FEATURE: Surviving R. Kelly: What Can We Learn to Make the Music Industry a Safer Space?




Surviving R. Kelly



What Can We Learn to Make the Music Industry a Safer Space?


THERE has been a lot of discussion and feedback...


PHOTO CREDIT: r-kelly.com

regarding the T.V. series, Surviving R. Kelly. It talks to women who has been abused and assaulted by Kelly (some as minors) and is quite an emotional watch! Not to be too graphic and give too much away but there have been tales of women being held as sex slaves and some rather atrocious behaviour from the musician. Last year saw, unfortunately, a few male artists named and shamed when they were caught – inappropriately touching female fans or going much further. I am not sure how far this problem extends but it takes some beating to top the sworded and extraordinary details regarding R. Kelly. His catalogue of crimes is a long one and, even though we cannot say for certain everything did happen, it seems like the singer has crossed a line more than once through the years. In fact, many who have watched the series have asked why R. Kelly remains a free man and how he can walk the streets. He has made a video where he tries to defend himself and explain his situation but we are not talking about lurid comments and sexist remarks. Instead, some queasy and disgusting stories are being told where R. Kelly has abused his position as an international star and has done thing that would see most nob-celebrities jailed for years! Even though these upsetting revelations are coming to light, it seems like R. Kelly is more intent on releasing music rather than facing the accusations:

 “Lifetime’s docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” not only broke viewership records, but provided us with an appalling glimpse into the unspeakable harm he inflicted upon dozens—if not hundreds—of black women.

And while the rest of us were glued to our television sets over the course of the six episodes spread out over three separate nights, TMZ reports that Kelly was “disgusted” by the gruesome details unearthed in the docuseries and refused to watch a single minute of it...

Reportedly, he also believes the documentary is merely a “vendetta” against him, as opposed to a call for both accountability for his behavior and justice for those he tormented.

Furthermore, his team reportedly informed him of which individuals appeared in the docuseries and he denies knowing half of them, while dismissing the rest as traitors with self-serving motives.

Keenly aware of the attention the docuseries would inevitably draw, he released a new song—”Born to My Music”—in the days leading up to the premiere of “Surviving R. Kelly”.

But instead of celebrating his latest release, the world has instead focused its attention on admonishing his behavior, purging his music from our lives, and engaging in long-overdue discussions on the persistent dangers that black women and girls face”.

Some have watched the shows and ask why the women have only come forward now. Why did they not go to the police after the incidents?! The same could be said of the woman who were abused by Harvey Weinstein but, at the time, you are fighting against a celebrity and many would not take your side. There is the emotion of having to reveal the details and you are processing things. I am in no doubt regarding the veracity of the stories and it makes me wonder whether artists with a certain reputation and popularity see themselves above the law.

The Guardian reacted to Surviving R. Kelly and provided their take:

Lifetime has made an impactful series, if at times heavy-handed in its use of sound and visual effects. It twists Kelly’s story and your stomach in knots. Most of the information expressed in Surviving R Kelly has already been made public, largely led by the tireless reporting of Chicago journalist Jim DeRogatis. And so, even when you have turned it off, the docuseries lingers with the stench of unresolved questions: what will happen to the women still believed to be living with Kelly, estranged from their families? What would it take for Kelly’s label, RCA Records, to address the overwhelming testimony made so far? And, finally, where can a viewer direct their rage, when Kelly has proved himself above scrutiny?

I’ll be honest: you’ll wait a long while for easy answers to those questions. New information gleaned during the show’s production rarely leaves you feeling satisfied, or as though Kelly has been held fully accountable for the claims about his behaviour.

So the show arrives at a confusing, and confused, time. Collectively, we don’t really understand how to deal with abusers who manage to avoid further scrutiny and career censure. Sceptics are quick to shout “Did you call the police?” when women share stories of sexual misconduct, abuse or harassment. But what happens when video evidence and verbal testimony aren’t enough to incriminate? Kelly’s a prime example: he was never tried on rape charges, and a jury instead acquitted him in 2008 on all 14 child abuse images charges, even after viewing the so-called “sex tape” that prompted his arrest in 2002”.


