Can We Ever Listen to Michael Jackson and R. Kelly the Same Way Again?

    Recently, the music industry was struck by scandal in the form of two documentaries. At least, that’s what I would be saying if the public didn’t know the general character of the two individuals.

    “Surviving R. Kelly,” a documentary about the horrific acts committed by R&B artist R. Kelly, was aired from January 3 to 5 by the Lifetime network, and viewed by millions nationwide. Over 10 women charged Kelly of sexual assault less than a month later, and more may soon be coming forward.

     “Surviving R. Kelly” focused on some horrifying things that R. Kelly did throughout his life, including running a cult of sex and abuse, according to The Guardian, and soliciting young girls at malls. Public backlash was immediate and condemning.

    From there came his now-infamous interview with CBS news anchor Gayle King. The public saw the contrast of the cool, calm, and collected King with a man whose wrongs had caught up to him and was insane with anger.

    “I’m fighting for my f****** life!” an unhinged Kelly screamed, while standing up threateningly. The Los Angeles Times described him as “charming one moment, sweating and desperate the next, then furious and weeping.” The interview was shown nationally, made into a TV special, and spoofed by Saturday Night Live.

    The documentary on R. Kelly, however, wasn’t ultimately too much of a shock. He married R&B artist Aaliyah when the former was only 15- the marriage documents were forged in order to make it “legal.” He also had previous child pornography charges and is currently living with two women in what observers have called a “cult” setting.

    The real shock to the music industry came from an HBO documentary released on January 25.

    “Leaving Neverland” chronicled the illegal and frankly monstrous acts of the man once known as the King of Pop. Within it, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two men now in their 30s, describe Michael Jackson sexually abusing them when they were only seven and ten years old, respectively.

    The interview sparked a seismic reaction, with some celebrities believing the allegations and some coming out against the documentary. Judd Apatow stated “It takes days to recover from this documentary.” Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey also spoke out against Jackson’s alleged abuse. Michael’s most fervent defenders were people who came from within his inner circle, including his brothers and family members. Jermaine Jackson, as well as Jackson’s estate, claim the two men are “opportunistic” liars “looking for money.” However, as “Leaving Neverland” director Dan Reed pointed out, the two men were not paid for their contributions to the documentary.

    Also corroborating Robson’s and Safechuck’s stories is the fact that, according to the New York Times, it’s not uncommon for sexual abuse victims to keep in touch with their abusers and get what are essentially protective feelings for their abuser. It was also pointed out both by them and by Winfrey that child sexual abuse is “all about seduction.”

    After the special, Winfrey, a survivor of sexual abuse herself, interviewed Robson and Safechuck, as well as Reed. One thing that was stressed was the “genuine love” that the two men thought Jackson had for them. Safechuck said he had an emotional connection to Jackson even now, and admitted “It’ll be a lifelong journey for me…  I felt guilt this weekend, almost like I let him down.” Reed also refuted the Jackson estate’s claims by claiming that “this was not a film about Michael Jackson; it’s about what happened to Wade and James,” while also pointing out that “no one in the Jackson family disputed that Michael spent night after night with little boys.”

    The question becomes, can you ever listen to their music again?

    To a certain extent, the character of these artists are interconnected with their songs. “Surviving R. Kelly” reveals that Kelly forced survivor Lizzette Martinez, who was underage at the time of their encounter, to abort the baby Kelly impregnated her with. He then used the experience ‘‘as creative fodder to write Jackson’s hit ‘You Are Not Alone.’” There’s no way to separate the horrific deeds of these men from their work.

    However, ultimately, I believe that the public will soon be able to look past the alleged behavior of Kelly and Jackson.

    It’s worth noting that the influence they’ve had on pop music is impossible to erase. Ultimately, Jackson is still remembered as one of the most successful and popular artists throughout history, and he was the inspiration for many modern stars. While Kelly’s career hasn’t been as successful, songs like “I Believe I Can Fly” are known by many around the world. Both that and “Ignition” have won many awards, and he himself won Billboard awards for Top R&B Artist four times, which is a record.

     It’s also worth noting that artists with previous allegations and ones that were convicted of similar crimes have often faced little repercussions over the years. In 2009, photos of fellow singer Rihanna’s bruised and bloodied face surfaced, and it was confirmed that her then-boyfriend Chris Brown had abused her. However, the two have still kept a strangely flirtatious relationship since, and Brown’s career has not taken much of a hit in the long run.

     Additionally, last year, rapper Nelly was accused of graphic sexual assault from three different women in three separate incidents.

    Although the case has not been resolved, statements from Nelly’s accusers in their testimonials are perhaps most telling about the behavior of all of these men. According to NPR, “after [one of the women] refused [having sex] again, he ‘made a fist’ and she asked him if he was going to hit her. The woman says Nelly responded, ‘No, I’m just frustrated, I’m not used to not getting my way; just do it.’” Another woman didn’t come forward since “she felt she could not come up against a celebrity and that the criminal system would fail her.”

    Although the sales of both of their works failed in the short term, the two artists have since returned to their normal sales since their stories fell out of the news. It seems as though the public has a very short memory when it comes to these horrific events.

     However, there is some cause for hope, at least when it comes to R. Kelly. His music has been taken off of many local radio stations and he has faced nothing but public vitriol. With Jackson, however, it’s much more complicated. The only radio stations that have publicly announced taking his music off the air were three stations in Quebec. Additionally, Jackson still has many defenders, and while they are in the minority, they are certainly vocal in their belief that he is innocent.

     R. Kelly and Michael Jackson are absolutely despicable demons. One will likely get his comeuppance soon, while it’s too late for anyone to do anything about the latter. Hopefully, people realize that the works of these two people are closely intertwined with their personal character and will stop listening to the words they sung.

This editorial was written in April of 2019. It is yet to see how severely the careers of these men have been affected by their horrific actions.

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