January 16, 2019

Boycott R. Kelly Already

“If you’re a socially engaged consumer, the past year of pop culture might have left you despairing over how to spend your money ethically. Do you forswear Yeezys to protest Kanye West’s dalliance with President Trump? Did you refuse to watch “Camping” to signal your disapproval of Lena Dunham’s since-rescinded defense of Murray Miller, a writer for her show “Girls,” who has been accused of sexual assault? (He denies the allegation.) And given the range of behaviors that have prompted #MeToo revelations, how should audiences distinguish between Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None,” Louis C.K.’s comedy and Harvey Weinstein-produced movies? It would be easy to default back to separating the art from the artist, simply to avoid being overwhelmed, or because you feel boycotted-out.

But if you’re looking for the definition of a worthy case for a boycott, you’ll find it in Lifetime’s “Surviving R. Kelly” miniseries, which concluded last weekend, and the long-running #MuteRKelly campaign. The R&B singer has become a prime example of how wealth can buy apparent impunity. He secretly married the singer Aaliyah when she was 15; was tried, though not convicted, on child pornography charges; reached at least five settlements with women over sexual-misconduct or domestic-violence allegations; and in 2017 was accused of running a coercive sex cult by the mothers of some of the women who were in relationships with him. Throughout, he has maintained his innocence, even in a recent, 19-minute track titled “I Admit.”

As I wrote in 2017, after that last story broke, it’s one thing to have some portion of a ticket sale go to an artist you disagree with politically, and another thing to know that the money you’re spending on art may well be underwriting misconduct. The organizers of the #MuteRKelly pressure campaign put it even more bluntly: “Radio spins = Club spins = Concert bookings = Cash to pay for his crimes.””

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