Accessories After the Fact

By Alexa Moreno

I used to have a yearly tradition of watching the entire 33-part video saga “Trapped in the Closet” by R. Kelly. Even though the series touched on some questionable themes (murder, infidelity, and violence against women), I still found myself engrossed in the world R. Kelly, whose real name is Robert Kelly, had created. Yet, I could not silence my feelings of guilt and shame.

As a lover of R&B, there is no denying the influence Kelly has brought to the genre. He wrote some of the biggest songs of the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Songs like “I Believe I Can Fly” have inspired people around that world. However, that does not dismiss the abuse he has inflicted on young women.

R. Kelly and his penchant for young girls has been an open secret since the late ’90s. While the world was bumpin’ and grindin’ to his sultry R&B music, Kelly was spending his time in the company of women well below the age of consent. When the news broke of a videotape of Kelly performing degrading sexual acts with a minor, there was no escaping it. Everyone, whether a fan of Kelly’s or not, knew about the tape. If you asked most publicists, they would probably say that a tape like that is not only illegal but also a career-ender. This is what most thought would happen to Kelly, except it didn’t. Instead, he went on to release mega-successful albums like 2003’s “Chocolate Factory” and to have his music featured on critically acclaimed films like 2001’s “Ali.”

How was Kelly able to defy expectations and come out of the case as strong as ever? His fans.

In our celebrity-obsessed culture, the connection between fans and artists can be stronger than blood. Talk about someone’s mother and they could probably forgive you. Criticize their favorite artist, however, and consider yourself persona non grata. There is nothing wrong with being a fan of a person’s work, but what happens when your adoration lends to your dismissal of any negative behavior they display? At what point do we have to take some blame for allowing celebrities to continue to be famous after their well-documented abusive behavior?

Photo from Lifetime

Photo from Lifetime

When “Surviving R. Kelly” came out on Lifetime in January 2019, it instantly made waves on social media. The Twittersphere was abuzz with people condemning R. Kelly for his behavior; nonetheless, there were those who criticized the documentarians and the participants for trying to “bring down” the reputation of Kelly. It is this “us vs. them” mentality celebrities use to paint themselves as the real victims of these allegations or charges.

Celebrities like R. Kelly, Chris Brown, and XXXTentacion have all had women come forward claiming to have been abused by them. In all these cases, there was proof that showed the abuse, whether physical or sexual, they inflicted on their victims. In the documentary, there are numerous women and other sources who testify that they were abused or saw R. Kelly display abusive behavior toward underage women. In terms of evidence, there is plenty to show that these celebrities have displayed abusive behavior. But adoration leads fans to simply dismiss or ignore all evidence.

There has been a lot of recent discussion on whether or not you can separate the art from the artist. However, when continued support of an artist contributes to their wealth and standing, then you are enabling them to continue their abuse. Power is one of the biggest tools of influence that an abuser has, which makes these victims feel powerless. By streaming these artists’ music and generally funding the livelihoods of these celebrities, we are augmenting their power and ability to silence the voices of their victims.

While I am in no way trying to diminish the blame on these abusers, I think it is time that we as a society look inward and see how we can stand behind victims. It is not enough to simply say that we support victims; there must be an active effort to show support. Even something as simple as not streaming their music could help victims feel more empowered to finally get justice.