Those who were listening to the radio in the ‘90s probably remembers how much R. Kelly electrified the airwaves.
But those who closely followed him had heard rumors about him for years. Sure, the fact he was basically illiterate but could write amazing music made him a superstar. But from the shadows, his fans ignored those whispers from the darkness. The ones that said he liked his girls young, a little too young.
Then when the gossip started circulating about how he secretly married his protege Aaliyah in 1994, some fans began to question him again. After all, she was underage — just 15 — when she is said to have married Kelly. He was 27. It was considered illegal in most states.
When it seemed her mother gave permission for them to marry and the pair annulled their marriage in 1995, the rumors about Kelly dissipated, at least in the mainstream media. All was forgiven.
His music was overly sexualized and people were confusing his music with his real life, right? Anyway, a sexual predator wouldn’t win countless Grammys, would he? And no one would allow a sexual predator to sing for the opening Olympic games in 2002? He wrote such uplifting songs like “I Believe I Can Fly.”
His loyal fans followed him to each city and supported him even when he was indicted on 13 child pornography charges in 2002. It seems the same day he performed at the Olympics in Salt Lake City, a video of Kelly having sex with an allegedly underage girl surfaced. Then they rallied behind him in 2008 when the charges were overturned.
But still, the rumors remained, and many questioned why weren’t law enforcement officials stopping him? Or at least investigating him? Was it because these were women of color? Is that really the reason why their cases were ignored?
Before the 2019 Lifetime documentary that was aired as a limited series, “Surviving R. Kelly,” parents of some of the women who they claimed were being held against their will were starting to get more press. This was after the #metoo movement and finally, someone was listening.
“Surviving” put R. Kelly fans in two camps: those for the women, and those for R. Kelly.
But law enforcement moved forward. On Feb. 22, Kelly was indicted on 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. On July 11, he was arrested on federal charges on sex crimes and obstruction of justice with 18 federal counts that included child pornography, kidnapping and forced labor.
The 2020 limited series “Surviving R. Kelly: The Aftermath,” which is currently airing on Lifetime, shows what happened immediately after the airing of the documentary and the divide. No one should be surprised that some women would support him, after all, one of his underaged girlfriends was someone who showed up during his child pornography trial.
But the women who appear in the documentary — who by now most are no longer girls — share how they were victim shamed. They were trolled. Images of their naked bodies were put out on social media. It was their fault, they were told. It was their parents’ fault. It was everyone’s fault but Kelly’s.
It’s easy to blame the victims. Most of them came from two-parent households. Most were not raised on the streets. They had access to more things than Kelly had at their age. But it’s hard to explain what “love sickness” is, why a girl believes that what she is experiencing is love and how they’re so naive that they don’t understand what a healthy relationship should be like, even if their parents’ relationship was healthy. And the lure of stardom for young girls can be powerful.
If you’ve missed either series, you can catch up online. Make up your own minds. And while you are watching, remember they were girls when this started.
Follow Crystal Schelle on Twitter: @crystalschelle.