On Monday, barely a week after R. Kelly released his latest album, Black Panties (ew) the Village Voice published a discussion between music journos Jessica Hopper and former Chicago Sun-Times music critic Jim DeRogatis that has gone viral.
In the Q&A, DeRogatis not only details the story he broke almost 15 years ago — R. Kelly’s sexual predation on teenage girls — but also, as Hopper writes, “an aftermath that the public has never had to bear witness to.”
DeRogatis gave Hopper full access to every file and transcript he’d amassed in his tireless reporting of this story.
In the interview, he speaks candidly about the charges against Kelly — charges that, to borrow the headline, are indeed “stomach-churning.”
To a generation that only knows R. Kelly from Space Jam, they’re downright shocking.
Hopper’s piece is a sickening, outraging and necessary read. And this is the take-home: “The saddest fact I’ve learned is: Nobody matters less to our society than young black women,” DeRogatis tells Hopper. “Nobody.” DeRogatis has seen the lack of justice first hand; Kelly was acquitted for making child pornography, but he’s never been tried as a rapist.
So you’ll forgive DeRogatis, then, for not being down with all the rave reviews and free passes Kelly is getting for Black Panties.
As he tells Hopper, “When you tell me what a brilliant ode to pussy Black Panties is, then realize that the next sentence should say: ‘This, from a man who has committed numerous rapes.’” (Indeed, few artists so blatantly remind you of their past transgressions in song the way Kelly does.)
R. Kelly has always given me the icks, tbh, so it’s incredibly easy for me to actively choose not to listen to/endorse his music because I don’t happen think he’s a genius (I mean, dude wrote a song called Marry The Pussy). I think he’s a monster.
For ardent fans, however — especially those who don’t, who can’t, have DeRogatis’ first-hand experience — digesting these details is more complicated. Rembert Browne over at Grantland wrestled with his own fraught relationship with the R&B giant and the “sin of the free pass.”
Because that’s the thing: a lot of horrible people have made great art, which would appear to grant them some sort of special-snowflake asylum when it comes to their personal lives.
A lot has been written about the notion of divorcing that art from the artist — debates which all seem to circle back to Roman Polanski and one’s ability to enjoy Rosemary’s Baby.
A ton of questions have been asked. Can you like/appreciate/financially support art made by someone who is possibly a rapist without co-signing what they’ve done in their personal lives?
Does a great voice or a great movie really have the power to erase someone’s past — or, more troublingly, someone else’s experience?
What if this information is new (or new to you)? How do you reconcile the fact that your hero is someone else’s villain?
And what happens if the artist you admire isn’t a creep but works with creeps?
Amanda Hess at Slate wrote a thought-provoking piece on just that, pointing out that noted gross person Terry Richardson — the somehow still in-demand-despite-being-horrible filmmaker/photographer who has been accused of sexually harassing young models — lensed three of this year’s most buzzed-about music videos: Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball, Beyoncé’s XO, and — oh my god, I can’t even — the forthcoming R. Kelly/Lady Gaga duet, Do What U Want. (Vom. In my mouth. Vom.)
Hess argues that while we, as consumers, can choose not to spend our dollars on creep-infected media, it’s something of a closed circuit:
Creep avoidance presents a relatively simple monetary calculation for consumers. If you do reject investing in a piece of media because of its creep association, you get to make a morally righteous move and save yourself some cash. But if you’re a star who refuses to work with a creep, you risk bringing criticism onto yourself from industry executives, other artists, and their fans, while potentially missing out on a lot of money and maybe even compromising your career.
While I agree, I also think it’s disingenuous to compare a young, no-name model struggling to carve out a career for herself to Beyoncé — especially the Beyoncé of this week. I don’t think Beyoncé would have been economically impacted by refusing to work with a bankable creeper like Richardson — but then again, perhaps even Queen Bey isn’t immune to the patriarchal fuckery that continues to plague women trying to get their fucking work done in ALL industries, even those not traditionally accepted as sleazy.
As Hess writes, our pop idols will only stop working with creeps when the creeps stop making lots of money. Until then, this is the way things are. Which is shitty.
Perhaps someday, the collective outrage of consumers will be compelling enough to make a creep collaboration a serious liability for a star. But until then, creeps will continue to creep. ‘As much as I love Beyoncé (which is A LOT) I wouldn’t have bought her album if I knew I was putting money in Terry Richardson’s pocket,’ one fan wrote on Twitter this week. But how many among us would actually shun Beyoncé in order to punish Richardson? Not enough to make the calculation relevant.
Maybe we don’t need to shun Beyoncé in order to punish Richardson. Maybe we need Beyoncé to shun Richardson to punish Richardson. Maybe we need someone with power and influence — i.e. not powerless, underage models — to break this harmful cycle.
Maybe it’s idealistic to think that the players can change the game.
And, as a consuming public, maybe we do need to be more outraged. Maybe more of us need to stand up and say THIS IS NOT OK when it’s not OK.
I DON’T KNOW, YOU GUYS. I have no answers.
What I do know is this: as a music journalist myself, this quote from DeRogatis — speaking music journo to music journo with Hopper — spoke to me.
You have to make a choice, as a listener, if music matters to you as more than mere entertainment. And you and I have spent our entire lives with that conviction. This is not just entertainment, this is our lifeblood. This matters.
I have made the choice, professionally and personally, that music is more to me. I SCREAM IN ALL CAPS because I give a shit. Like DeRogatis and Hopper give a shit.
And from the overwhelming response to the Village Voice piece, it seems plenty of others give one, too. And these aren’t just the people writing overlong think-pieces; these are people in comment sections, rethinking their adoration of R. Kelly. It’s promising.
Now, let’s see how long Black Panties (ew) stays on the charts.