Image Credit: The New York Times
On 03 January, 2019, the docu-series 'Surviving R Kelly' premiered. Earlier this month, R Kelly was formally charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse; his victims were between the ages of 13 and 16.
Since the docuseries’ release,according to data analytics company Nieisen, audio streaming of his music has increased by 76 per cent,and video streaming by 85 per cent.There is something fundamentally wrong with an industry which allows R Kelly to profit from a docuseries highlighting his criminal behaviour.The music industry has historically profited from scandal and corruption, in both mainstream and more niche music genres: Nelly, Melanie Martinez, James Levine,Nick Carter, and Jesse Lacey, for instance.Since the #MeToo movement began in November 2017, these are just a few of the artists accused of sexual misconduct in the last two years.Their music is still available to stream, download and purchase on all platforms, despite their disgusting, inappropriate, criminal behaviour. Some of them are still successful, thriving artists. XXXTentacion,a rapper, was accused of domestic violence and aggravated battery,and yet posthumously holds the record for single-day global streams,at 10.4 million. Front Porch Step,an acoustic pop-punk band, was accused of several accounts of sexual harassment by underage girls in 2014, and was able to perform at Vans Warped Tour in 2015, despite an e-petition with over 13000 signatures requesting their removal.
R Kelly is just another example of a famous and influential individual in the industry profiting from a scenario which should, and ordinarily would, result in condemnation, renunciation, and exclusion.As listeners, we are partially to blame. Music is a form of consumer culture. The listener has complete control over what they choose to purchase or stream. So why is it that millions of people consciously choose to listen to music produced and performed by rapists, paedophiles, sexual predators, assaulters,and embezzlers? Morbid curiosity can account for some of the increased attention into R Kelly’s music. It is an obvious insight to his character, a means of attempting to discern whether his motivations or emotions are hidden in his music. But there is only so much attention that can be justified.It comes down to lack of empathy.In continuing to support an artist who engages in criminal activity, we are normalising and accepting that activity, and dismissing and disrespecting the people who were emotionally and physically hurt. Jada Pinkett Smith effectively summarised this in a statement on her Instagram: “I think it’s important that I understand why...And I really don’t [want to] believe that it’s because black girls don’t matter enough, or is that the reason?”.
As listeners, we have a duty of responsibility; the music we consume dictates the artists whom we support. It is questioned whether the artist can be separated from the art: whether you can listen to, and enjoy, music without supporting the musician. I honestly don’t think you can. I think that it is a tired, guilt-evading excuse.R Kelly is testament to this. He is profiting from the publicity he receives and there is a risk that he will be more famous for his music than his crimes. He is profiting because, since he has been released on bail, he has been able to ruin the lives of young women and continue as though nothing had happened.The music industry is fundamentally flawed. It allows musicians to continue their careers despite scandal and crime, but the listener is equally to blame. The only way to stop artists such as R Kelly from continuing to profit from their behaviour, is to stop listening.