R. Kelly is still singing, but in the #MeToo era his voice is getting more and more muffled.
As the R&B singer prepares for a scheduled concert Friday night in North Carolina amid persistent allegations of sexual misconduct, his career is under siege on multiple fronts.
– Streaming service Spotify is removing Kelly’s music from all its playlists and algorithmic recommendations, such as Discover Weekly. His songs will remain on Spotify, but the service will no longer promote them to its 70 million subscribers.
“We don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, but we want our editorial decisions – what we choose to program – to reflect our values,” Spotify said in a statement Thursday. “When an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful, it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator.”
– Protesters are trying to get his Greensboro, North Carolina, show canceled. Nine local groups sent a letter this week to the Greensboro Coliseum, urging promoters to “do the right thing” and cancel the show. The effort comes a week after a scheduled concert by Kelly in Chicago was canceled – something Kelly himself blamed on “rumors” in a video he posted on social media.
A handful of North Carolina groups have vowed to protest the Greensboro show in person if it’s not canceled. A spokesman for the Greensboro Coliseum declined to comment.
– A growing chorus of celebrities are urging the entertainment industry to cut ties with him. They include singer John Legend, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, actress Viola Davis and rapper Vince Staples. There’s even a hashtag, #MuteRKelly, around the informal online movement.
Through it all, Kelly remains defiant. But how much longer can his career survive?
What he’s accused of
Kelly, 51, one of the biggest R&B stars of the 1990s, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
In a statement sent to CNN on Thursday, his management team said, “He is innocent of the false and hurtful accusations in the ongoing smear campaign against him, waged by enemies seeking a payoff. He never has been convicted of a crime, nor does he have any pending criminal charges against him.”
But the singer’s reputation has long been tainted by accusations of sexual criminality.
- In 2002, he was indicted on child pornography charges for allegedly videotaping himself having sex with an unidentified underage girl. The case went to trial in 2008 and Kelly was acquitted.
- In 2017, a 24-year-old woman alleged she had a sexual relationship with Kelly when she was 16. Kelly denied the accusation and no criminal charges were filed.
- An explosive Buzzfeed article last July claimed the singer was holding a group of adult women against their will as part of what some of their parents said was a “cult.” Kelly would not comment, but his attorney dismissed the “debunked” allegations in an email to Buzzfeed. One of the women later denied publicly that she was being “brainwashed” by Kelly and said “I’m totally fine.”
- And a BBC documentary released in March featured an interview with a woman who claimed to be a former girlfriend of Kelly and described a “sex dungeon” in which the singer forced her and other women to perform sex acts. The BBC says Kelly’s reps declined to comment.
For years Kelly has weathered the allegations and continued to record and tour. But the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, ignited by allegations of sexual violence against Harvey Weinstein and other powerful entertainment figures, have increased pressure to hold him accountable for his alleged crimes.
After last month’s guilty verdict in Bill Cosby’s assault trial, some social media users are saying the singer should be prosecutors’ next celebrity target.
What Kelly says
Last month, the #TimesUp movement called on various entertainment businesses, including RCA Records, Spotify and Apple Music, to stop doing business with the singer.
In response Kelly’s manager issued a statement, saying the entertainer “supports the pro-women goals of the Time’s Up movement” and calling the allegations against him an “attempted public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture.”
On Thursday, Kelly’s management team condemned Spotify’s decision to downplay the singer’s music.
“Spotify is adopting a new ‘Hate Content & Hateful Conduct’ policy. R. Kelly never has been accused of hate, and the lyrics he writes express love and desire,” it said.
“Spotify has the right to promote whatever music it chooses, and in this case its actions are without merit. It is acting based on false and unproven allegations. It is bowing to social-media fads and picking sides in a fame-seeking dispute over matters that have nothing to do with serving customers.
“Meanwhile, though, Spotify promotes numerous other artists who are convicted felons, others who have been arrested on charges of domestic violence and artists who sing lyrics that are violent and anti-women in nature. Mr. Kelly falls into none of these categories…”
What happens next
However, people in the entertainment industry appear to be distancing themselves from the singer. Recent media reports say Kelly’s lawyer, publicist, and longtime assistant have all severed ties with the R&B singer. Kelly’s current manager did not respond to a request for comment.
Now Kelly is facing headwinds as a live performer. A handful of his concerts were canceled last summer after the Buzzfeed article surfaced. Kelly’s Facebook page lists only one upcoming concert – the Greensboro show.
And protesters there say they are ready.
“The coliseum needs to hold the artist accountable and know they are hosting a sexual predator who has committed acts consisting of statutory rape and the sexual conditioning of young African American girls,” said the letter by the nine local groups, including North Carolina Black Women’s Roundtable, NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, North Carolina Women United and the YWCA of Greensboro.
“We hope the Greensboro Coliseum will do the right thing by canceling the concert, followed by establishing justice-centered policies and procedures to help plan any future events,” they added. “However, if the Greensboro Coliseum decides to stand on the wrong side of this issue, we will be standing outside the venue to protest his appearance.”
CNN’s Lisa Respers France contributed to this story.