have brought him.
Change may be in sight, however, as RCA Records, Kelly’s Sony-owned record label, cut ties with the controversial singer on January 18, according to the BBC. Perhaps this move signifies a turn toward professional repercussions for Kelly for the first time since the very first allegations against him in the mid-1990s.
Through the years, R. Kelly has had many collaborators, but few have spoken out to renounce him until recently. Chance the Rapper and Lady Gaga are among the most influential to have worked with and condemned Kelly, with Gaga’s “Do What U Want” and Chance the Rapper’s “Somewhere in Paradise” both reportedly in the process of removal from all purchasing and streaming platforms for their involvement with R. Kelly.
Additionally, singer John Legend has not minced words about Kelly, speaking out loud as an interviewee in “Surviving,” on Twitter and in written statements. In the finale of the documentary, Legend said, “R. Kelly has brought so much pain to so many people,” and he tweeted soon after: “These survivors deserve to be lifted up and heard. I hope it gets them closer to some kind of justice.”
However, despite the many voices in the industry calling for justice against Kelly, he still has many sympathizers, doubting the legitimacy of his accusers, excusing his past behavior and defending his current success despite decades of evidence of sexual, physical and mental abuse against countless women.
Will this time be different? Will “Surviving R. Kelly” inflict criminal consequences that have been absent for 25 years of Kelly’s career? The tale of Kelly’s abusive past is unique, but also similar to many of disturbing stories the public has discovered since the foundation of the #MeToo movement, a powerful man using his influence and status to manipulate, abuse and permanently damage the lives of those around them. It is up to consumers and members of the entertainment industry whether to let yet another series of Kelly accusations go forgotten, or to instead, end the career of a habitual monster.