Politics The World

If you haven’t already – you really need to stop listening to R. Kelly

If you follow music or news at all, you have probably heard of the recent R. Kelly “cult” allegations. If not, you can read all the details here.

Essentially, the 50-year-old singer has been accused of holding several young women against their will in a cult-like scenario where he controls every aspect of their lives (food, clothing, sex, who they have contact with, etc.). The women’s parents are now coming forward with details, among them how their daughters entered the relationship with R. Kelly and how often they had been heard from.

Three other women, former members of his “inner-circle,” are also detailing the horrible living conditions and emotional abuse they were put through in their time with him. The reports are disturbing, especially when you know the singer for his smooth and popular songs like, “I Believe I Can Fly.”

However, allegations like this aren’t new for R. Kelly. He’s had a history of court cases for marrying a 15-year-old, battery charges, several incidents of underage sexual relationships, and child pornography. With all his money and the excuse of insufficient evidence, he managed to get through all this cleanly.

I didn’t know about this history before, but, to be honest, I’m not surprised. We have a history of letting celebrities get away with their actions, usually without apologies.

Bill Cosby, Akon, Chris Brown, Michael Jackson, Casey Affleck, Woody Allen…

You get the point.

Most of us know about the accusations made against these men, and yet we choose to ignore them. Even if we don’t support the celebrity himself, we still support their art, which, by default, supports the artist. It can be hard to let go of your favorite songs or movies just because the person who made it was involved in some scandal we’re really not sure about. It’s easier to jam out to R. Kelly’s “Ignition” with your friends, turning the lyrics into meaningless words, and forgetting that this man is an emotional and sexual abuser.

Think about it this way: the more we support these artists, the richer they get, the more fame attached to their name, and the more they are allowed to get away with anything. A lot of celebrities can pay their way out of their messes. Even if they don’t get away with their crimes, they still have the support of their fans, are allowed a comeback, and a pass to do it all again.

This is what we’re seeing with R. Kelly.

There are always arguments supporting the celebrities. In this specific case, people are saying that the women involved with Kelly are now all adults, that this is a consensual relationship. One of the women came out to say that she’s fine, so why can’t we just let it go?

Firstly, we don’t know if she was forced to say that, especially regarding the conditions she’s in. Even if she wasn’t, that is what cult psychology does to a person

Kitti Jones, one of the former insiders, recalled her relationship with Kelly to Buzzfeed, “I got trapped. I had people telling me I was an idiot. But it took me a long time to realize they were right, and I’m talking now because I hope I can help some of these other girls.”

If the parents’ desperate plea for help isn’t enough to convince you, then understand that in cults, victims are toyed with emotionally and given promises anyone can fall for, even if they are unhappy. Just because a relationship/group involvement is consensual does not make it right. The people who died in Jonestown died consensually.

And, anyway, these sorts of defenses come up with every allegation against a celebrity (and any abuse case, really). It’s just easier to let your conscience rest with one of these excuses so you can continue consuming the celebrity’s art.

But we need to start holding them accountable beyond a week-long scandal. Not just for the women in those specific cases but also for the survivors of sexual abuse everywhere.

If Kelly had been stopped before, if his defamation had been taken more seriously the first, second, and third times around, maybe these women wouldn’t have found themselves in the situation they’re in.

The first step to holding celebrities accountable is for the law to stop letting them get away with their actions (which hasn’t been helpful so far). The second is for other celebrities to stop collaborating with and supporting them (which does not seem likely).

The third step is up to you – the fans, the consumers.

Stop supporting these predators and making their actions normal. They’re not, and we definitely shouldn’t be singing about it in the car with our friends.

By Talah Bakdash

Talah Bakdash is a current undergraduate at Emory University studying creative writing and psychology. Middle Eastern Midwesterner as she is, she most enjoys reading The Things They Carried while listening to Fairouz on her deck overlooking Kansas flatlands. With this, she is passionate about stories, whether they come in the form of a war novel, a 1960s Arabic song, or a conversation over black tea.