The legacy and career of R&B superstar R. Kelly hangs in the balance as protests, denouncements and public backlash arise following the airing of the hit television event “Surviving R. Kelly.”
Having premiered on Jan. 3, the Lifetime documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly” added fuel to the flames of sexual abuse accusations against the singer, which have been a fixture of his career for almost two decades.
A six part series executive produced by filmmaker Dream Hampton (stylized as dream hampton), the documentary outlines Kelly’s history of sexual abuse and his relationships with underage girls.
Of the many shocking claims recounted against Kelly throughout the series, two of them reign supreme: his brief marriage to the then 15 year old singer Aaliyah and the infamous sex tape allegedly involving an underage girl.
On Aug. 30 1994, R. Kelly (born Robert Kelly) and Aaliyah (born Aaliyah Haughton) were secretly wed. The marriage license listed Kelly as 27 (his real age at the time) and falsified Aaliyah’s age as 18.
According to family members, Aaliyah initially thought that it just some type of elaborate game until she realized that the marriage was in fact real.
Demetrius Smith, Kelly’s former tour manager and assistant during the time, admitted to forging court documents to obtain the license.
“I’m not proud of that [day],” said Smith. “I had papers forged for them. Aaliyah was underage. We got the marriage license… Aaliyah looked worried and scared.”
Several months later in 1995, Aaliyah, with the help of her family, got the marriage annulled by a Michigan judge.
Three years later in late 2000, the Chicago Sun-Times printed the very first allegations of the singer engaging in sex with minors, claiming that Kelly was using his fame to coerce young girls into sleeping with him, even going so far as to cruise around the high school he formerly attended to pick them up.
On Feb. 8, 2002, Chicago police opened an investigation into Kelly after video footage surfaced of him reportedly engaging in sexual acts with a minor.
Four months later, R. Kelly was arrested outside of his holiday home in Florida and charged with 21 counts of child pornography, including seven counts of producing the video, filming the video and encouraging the teenage girl.
In Jan. 2003, Kelly was arrested again after a digital camera in his home was found containing dozens of pictures of him allegedly engaging in sexual acts with a minor. The charges were dropped in March 2004.
May 2008 saw the start of R. Kelly’s trial for the 2002 child pornography charges after years of delays. The girl alleged to be in the video denies being in it despite her aunt testifying otherwise. In the end, Kelly was found not guilty.
The summer of 2017 saw the rise of new claims against the singer: that he was abusing and holding several women hostage in his home under a ‘sex cult.’ Both Kelly and the alleged victims denied the claims.
And now, with the success “Surviving R. Kelly” further empowering people to speak out and the #MuteRKelly hashtag going viral, it appears that days of a sexual predator shielded by money, fame and power may soon be numbered.
Many celebrities have taken to Twitter to voice their support of the victims, some of them expressing regret for having worked with R. Kelly in the past.
“I apologize to all the survivors for working with him and taking this long to speak out,” remarked fellow Chicago born artist Chance The Rapper, who featured Kelly on his 2015 song “Somewhere in Paradise.”
With the exception of singer John Legend and radio personality Charlamagne Tha God, many celebrities and past musical collaborators of R. Kelly’s turned down offers to appear in the show.
According to hampton, “We asked Lady Gaga. We asked Erykah Badu. We asked Celine Dion. We asked Jay-Z. We asked Dave Chappelle.”
In spite of this, hampton believes that the celebrities passed on appearing in the series not out of support for the singer, but out of fear of possible legal action.
“It’s because it’s so messy and muddy. It’s that turning away that has allowed this to go on,” she stated.
In an ironic twist of events, all of the negative press for the singer appears to have actually strengthened his career for the moment as streams of his back catalog have shot up to 116 percent on the date of the documentary’s finale.
In addition, despite Sony and its subsidiary RCA Records recently opting to no longer represent R. Kelly, it may work in the artist’s favor.
“If the label had a contractual obligation to release additional material and didn’t want to do it, it might make a financial settlement with the artist,” noted music attorney Lisa Alter.
Given this information, along with the fact that Kelly has two albums left on his RCA contract, a payout is practically imminent.
Much remains to be seen as to how R. Kelly’s career will pan out. Though his formerly Teflon armor appears to finally be damaged, if the Harvey Weinstein case taught us anything, money and power prove to be the strongest armor of all.