This month, Lifetime Network put out what was one of the best docuseries in recent years. Now, I don't usually have to say anything along those lines about that television channel, seeing as almost everything that they release is mere pablum for those females who want drama that's not even close to being real, I will admit that they did themselves good on this one.
"Surviving R. Kelly", in my opinion, is a highly appropriate documentary on musicians' criminal sexual behavior and how it constantly gets kept under wraps, no matter how sordid and traumatic the circumstances are; it also gives perspective to how abusers in general face childhood trauma, which is often virtually identical to what their victims suffer. Because the subject also happens to be one of contemporary R&B's flagships, as well as a pioneering force of 1990s hip hop soul, the documentary's content is already leading to controversy, most notably with both fan and stan cultures embarking on the #MuteRKelly campaign.
Among celebrities, numerous singers, songwriters and composers were opposed to speaking out against R. Kelly, with Lady Gaga regretting her 2013 single "Do What U Want", which was a collaboration with him that had its music video shelved, given that it had scenes reminiscent of the allegations against Bill Cosby, and that it was directed by Terry Richardson, who also has been accused of sexually assaulting models. Chance the Rapper also expressed sorrow over his past collaboration at an uncertain point in time.
The latest round of allegations preceding the docuseries was a July 2017 report by Buzzfeed on a sex cult that R. Kelly was facilitating (all three months before the #MeToo movement was instigated by allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, etc.), What I noticed is that there was a common thread throughout all the allegations, which date back to his 1994 marriage to the late R&B trendsetter Aaliyah— R. Kelly would often scout girls that were 13 to 19 years old, often promising them that he could make them into music superstars, proceeding to dehumanize and sexualize them over time. When living with him, he controls what they eat, who they talk to, and even when they go to the bathroom! Even though these rumors and reports have been in the public sphere for almost 25 years, nothing has been done! I also had a feeling these allegations were true, as I'd seen them used as subject matter in episodes of Chappelle's Show and the Boondocks.
While RCA Records dropped him from the label, this bad publicity has only fuelled streaming sales of his music, although radio stations across America aren't broadcasting his songs. And within the industry, executives, producers and artists alike generally turned a blind eye, but not everyone. While she was starting out at age 12, JoJo had wanted to collaborate with him, despite frequently hearing the stories, but her mother always protected her from him, and she fully threw her support behind the accusers featured in the docuseries; while Mathew Knowles is notorious for his draconic control over Destiny's Child, it was for the best, because R. Kelly did want to work with the group on their second album, the Writing's on the Wall (which was ultimately one rejected song), but Mathew took the allegations seriously.
Also, in the industry, sexual misconduct allegations have flown against countless musicians and producers for decades. Whether it's Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Gary Glitter, Chuck Berry, Ted Nugent or even Melanie Martinez, it's very clear that whenever something like this comes up, we just sweep it under the rug. I think we do so because we're so conditioned to separate the art from the artist and all of that, but the fact that we always treat them as these role models and heroes. A few of them did face backlash similar to R. Kelly, and even got shunned, but this has been going against him even longer than most.
The moral of the story in all of this is that we're so concerned with protecting our artists, we care less about protecting our girls, our sisters, our daughters, our nieces, our friends and our coworkers. It's about time we hold all these artists accused of sexual misconduct accountable for their transgressions! It doesn't matter if a victim's white, black, rich or poor. They're still human. They have a right to be heard. With that said, I will do my best to #MuteRKelly. Who knows if I'll just so happen to listen to his music years from now and not be reminded of any of this?