 IN THIS PHOTO: R. Kelly attends the Ovadia & Sons front row during New York Fashion Week on 14th July, 2015/PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Not only are there many questions that need answering – including what is to be done now and whether artists need to be punished heavily – but it makes me wonder just how far the problem extends. Last year, as I said, there were cases of male artists groping and abusing female fans. I think there is this view that they have consent and are able to do such things because of the adoration from fans; an unspoken agreement where they can cross that line and it is part of the business. A story has just come out that shows an incident (from 201) involving Drake:

Video has surfaced of Drake kissing a 17-year-old girl in Denver, Colorado in May 2010. In the clip, the Canadian rapper invites the girl on stage during his performance at the Ogden Theater, dances with her, kisses her neck, comments on her shampoo, then pulls her shirt down at the back of the neck to kiss her again.

After reaching both hands across her chest while standing behind her, he picks up the microphone and says he is getting “carried away”. When asked her age, the unnamed girl replies: “17.” Drake responds: “I can’t go to jail yet, man!”

He continues: “I don’t know if I should feel guilty or not, but I had fun. I like the way your breasts feel against my chest.” He then kisses her on the cheeks and forehead”.

This kind of thing is happening at a well-populated gig and you have to ask how many other occasions have occurred where a female fan has been groped, kissed or touched in such a manner. R. Kelly is an extreme case but the incident involved Drake is unseemly and creepy. I think R. Kelly’s case, especially, should inform new guidelines and action. How many undisclosed stories are there of women being abused?! How many other artists are abusing their power because they feel it is acceptable and what the woman wants?! One can say sexual assault and cases like this have been present in music for decades and, in reality, how far have we actually come? It is the arrogance and sheer since of ignorance displayed by R. Kelly that gets to me. He seems unaware of what he has done and unconcerned with the damage done. We have social media now and there is no place to hide if you are guilty of these crimes. The case and controversy will continue but, at the end of it, you can see R. Kelly walking away and continuing to protest his innocence. All of the musicians who were accused last year, to the best of my knowledge, evaded imprisonment and there were no charges brought. I do wonder whether there is one set of rules for those in music and those out.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Kevin Spacey/PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage

We are seeing Kevin Spacey in court now, having to answer himself and explain his actions – he has been accused by multiple people of sexual assault. I hope there is strict action against R. Kelly and a proper court case - one where these new allegations and findings are used and every angle is explored. All the time he protests and deflects, the worst it becomes. I think something needs to happen to ensure there are fewer cases like this and women, whether fans or fellow musicians, are safe. It is hard to police the whole industry but so many of the accusations arrive a while after the incident – many do not result in prosecution or any stringent punishment. I do not think there have been many improvements made and many women feel unsafe at gigs or vulnerable right now. I hear of cases of women – journalists, artists and others – who have been touched or been harassed by men in music. We need to respond and react to shows like Surviving R. Kelly and, rather than being horrified, finding ways to make the music industry a safer place for women and make it clear this sort of thing will result in criminal proceedings. The Guardian’s article makes a good point at the end:

“…And still, we flounder and argue when faced with the men who make art and money and connections, yet allegedly hurt women. This is really about trauma, falling in a grey area more nuanced than current legal terms. We need an understanding deeper than the confines of rape and consent laws developed hundreds of years ago by men. In the meantime, you get to decide whether to turn away from, or listen to, the voices that accompany the tears”.

We definitely need to listen to women affected and, rather than see this as attention-seeking or sensationalism, respect the fact they are coming forward and there are perfectly good reasons why they did not come forward sooner. The continued series of male artists overstepping and not feeling the full force of the law has to end. I am not sure whether there is a ‘quick fix’ or a way of creating safety but we need to do something, that is for sure. I saw too many cases last year of male artists being accused – ranging from seedy photos sent to fans right through to alleged rape. It is a bad time where many young women feel exposed and as though they are unsafe. I know this only applies to a very small percentage of men in music but there are still too many incidents happening. The pantomime and circus that is R. Kelly is harrowing to watch. He seems to see these accusations and tears and responds with denial, new music and very little empathy. I shudder to think just how deep the accusations go with R. Kelly and how many more women will come forward. I have been left cold by what I have heard and seen and I definitely feel something needs to happen so that we do not see anything like this again. If we unite and work about a way of preventing someone like R. Kelly striking again then I think it will make women in music...


PHOTO CREDIT: r-kelly.com

FEEL a lot safer.