I had a couple of possible ideas for this week’s column – TV and online cartoons that cater to adults, the insipidness of “hot takes” – but, then, a gift came down from the pop-culture gods: a news story so shocking, so horrendous, so just-plain-messed-up, it obviously made Twitter go nuts. And, also obviously, it involved R. Kelly.
For those who need a quick primer on R. Kelly (born Robert Kelly), he’s a Chicago-born R&B performer who has been accused of a lot of very bad things over the years – most of them involving underaged girls. Way back in 1994, he started a scandal when it was reported that he briefly married his 15-year-old protégé Aaliyah, the R&B/pop star who would later die in a plane crash in 2001. Both denied they were married. He later made national headlines in 2002 when a videocassette surfaced of him allegedly having intercourse with a 14-year-old girl. Even though he claimed to be not the man on the tape, Kelly was indicted months later on 21 counts of child pornography. (It was later brought down to 14.) The case didn’t go to trial until May 2008, and Kelly was eventually acquitted of all charges less than a month later.
So what’s the Pied Piper of R&B in trouble for this time around? Well, according to a lengthy Buzzfeed News piece, Kelly has been accused of taking young women away from their homes and families and starting up a cult of sex slaves. Jim DeRogatis, the Chicago writer and music critic who’s been writing extensively on Kelly ever since he was the first to receive and view the aforementioned sex tape, lays out how Kelly uses his charm and celebrity to win over these women and their parents. The girls end up living with him, doing exactly what he says and often getting punished for their displays of disrespect. BuzzFeed also reported that checks by police both found nothing worthy of official charges because all of the women are of legal consent age.
If true, it’s a sad and sordid story. But this is R. Kelly we’re talking about here; don’t expect these allegations to hurt his career. Perversion has made him the controversial superstar he is today. After all of the accusations, he still has a successful music career (he’s done duets with Celine Dion and Lady Gaga!), mostly singing erotic, often ridiculous love songs that the sistas just swoon over.
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Yes, ladies still find R. Kelly appealing. For some reason, R. Kelly fans have collectively decided that as long as he comes with great music (another collection of “Trapped in the Closet” chapters, please!), they’ll overlook his long history of allegations.
Oh, did I forget to mention that many of these women are black? Well, they are, and that also explains why Kelly still has a career: Since Kelly usually preys on young, black girls, people seem to not care that much. But you know if R. Kelly ever corrupted a Becky or an Amber or a Megan, everyone would be on the hunt for him. It happened to Roman Polanski back in the 1970s, when he was put on trial for allegedly raping a 13-year-old white girl – and that guy fled the country.
Let’s face it: As a society, we’re generally not concerned when black girls get used and abused. DeRogatis even came to this conclusion in a 2013 online interview with the Village Voice. “The saddest fact I’ve learned is: Nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.”
While this latest allegation against Kelly is some heinous, repugnant stuff, it probably won’t tarnish his fame. Heck, it might make him look more pimpalicious among his fanbase. It continues to baffle me how Kelly is still seen as a cool guy in the African-American community. And while I know how difficult it can be to separate the art from the artist (even I have some R. Kelly tracks in my iTunes library), when a black man has a history of disrespecting black women, maybe we shouldn’t get all hyped whenever his latest album drops.