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I.B. BAD ON SURVIVING
R. KELLY

 The Lifetime TV series recounting the horrific abuses said to have been inflicted on a series of women by R. Kelly is having a demonstrable impact. The dream hampton-produced show earned huge ratings and has started a firestorm in the socials and elsewhere. Will it now result in the end of Kelly’s deal with Sony/RCA? Could pending litigation by victims against Kelly provide a forum to retry this sordid history in the public sphere?

“#MeToo has given some survivors of sexual violence more mainstream acceptance and understanding,” reads an eblast from one activist group, Ultraviolet, which flew a banner over Sony's West Coast offices over the weekend demanding action. “But Black women survivors in particular continue to be ignored, silenced and disbelieved. Probably the worst example? Black women who were raped and abused by R&B superstar R. Kelly as teenagers.” Last week also saw Lady Gaga—who’d been heavily pressured on the socials—issue a public apology for her 2013 collab with Kelly, which she said came about during “a dark time in my life.”

Kelly’s work was among the first to be swept up in Spotify’s censorship dragnet—which conflated “hateful content” with hateful behavior—though the streamco pumped the brakes on that effort after a public outcry. But the incident raised further awareness at Sony and RCA, and they began to back away from Kelly, first by not releasing his new music, which enabled him to self-release. After the airing of the series fully illuminated what a monster the man was, however, they were truly horrified; this was more sinister than most of the #MeToo stories that had circulated in the biz, particularly given that so many of the victims were so young.

While some in the industry had previously wondered if some in the community would stand up for Kelly or push back against any action against him, it soon became clear that he’s completely radioactive.

Typically, when artists are dropped, there’s no announcement; deals are quietly allowed to lapse without public discussion. Could there be an exception in this case, or will Kelly’s name simply disappear from the RCA/Sony roster, as it has from that of his erstwhile publisher, UMPG? Meetings at Sony and RCA about the situation are ongoing, and some kind of resolution—likely without fanfare—is expected soon.

The fact is that the bulk of the Kelly saga transpired well before Sony inherited him. He was signed to Jive (part of Clive Calder’s Zomba empire) at the dawn of the ’90s. The artist first went on trial on child pornography charges in 2002—the year Zomba sold to BMG for $2.74 billion. Calder walked away from the biz at that point. Kelly was acquitted on all 14 counts in 2008. BMG was officially combined with Sony Music that same year.

Kelly has scored 25m+ in U.S. sales RTD. Though he had an undeniably huge run in the ’90s and the early years of the new millennium, he’s not had a Top 15 hit since 2011; his last title to pass the 1m mark was 2007’s Double Up. The most recent Kelly release from Nipper was a 2016 Christmas set that barely pinged the Top 200; the label had declined to put out his subsequent music, including a wacko 19-minute defense called “I Admit” that admitted nothing; the star’s own new music has been confined to SoundCloud and YouTube, though he has appeared as a feature on more widely disseminated singles by other artists. Sony and RCA’s expected decision on his fate isn’t about the money—they’re unlikely to see any significant returns at this point—but about perception. Kelly has truly become an albatross around their necks.

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