Is Any Publicity Good Publicity, R. Kelly?

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Written by Jenna Dreisenstock

Feature Image: Lifetime

It’s all everyone’s talking about at the moment. The only thing on everyone’s mind in the music world; and outside of it. The story that is, essentially, breaking news outside of the political realm and it’s being broadcast on every music site, every news site; and being broadcast on news channels around the world. The irony of me speaking about this issue is evident; yet how can I not write about it? Which is perhaps the most interesting question to ask ourselves – how can we not cover about it? It’s imperative these men are held accountable. It’s probably pretty obvious which case I am talking about – and that is, the sexual assault allegations by several women against the – infamous – musician, R. Kelly.

I hate using the word ‘allegations‘ when nothing is ‘alleged‘ at this point. He’s under criminal investigation, finally.

Anyway.

R. Kelly is no stranger to sexual assault allegations (rather, evidence); as they have followed his career for a rather extended period of time. Everyone knew, everyone has always known – but nobody actually did anything until. Very similar to, unfortunately, many other male musicians and those working within the entertainment industry. A similar case is that of filmmaker Woody Allen – why he is still making films, I have absolutely no idea. Yet it’s the way in which the patriarchy functions; money and power, tend to make these issues simply – disappear. However, with the airing of the new six part docuseries on Lifetime, entitled ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ it’s, at this point rather – impossible – to make this simply go away. With several women coming forward, and a platform in which to be heard – the cases are finally being taken seriously, and to the brave women who spoke out about their experiences and the creators behind the documentary series; I salute you.

However, a trend has emerged that is exceptionally worrying. These issues need to be spoke about, brought to light – and each of these women deserve justice for what they’ve had to endure. Since the documentary aired, the hashtag #SurvivingRKelly and #MuteRKelly have been trending on twitter, and although seeing so many people standing in solidarity with the victims gives me faith in humanity; what breaks apart my faith from the core, is absolutely alarming; with R. Kelly’s music having an evident increase in listens / streams. It has been reported that on Spotify, since the case broke – the streaming count of the musician’s works have, as a definite correlation, increased. Which – correlates to profit.

Despite the fact that Kelly’s music has officially been “banned” from radio stations as they respond to the allegations, and with many other musicians speaking out against him; as well as issuing apologies for previous collaborations (it’s difficult to say whether these musicians knew about the allegations or not, as previously mentioned these allegations have indeed followed Kelly throughout his career so I am cynical…) one would think that the public would shun the musician altogether. Yet seeing this go in the opposite direction is kind of, very, terrifying. I keep trying to think of a logical explanation as to why this would be happening; why people would go out of their way, now of all times, to stream his music. I can’t come up with much – except for – is all publicity actually ‘good’ publicity? Does this kind of attention actually warrant more people to pay attention to his music – despite the response to his crimes obviously being overwhelmingly negative?

I was watching The Daily Show With Trevor Noah and they brought up something regarding this that I have been mulling over. They shared a clip from the news channel ABC that, immediately after sharing the basic ‘breaking news’ regarding the case they played a clip from one of his music videos; one of his tracks. This confounds me; in trying to share the awful news, they unintentionally ended up – kind of, promoting him. What?

This leads to a conclusion in which I suppose I have to concur that for many, negative publicity can indeed lead to a downfall – but in this case, it seems to have gone in worrying direction; his public image has been ruined, yet it seems his work has not, due to the response. Who are the people that have upped the popularity of his music despite full blown evidence of his crimes? Is this the same phenomenon that causes us to become obsessed with criminal cases? Bringing so much publicity to those who have committed terrible acts, with the necessity to expose them; it feels like an awful backfire effect. We cannot turn away, we have to expose those for who they are in the name of justice; yet caught up in all this the media has promoted his music – which in an indirect way furthers his career as he earns profit off of this. Are the only people supporting him just as bad as he is? Or is it the general publics apathy within a broken societal system causing this? We have to truly examine the way the public perceives this publicity, and how in the world we are going to tackle issues such as these involving the rich and famous. We have to break apart these issues from their core – where do we even begin? I don’t know, which is why I’m writing this article.