The music industry has managed to escape the influence of the #MeToo movement. Unlike other industries, musicians who are accused of sexual misconduct rarely face justice for their actions. They use their music as a tool to circumvent attention away from their alleged behavior and proclaim their own innocence.
The case of R. Kelly is incredibly emblematic of this. Despite decades of accusations of domestic abuse, pedophilia and cult-like behavior, Kelly has been releasing Billboard Hot 100 records without any significant damage to his career. During a concert on Saturday, he received well wishes from Erykah Badu, and last year, Kendrick Lamar threatened to pull his music from Spotify entirely as a response to their decision to remove Kelly from its promoted playlists.
Even as Kelly awaited trial his 2002 child pornography charges, Kelly released one of his most popular songs to date, “Ignition,” which distracted fans from the accusations.
In the wake of this month’s Lifetime docudrama, “Surviving R. Kelly,” which shed light on Kelly’s vile behavior to a degree unseen before, the singer is actually increasing in popularity. His Spotify streams increased 16 percent immediately after the first part of the series aired earlier this month. His streams increased by 116 percent from Jan. 2, the day before the documentary aired, to Jan. 5, the final day the series aired, according to Nielsen Music.
This is disturbing; despite the release of a six-part documentary with dozens of allegations of inexcusable, harmful actions, Kelly’s career is thriving.
To stop this horrible trend, music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music should mute Kelly. Remove his music from the sites and decrease his relevance.
Spotify took the first step in muting Kelly last May when it removed his music from its personally crafted promoted playlists in accordance with its new hateful conduct policy. This was a bold move.
And on Monday, the streaming service added a “Don’t play this artist” option users can select for Kelly and other musicians’ songs to be skipped in libraries, radio stations and playlists. But still, his music is available to stream on both Spotify and Apple Music.
The Kelly situation is nothing new, said Cheryl Squadrito, a media studies and production and communication and social influence instructor who covered the entertainment industry for the Inquirer in the 1990s.
“There’s always been this thing in the music industry where high-end rockstars parade young girls in front of them, and those girls are interested, and it’s disgraceful,” Squadrito said. “It’s not new what R. Kelly is doing, and even over all this time, young girls are treated as toys for older men.”
For more than two decades, Kelly has been accused of everything from child molestation to forcing young women into a sex cult. But his career remains alive and well.
Natalie Fiorini, a sophomore media studies and production major who has been following the Kelly story, said she is appalled his career has continued for so long despite the allegations against him.
“It’s wrong that he still has a platform and that he’s been making music this whole time and that there are people who still support him,” Fiorini said.
Streaming services that do not remove his music implicitly side with the alleged abuser. It is a sign the services are more concerned with the money than the lives of dozens of young Black women.
If the radio industry can decrease radio spins of Kelly’s music by 85 percent from Jan. 3-7, a period that included the release of “Surviving R. Kelly,” then there is no excuse for streams to increase dramatically. Even Kelly’s record label, RCA Records, has decided to drop him entirely.
But Spotify still allows for nearly 6 million monthly listens to his music.
Spotify and Apple Music are more than within their legal right to do this. Music streaming services are private enterprises with full control over which artists they want to support.
“We live in a capitalist society and so there’s freedom for businesses to put artists on and take artists off,” Squadrito said. “But in my experience with the music business, it’s about the bottom line, commerce. It’s going to take a big groundswell of people speaking out against him for streaming services to do anything.”
There is no reason why streaming services should continue to provide a platform for Kelly when they have knowledge of his actions, both past and present.
But at the end of the day, the responsibility relies on us, music listeners. We ought to take a stand against Kelly and the streaming services that continue to support him.
We need to mute R. Kelly.