R. Kelly is one of the greatest living R&B singers. He is also a sexual predator. We have seen the evidence. We have read the testimony, not just from the women who accused Kelly, but from Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis, who broke the story and continued to report on it for fifteen years. We know. Whether or not he’s been convicted of the numerous, predatory crimes against young women of which he’s been accused, anyone who has combed through the evidence knows deep down that this isn’t a fabricated smear campaign. It’s the horrific reality for countless women who were groomed and abused by him. Their lives were forever altered by R. Kelly’s involvement. Yet, his life and his career have proceeded without much interruption at all.
This year, Kelly is releasing his fourteenth studio album The Buffet. For that album, he’s had quite a bit of press, including a number of interviews, and a lengthy profile in Vulture. Rolling Stone called it his “most adventurous album ever” without breathing a single word about the allegations he faces. Today, Kelly appeared on Huffington Post Live, a live video interview segment that functions more like a traditional news broadcast show. To say the interview didn’t go well would be an immense understatement.
Part of the reason the interview exploded the way it did was because the female journalist conducting the interview, Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani, wasn’t afraid to ask the extremely difficult questions that anyone interviewing or reviewing Kelly should be asking. In 2013, I reviewed Black Panties, and though I had read some of that which he was accused, I didn’t really go in like I should’ve.
“What do you say to fans that are conflicted about you?” Modarressy-Tehrani asks. To which Kelly begins to ramble about everyone who supports him, how successful he is, continuously interrupts the journalist, asks her if she can count the people who feel conflicted about him, calls her beautiful, and threatens to leave if she asks about anything he perceives to be negative. His line of reasoning, by the way, points so clearly toward an incredible piece that critic Clover Hope wrote for Jezebel about the way increasingly limited access to celebrities has led to profiles in which the journalists fawn over their subjects.
Kelly compares Modarressy-Tehrani’s line of questioning to a deposition, asks her if she knows what a deposition is, insults her intelligence, and continues to comment on her appearance by calling her beautiful. (Seeing any correlations to the VICE date interview series anyone?) When he gets angry at her for initiating questions about his personal life, she comments that it is exactly that topic which is causing fans to not purchase his music. That’s when he decides to walk out of the interview while calling her beautiful again. Before the interview completely falls apart, Kelly had this to say: “You can’t satisfy everybody. I will continue to do my job until I get fired, and the only people who can fire me are my fans.”
Recently, critic Sydney Gore wrote an Open Letter to Tinashe for Nylon, expressing her disappointment–as a fan–in the R&B singer’s decision to work with artists like R. Kelly and Chris Brown, after the way they’ve abused women. Gore writes: “For me, the most disappointing aspect of Tinashe working with R. Kelly and Chris Brown is not just that these men have both abused women—it’s that their victims have all been women of color.” Gore’s point is beyond critical–women of color are one of the most disenfranchised groups of people in America. Is that why R. Kelly’s success persists?
Instead of protecting R. Kelly, it’s time to start protect these women instead. If the only people who can fire R. Kelly are his fans, then we need to bite the bullet and do it. Don’t buy R. Kelly’s album. Don’t listen to R. Kelly’s music. Don’t dance to remix to “Ignition” when it comes on, no matter how goddamn good it sounds. Can three minutes of R&B bliss erase the horror that trails after Kelly’s string of victims for the rest of their lifetimes? When Vulture asked “Is it okay to listen to R. Kelly?” in their cutting profile, I was glad they asked the question. But I think they used the question as a hook to avoid answering it. The answer is no, it’s not okay. We’re the ones that must answer that question once and for all. It’s time to fire R. Kelly.