Surviving R. Kelly

Can you separate an artist from his or her art?

 R. Kelly’s several sexual assault allegations question if it’s possible to separate an artist from his or her art

Miami Police Department [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

R. Kelly’s several sexual assault allegations question if it’s possible to separate an artist from his or her art

Jala Byrd, Social Media Commentator

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Recently the internet has been buzzing about the debut of “Surviving R. Kelly,” a docuseries that premiered on Lifetime. “Surviving R. Kelly” features survivors and families of survivors that recollect memories of sexual, mental and physical abuse inflicted by the hands of R. Kelly. Kelly is a well known R&B singer whose career has recently been on pause due to several sexual assault allegations. After watching the series, I am in full support of these victims.

This isn’t the first exposure of heinous allegations against Kelly. For example, it’s well known that Kelly was married to the late singer Aaliyah, when she was 15 years old. Kelly was 27. In 2003, Kelly was arrested for having sex with a minor and filming it. Despite conclusive video footage of his repulsive actions, he was acquitted of all charges. The victim didn’t step forward, nor did the majority of her family. There are theories that Kelly paid them for their silence, but this was never proven. The docuseries talks in depth about Aaliyah, the trial, as well as similar stories that haven’t been publicized.

The release of “Surviving R. Kelly” has sparked massive debates across social media platforms. The most interesting question that I have seen is whether or not an artist could be separated from his or her art. “Given his case, I can’t [separate him from his art]. I feel like your artwork and music comes from who you are,” junior Ishar Chhabra said.

“I’m not going to lie, after the allegations came out I started listening to his music more. To me music is music. I don’t think about the person making it, I think about the product,” senior Sydni White said.

Talking to my fellow Rock Ridge peers really made me understand the reasoning behind their various perspectives. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy Kelly’s music in the past. There are several memories from my childhood that involve his music, like singing “I’m a Flirt” with my siblings on the way to school, or singing “I Believe I Can Fly” on the swings during recess. Those memories won’t be erased, but now I have new ones. These new memories are the sickening stories that survivors recalled in “Surviving R. Kelly.” For that reason, I won’t be listening to Kelly’s music anymore. Some may be able to block those thoughts out, and that’s their right. However, I cannot ignore the actual meaning behind his lyrics nor his actions against women and girls.

There are still a few questions that are up in the air. Will Kelly be prosecuted for his crimes? Hopefully. Would the circumstances be different if the women and girls weren’t black? Probably. But most importantly, I hope that the women and families receive the justice that they deserve.